Headaches come in all shapes, sizes, and severities. Most people experience one at some point in their life. Common issues including stress, anxiety, diet, and muscle strain can cause a headache ranging from minor to relentless.
Migraines are severe headaches accompanied by other symptoms, such as auras, vomiting, and light or noise sensitivity. Migraine triggers include anxiety, alcohol, and hormonal changes resulting from oral contraceptives, menstruation, or menopause.
Although there are many prescriptions and over-the-counter medications designed to alleviate headaches, what works for one person may not for another. Triggers and remedies are as unique as the individuals who experience them. It can take time and trial and error to figure out what will treat yours effectively.
Some sufferers find relief using techniques such as meditation, massage, relaxation, or even living where barometric pressure is ideal. But many have found that certain dietary supplements can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches or migraines.
First, Find the Right Combination
Unlike medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration, supplements have only been subjected to limited studies. Their benefits to help reduce or relieve headaches and migraines are largely anecdotal. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t work for some people.
The more acute the headache, the more likely it is that you’ll need medication. For sure that’s true for migraine treatment, which addresses not only the pain but other debilitating effects.
Using headache and migraine medications can be a bit of a vicious circle. Taking them too often can increase headache frequency. So if you can find a supplement that helps, you might be able to take medications less often.
Just know that not everything works for everyone in the same way. Furthermore, some of the following five supplements have potential side effects that may outweigh any benefits. Work with your healthcare provider to find the combination of medication, supplements, and other intervention that works for you.
1. Vitamin B2
Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, is one of the eight B-vitamins everyone should consume for optimal health. It’s water-soluble, meaning it doesn’t stay in your body very long, which is why it’s often taken as a supplement. It’s contained in some meats, dairy, vegetables, and grains.
It’s unclear how riboflavin may help prevent migraines, although some believe it has to do with how cells metabolize energy. Your body will use as much vitamin B2 as it needs, and you’ll excrete the rest in urination. That makes this supplement fairly safe.
Vitamin B2 helps maintain healthy liver function and assists in the absorption of iron and folic acid. It also keeps the digestive system, eyes, skin, nerves, and muscles in great shape. If it can help your headaches as well, it’s an all-around win.
Magnesium has shown modest success in migraine prevention in limited studies, although it merits additional studies to determine efficacy. The problem with magnesium is that any effective impact requires a large dose. Large doses may do more harm than good.
Magnesium is one of the key ingredients in laxatives. Thus it’s no surprise that taking high doses to help forestall migraines may cause diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Even worse, magnesium can be toxic, causing renal and kidney failure, cardiac problems, and even death. So don’t try magnesium without a doctor’s supervision.
3. Coenzyme Q10
Often referred to as CoQ10, this supplement may help everything from heart disease and diabetes to cancer and fertility. There is some evidence that it can reduce the frequency and duration of migraines. With few (if any) side effects, the benefits of taking CoQ10 might be well worth it.
Your body’s natural production of CoQ10 wanes with age. Furthermore, it can have some contraindications with insulin and chemotherapy. As with taking any supplement, you should consult your healthcare provider before adding it to your headache-fighting regimen.
Organ and muscle meats and fatty fish all contain CoQ10, as do some vegetables, legumes, and fruits. Adding those to your diet, in addition to taking a daily supplement, may boost energy production in your cells. The benefits to your overall health and headache problems might make this supplement a slam dunk.
This herb has been used since ancient times to treat such afflictions as headaches, nausea, vomiting, allergies, and asthma. In fact, it has been referred to as the “aspirin” of the ancients. A member of the daisy family, it’s a pretty addition to your herb garden and often used in tea.
Perhaps due to its long-established status as an analgesic, feverfew has been subjected to more studies than most other supplements. As with others, however, the results are mixed. But many studies have shown feverfew can help migraines, cluster headaches, and hormonal fluctuations.
There are no serious side effects of feverfew, although it can cause nausea and digestive problems. Chewing it raw may cause mouth sores, and those with ragweed allergies may have similar reactions to feverfew. Still, your doctor may advise you to take a feverfew supplement and call them in the morning.
Like feverfew, the butterbur shrub has been used for centuries to treat a range of maladies. Studies have shown it may be effective in reducing migraine frequency. However, the dangerous side effects of butterbur should give everyone pause.
Butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) known to damage the liver, lungs, and blood circulation and even cause cancer. Most butterbur supplements claim to remove PAs. However, the risk of residual traces spurred the American Academy of Neurology to halt this as a migraine treatment.
For sure, you should discuss taking butterbur supplements with your doctor. But this might be one supplement where any benefit might put far too many other things at risk.
It will take time and dedication to determine whether a supplement actually helps your migraines or other headaches. Although you can get any of these off the store shelves, you should discuss them with your doctor first. If you can find one that helps without side effects, you might find life a little more enjoyable.