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Examining Supplements for Chronic Daily Headache & Migraine Treatment

Dietary supplements feverfew, butterbur, magnesium, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10 and melatonin pop up frequently in the discussion of treatment for chronic daily headache and migraine. Do they work? According to headache specialist Stewart J. Tepper in the medical journal Consultant, “Although the data are relatively few, and sometimes weak, there is some evidence that so-called natural remedies may be effective at preventing or aborting migraine attacks.”

Even if the evidence is weak, many people with CDH and migraine are willing to try supplements because there’s a chance that it might work for them. That’s my approach too, unless there’s indication that the supplement might be harmful or there hasn’t been enough research to show the long-term effects of it.

The journal Headache published a detailed review of supplements in 2006.

“Natural” or Alternative Medications for Migraine Prevention, an article in the journal Headache in 2006, introduced the topic:

For preemptive prophylactic therapy, CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] is not only a viable option, but should be a major consideration. Patients often balk at the use of daily drugs due to the perception such treatment may frequently cause side-effects. So, why not a “natural” agent, mineral, vitamin, or bodily substance? The modern equivalent to the “wild, wild, west” (ie, the Internet) informs us that petasites…. [T]hese CAM therapies are not as strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States as are prescription therapies and devices; they are classified as dietary supplements and not drugs.

The article includes efficacy and safety details on the following supplements:

If the links take you to a sign-in page, you can get a login at BugMeNot.

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Melatonin, Sleep & Migraine

Whether or not melatonin is an effective to fight insomnia is still under debate. A recent study indicates that when you take the medicine affects how it works in the body. Researchers report that it was most effective when taken in sync with an individual patient’s sleep cycle.

They warn that people shouldn’t self-medicate with melatonin. The lead researcher says, “This is all very complicated. If you give melatonin at the right time of day it can be effective. But if you give it at the wrong time it can make sleep problems worse.”

Melatonin may or may not be an effective migraine treatment. A small study published last year shows that taking the supplement 30 minutes before bedtime can help reduce migraines. But headaches can also be a side effect of melatonin. I took it for a while, but stopped because it increased my headaches and made me drowsy. I was told that in my previous headache specialist’s practice, some patients didn’t have side effects at first, but developed them after a few months.

Obviously there’s no conclusive evidence or prescribing guidelines here. If you’re interested, you should definitely talk to your doctor about it. Supplements don’t have to meet ingredient requirements, so one kind can vary dramatically from another. It may also interact with other common headache meds.

An article in UC Berkeley’s Wellness Letter issues these warnings about the supplement:

  • Having your levels measured won’t tell you anything, since levels vary from person to person and from hour to hour.
  • Chronic use of melatonin supplements may suppress the body’s own  production of the hormone.
  • Nobody knows what might happen if you have high natural levels and take a supplement on top of that.
  • Melatonin can interact with other hormones, which is why, in part, pregnant women and children should never take it.
  • Such drugs as aspirin, beta blockers, and tranquilizers can affect melatonin levels.