Vitamins, Herbal & Alternative Medicines

Herbal and Alternative Medicines for Headaches

Herbal and alternative medicines such as feverfew and St. John’s wort have grown in popularity. Are these herbal medicines helpful for headache disorders?

Some controlled studies suggest that feverfew can be effective in the prevention of migraines, though there are only a few studies supporting this contention. Feverfew's mechanism of action appears related to platelet stabilization, though there seem to be some anti-inflammatory properties. Lack of dose and form standardization, information about side-effects and long-term studies are lacking, however, which makes this herb less than suitable for migraine treatment.

There is no evidence that St. John’s wort is helpful in migraine treatment, though its monoamine oxidase inhibitor activity suggests antidepressant value.

A healthy lifestyle is the best "natural" remedy. A well-balanced diet, proper sleep, avoidance of tobacco and alcohol, regular exercise, biofeedback and relaxation treatment, and the proper use of medications are all necessary as a great start toward migraine control.

Is it dangerous to take herbal medicines with some of the commonly prescribed preventive medications (e.g., Pamelor, Corgard, Depakote, or Prozac)?

It can be quite dangerous taking any herbal preparations without appropriate medical supervision. Contrary to public perception, herbs such as these each contain hundreds of chemicals, many of which can cause dangerous reactions in humans. "Natural" does not connote "safe," as anyone consuming the wrong mushroom will understand. Herbals, in this context, more than any other pharmaceutical drug, should be given their due respect, and may cause numerous related side effects or potential drug interactions. For example, St. John’s wort has potential to interact negatively with Depakote and other antidepressants, such as Pamelor, Prozac and Nardil, leading to unpredictable side-effects including over-sedation. Feverfew, in a double-blind placebo-controlled study, was observed to cause mouth ulcers, dry and sore tongue, swollen lips and mouth, loss of taste, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and severe hypersensitivity reactions. Thus, it is not wise to use herbal preparations, especially when using conventional medications, without medical supervision.

Vitamins for Headache

What about the use of vitamins for headache treatment?

Most vitamins are not relevant to headache treatment. However, several studies now suggest that very high dosages of riboflavin (vitamin B2) may help prevent headaches in some individuals. Very high dosages, upwards of 200-400 mg a day, are required, and this is substantially greater than the average daily recommended dose of this vitamin. Nonetheless, it appears safe and may be of some help.