Real Relief for Migraines

Try these treatments when the throbbing starts.
By Jennie Dorris

Imagine wearing a football helmet that’s too tight. Add to that upset stomach, blurred vision, and flashing lights. This is a migraine—a type of headache one memoirist described as feeling like “God just punched you in the side of the face.”

In the simplest terms, migraines are caused by the brain’s blood vessels enlarging and stimulating nerve endings. Most migraine sufferers (75 percent are women) experience more than one symptom. And the triggers are just as varied—from bright lights to stress to changes in hormones. Mary Gustafson, 30, of Chicago says that if she sneezes too many times or watches a 3D movie, she can get a migraine.

With that many triggers and symptoms, “it’s a bit of a detective game trying to find the cause,” says Brent Mathieu, ND, of Boise, Idaho. He suggests that patients first remove possible food allergies and emotional stressors. But if migraines persist, he says, they may be the result of more complicated issues: hormonal imbalances, toxins in the body, or inflammation.

The herb feverfew is good for migraines because of its anti-inflammatory properties. (We first reported this in 2008; for the complete story, search for “Go Against the Graine” at

Here, we outline four more natural remedies that tackle migraines.

During a migraine, the tissue surrounding the brain becomes inflamed. That’s why Roy Upton, herbalist and executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, suggests taking omega-3 fatty acids, which lessen cells’ reaction to inflammation.
Take: 4,000 to 6,000 mg of fish oil daily with meals for best absorption. After eight to 12 weeks (if the migraines have stabilized), you can adjust the dose to 1,000 mg per day.

Xiao yao wan
Kelly Parcell, ND, of NatureMed Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, points to liver qi stagnation—when the liver doesn’t properly clean toxins from the body—as a possible cause of migraines. She suggests xiao yao wan (also called xiao yao san), a blend of plant roots, rhizomes, and mushrooms that is believed to help cleanse the liver.
Take: Use as directed; consult your healthcare practitioner.

Many women suffer from menstrual-induced migraines, which is why some healthcare practitioners, including Parcell, see hormones as a possible trigger. If your progesterone level is too low in relation to estrogen, it can cause blood vessels in the brain to dilate, which is a known cause for migraines. Parcell uses the herb chasteberry (as a tea or in concentrated herbal capsules) to boost progesterone levels. “I try to affect hormone change without actually giving the hormone,” she says.
Take: Parcell suggests drinking several cups of chasteberry tea per day. David Riley, MD, Natural Solutions’ medical editor, also suggests 500 mg of chasteberry supplements every morning.

Butterbur root
According to the journal Neurology, the root extract from this daisy plant is one of the best herbs to prevent migraines; patients who took butterbur extract saw migraine frequency decrease by as much as 48 percent.
Take: 100 to 150 mg two to three times per day. Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, suggests looking for extracts with low levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), which are naturally occurring in the butterbur plant and can be toxic to the liver. He recommends the brand Petadolex