Alternatively Speaking: How to ease migraines

Alternative medicine expert Natalie Marx answers your questions: Which herbal remedies make migraines easier to endure?

Herbal remedies 370 (photo credit:  REUTERS/Simon Newman)
Herbal remedies 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Simon Newman)
Q. Dear Natalie, I have recently started suffering from terrible migraines. My doctor told me that it could be stress related. Are you able to suggest any herbal remedies that can help ease migraines?
Migraine headaches are very difficult to live with, especially if they are recurring. I strongly suggest the herb Butterbur. The University of Michigan conducted a study in 2004 which proves that Butterbur may reduce inflammation of blood vessels and other tissues related to migraines. The herb also works to regulate neurotransmitters in the brain, reducing migraines. I suggest taking between 50 to 75 mg of a standardized extract two times per day. You can find Butterbur in almost all well-stocked  health food stores.
Another option is to try nature’s very own equivalent to aspirin. Willow bark contains salicin, a chemical very similar to active ingredients in aspirin. I prescribe this herb frequently for patients to treat headaches, fever and pain. Feeling the effects of willow bark may take longer to experience; however, the effects actually last longer. I suggest you take between 60 to 220 mg of standardized willow bark every day depending on the severity and frequency of your migraines.
If your migraine is accompanied with nausea and vomiting, then try the herb Feverfew. In 2001, Yale University carried out a study that showed Feverfew to contain parthenolide. This reduces inflammation and targets proteins in the body. I suggest you try taking between 50 to 80 mg per day. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid taking the herb.
Q. Dear Natalie, can there be a link between migraines and a vitamin deficiency?
A. There are many reasons people get migraines: hormones, stress, side effects of certain medications, etc. Migraines can also be triggered by vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I suggest you speak with your doctor and test your vitamin levels before you start taking supplements. Check for deficiencies of folic acid and B-12 since they are most commonly associated with headaches and migraines. When the deficiency is severe enough, it can trigger migraines as a symptom, in addition to memory loss, irritability and fatigue.
Make sure your diet is rich in foods with high levels of folic acid. If your levels are very low, I recommended taking folic acid and B-12 (up to 600 mcg and 2.4 mcg respectively). If a patient of mine has a severe migraine I tend to check for an iron and copper deficiency. Symptoms of Anemia can cause an increased frequency and severity of headaches leading to migraines.
Copper works to help absorb iron. Therefore, if anemia is suspected, copper may be deficient instead of iron. Copper also affects blood vessel constriction and dilation. Migraines may occur more frequently if one has a copper deficiency. Recommended intakes of iron are 18 mg per day for women of childbearing age. Men and postmenopausal females need 8 mg per day.
Vitamin D assists with the absorption of magnesium, which people who suffer from migraines may have a deficiency of. Three top physicians Steve Wheeler, Barclay Gang and Frederick Taylor, claim that when Vitamin D levels are within normal limits, it hasanti-inflammatory effect on your immune system by downplaying immunity factors that play a role in pain. Supplemental doses of Vitamin D correct deficiencies, therefore decreasing the intensity and frequency of migraines. These physicians recommend 1,000 international units per 25 to 30 pounds of body weight and state that dosing based upon body weight provides non-toxic doses of Vitamin D.
Q. Dear Natalie, are there certain foods which can trigger migraines? Which foods should I be avoiding?
There are certain foods which are migraine triggers, but not everyone has the exact same reactions. There are certain foods that trigger a migraine in one person which may not affect another person. If you are unsure, I encourage you to try to work by a process of elimination. Try logging foods you eat prior to a migraine to help find potential triggers.
Certain food additives may also trigger migraines. Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives used to add a cured or smoked flavor. Cured and processed meats, including sausage, hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami, pepperoni, corned beef and pastrami nearly always contain nitrites. If your migraines are brought on by nitrites, you tend to react within a few minutes to an hour or two after consuming the food.
If you suspect nitrate and nitrite sensitivity, check foods for sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrite or potassium nitrate. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is used as a flavor enhancer and often used to make meat more tender found in canned, prepared and packaged foods. Many migraine sufferers can suffer from a migraine within 30 minutes of eating food products containing MSG.
There are many varieties of alcohol that may trigger migraines. Red wine is probably the most common type of alcohol that can trigger a migraine, although any alcohol can do so. The possible suspected substances in wine that trigger migraines include tyramine, histamine and sulphites. In some cases I have found that caffeine can either trigger migraines or indeed be used to treat migraines in other people. Don’t forget that caffeine is not just found in coffee but also in tea, certain sodas, energy drinks, chocolate and certain foods. Regrettably, there may be some specific components in chocolate which are migraine triggers. Chocolate too has low levels of caffeine, which may be enough to trigger migraines in more sensitive people.This column is brought to you as general information only and unless stated otherwise is not medical advice nor is it based on medical experiments. This column is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. For more information about specific problems, please contact a doctor.Natalie runs a clinic both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem offering a wide range of natural treatment, including a women’s clinic every Wednesday. To make an appointment please email [email protected]
Ask Natalie: If you have a health query and would like an alternative answer, email Natalie with your question at [email protected]