Feverfew: An Herbal Treatment for Migraine Headaches

Migraines. While I’ve never had one, I can tell they’re nasty. Any patient I’ve ever seen in the middle of a migraine headache looks truly miserable - a victim of the blinding pain, nausea, and aversion to bright lights they are experiencing. Such a painful event is rarely a one-time thing. Migraine sufferers can have several episodes a week or only a few in their lifetime. Migraines can be very unpredictable that way.

And debilitating. Sufferers of frequent migraines can find it difficult to keep a job that will tolerate numerous absences due to the severe headaches that often leave them unable to function.

Modern medicine has recently provided enormous relief for migraine sufferers in the form of medications that can be taken once an attack has begun. Drugs like Imitrex and Amerge act quickly to dissipate a migraine headache by altering the muscle tone of the arteries in the brain which are the cause of this type of headache.

Migraines are one of a class of vascular headaches, meaning that the ultimate source of the headache is a change in the tone of the blood vessels inside the brain. Effective treatments for migraines are not generally painkillers. Instead, they work on the blood vessels which secondarily relieves the pain.

There are two ways to tackle migraine headaches with medical and/or herbal treatment. We’ve talked about the first way. Basically, you wait until you get the headache and then take something to relieve it. The second way is to use a daily medication to prevent migraines from occurring or at least reduce their frequency and severity.

Modern medicine doesn’t have anything particularly great to choose from in the area of migraine prevention. Many of the medications we use for this purpose are also used for blood pressure reduction, so if you don’t have high blood pressure to begin with, the side effects can be difficult to tolerate. Eastern medicine, however, has a few traditional remedies that have proven to effectively treat migraines. One example is acupuncture treatment, which you can book an appointment for at AB Acupuncture

Enter feverfew, an herbal remedy that holds promise in the prevention of migraines with relatively few side effects, (You were wondering when I’d ever get around to talking about herbs, weren’t you?) Feverfew carries the scientific name of Tanacetum parthenium and is a perennial bush that grows throughout Europe. As the name suggests, it was originally used for fever reduction but I didn’t find any information to suggest it has modern value in that area. It is primarily the dried leaves that are used for medicinal purposes.

I’ve read anecdotal reports of feverfew being effective in the treatment of active migraine headaches but there isn’t any scientific evidence to back these reports. Migraine prevention, on the other hand, is where feverfew shows the most promise. Several good studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine headaches when taken orally on a daily basis.

Biochemical studies indicate that feverfew inhibits the clumping of platelets as well as the release of serotonin from the blood vessels which contributes to fluctuations in blood vessel tone. When these fluctuations diminish, migraine sufferers get fewer attacks.

Feverfew preparations must be taken daily in order for them to be effective. Encapsulated forms of the dried leaf are preferred because the raw herb can otherwise cause mouth or stomach irritation.

The daily dose should be 1000 milligrams of the dried herb as long as the bottle says it contains at least 0.2% parthenolide, the active ingredient in feverfew. Higher concentrations are okay. As I’ve said before, taking a calculator to the store is sometimes necessary (and a degree in the metric system wouldn’t hurt either). Basically, you’ll want to take a dose of parthenolide which is 200 micrograms (or 0.2 milligrams) daily.

Some people should not take feverfew preparations. It is not recommended in pregnancy because it can cause uterine contractions; those allergic to chrysanthemums, daisies, marigolds, or ragweed might also be allergic to feverfew.

Remember to take the herb for at least a month before deciding whether or not it will work for you. If it works, you can take it for a long period of time without risk.

As always, talk to your healthcare provider to receive the best combination of conventional and herbal remedies for whatever condition you have.

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