Complementary Treatments for Migraine

I’ve written here before about migraines.  Grace was plagued by migraines during the prodromal phase of the disease onset (that feels like a redundancy).  Migraines are the bane of my existence.  My neurologist jumps through whatever hoops neurologists jump through in order to try to keep mine in check.  I have a “migraineur’s brain” meaning that I have T2 lesions on my brain that show up on an MRI.  Migraines cause lesions on the brain.  Scary thought.  Neurologists call it “scar tissue”.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want scar tissue on my brain.  I don’t want Grace having scar tissue on her brain.

What can we migraineurs do about it?

I’m on a shit ton of medication which works prophylactically to prevent migraines, and, even though I still get them, it works 50% of the time in a bad month when stress is sky high and 75% when life is holding.  That’s not bad.

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Could it be better? Sh’yeah!

I have reached a somewhat desperate state.  I went to the emergency room at 2 AM this morning because my migraine was beyond self-help.  It was at a 9 or 10 on the pain scale, and, once the barfing starts, it won’t stop.  The good people of my local ER were on it, and I was home by 5:30 AM sans any pain at all.

This is no way to live.  So, if you live with chronic migraine disease, what can you do? My neurologist puts me on prednisone from time to time in an attempt to arrest a migraine that might feel like sticking around.  That didn’t work this time.  I’m on prednisone now, and that is not a drug one wants to be on.  Side effects, anyone?

Let’s talk about an alternative treatment.  Butterbur and feverfew.

In 2012, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) updated its guidelines on migraine prevention to include complementary treatments. Based on reviews of clinical studies, the AAN recommends:

  • Butterbur (Petasites hybridus). Butterbur is a traditional herbal remedy used for many types of ailments, including migraine. The AAN considers butterbur “effective” and recommends it be offered for migraine prevention. Butterbur was the only non-drug treatment ranked by the AAN as having the highest proof of evidence (Level A) for effectiveness. Butterbur may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to ragweed and related plants.
  • Feverfew. Feverfew is another well-studied herbal remedy for headaches. The AAN ranks feverfew as “probably effective” (Level B evidence) and recommends that it be considered for migraine prevention. Pregnant women should not take this herb as it may potentially harm the fetus.
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and Magnesium. Riboflavin and magnesium are the two vitamin and mineral supplments ranked by the AAN as “probably effective”. Vitamin B2 is generally safe, although some people taking high doses develop diarrhea. Magnesium helps relax blood vessels. Some studies have reported a higher rate of magnesium deficiencies in some patients with migraine..

German doctors have been using butterbur as a prophylactic treatment for migraine with great success since the 1980s.  It is a widely recommended and known treatment in Germany and other European countries.  My neurologist may not know about this nor has she recommended magnesium to me.  She has recommended vitamin D due to low vitamin D levels being linked to inflammation.

The thing to note about butterbur is a pesky alkaloid that is toxic to your liver–pyrrolizidine alkaloids.  They are indicated on butterbur supplements as PA, and all butterbur supplements should say “PA-free”.  I note this because there was a change in a German company’s manufacturing process a few years ago, and their butterbur supplement, Petadolex, suddenly became contaminated with those pesky alkaloids.  A review and subsequent testing of the supplement revealed that the hepatoxic alkaloid compounds were still present in the supplement, and Germany removed the supplement from the market; Switzerland banned the sale of all butterbur supplements altogether.  There are, however, other companies that produce butterbur supplements other than Weber and Weber, the German-based company who failed the investigation.  Oddly enough, you can still buy Weber and Weber’s butterbur supplement on Amazon, so beware.

This is a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater (Switzerland, I am talking to you).  Everyone in the know is aware of hepatoxic alkaloids in butterbur.  Why the American Headache Society is attempting to formulate a stance on it is beyond me unless it just doesn’t want anyone taking butterbur at all to prevent litigious action.  In the end, you need to be smart.  If our doctors have us taking a plethora of drugs in an attempt to manage our pain, then why not look at butterbur as well? Have you read the side effects of these anticonvulsants, steroids, and triptans? Nothing is very good here.

In the meantime, here is an excellent butterbur supplement that is PA-free and also contains feverfew and magnesium.  It’s wheat-free, gluten-free, and even vegetarian.

Do some research for yourself if you struggle with migraines.  There are complementary treatments.  Sometimes we have to be the ones to find them.

Further Reading:

Preventing Migraine Pain with Butterbur (great article)

Migraine Preventative Butterbur has Safety Concerns

 

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7 thoughts on “Complementary Treatments for Migraine

  1. Migraines suck. I don’t know why some people get them and some don’t, but something as awful as a migraine I always take as a call for help from my body. Something is amiss and drugs may just be covering it up.

    • I do appreciate the idea that our bodies are intuitive. Migraines, however, are neurological events that, when left untreated, leave lesions (T2 lesions) on the brain possibly setting one up for stroke later on in life. Migraines are also genetic. If one parent is a migraineur, then there is a 40% chance that the child will have migraines. If both parents are migraineurs, then the odds increase by 90%. If a person has a seizure disorder in addition to those stats, then those odds increase by 35%. If a family member suffers from familial hemiplagic migraine (migraine with aura), then immediate family is four times more likely to suffer from the same condition. There are sixteen recognized sub-types of migraine in the neurological community. Migraines can be caused by food additives like MSG or tyramine or even be the result of whiplash injuries. Because migraine is an inherited condition, it can be idiopathic and highly influenced by hormones and stress. One can have an “irritable brain” particularly those with seizure disorder. Drugs like anti-convulsants may be the one thing that allows a migraineur to live a normal life. Without Topamax, I would have 20 migraines a month. Twenty. And, there is no rhyme or reason as to why I have 20 migraines a month other than the fact that both my parents are migraineurs and I have a seizure disorder. That’s it. Is something amiss in my body? Yes, my brain isn’t wired properly. I have three types of synesthesia that indicate that. My neurons fire too quickly which cause the nerves to get too “excited” resulting in a migraine that can lead to status migrainosus. I take as little drugs as I can, but sometimes drugs give us a quality of life that we would never have had before.

  2. Pingback: A Supplement Worth Trying | Empowered Grace

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