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Americans spend millions of dollars annually on analgesics, anti-inflammatories, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, triptans and other medical chemicals to help stave off and reduce the pain and other symptoms associated with headaches.
While drugs, both prescribed and over-the-counter, are the most popular remedy for headaches and migraine relief, they may not be the most effective; and they certainly are not without side effects. Natural vitamins and nutritional supplements, in some cases, have been shown to be just as effective (and some more effective) than their lab-produced counterparts. Here, in part 4 of this headache series, we’ll look at those proven to be most effective.
Supplementation that combines vitamins B6, B12 and folate (the active form of folic acid) has been shown to be effective in the treatment of migraines that are accompanied with aura.
Studies show that those who experience the so-called “classic migraine” (that is, the migraine that follows a visual aura) have elevated levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood that, when it rises too high, can lead to a host of health issues, including blood vessel blockages and migraine headaches.
Levels of homocysteine rise when it is not metabolized properly; this can be caused by low levels of certain B vitamins and folic acid. Studies have shown that in addition to diets high in these vitamins, or merely supplementing with B12, B6 and folate, you can help the body process metabolize homocysteine and bring it down to a normal level, thus helping prevent classic migraines and providing migraine relief.
A blood test can determine if high homocysteine is causing your migraines. (Read more in The other marker for heart disease and stroke.)
These supplements can help lower your risk and give your some migraine relief:
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Works to stave off migraines by supporting a broad number of activities in your nervous system, breaking down sugars and starches, and metabolizing homocysteine. In addition to taking a supplement, food sources include: avocado, bananas, beans, sunflower seeds, spinach, potatoes, tuna, cod, halibut, liver, chicken, turkey and eggs.
- Vitamin B12: Supports the proper development of nerve cells and red blood cells and helps prevent anemia while helping metabolize protein, carbohydrates, fat and homocysteine levels in the blood. Cyanocobalamin is a lab-made version of this vitamin that has shown to be effective, via pill and injection. In addition, the following foods are good sources of B12: yogurt, grass-fed beef and cow’s milk, lamb, shellfish, salmon, sardines, and scallops.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Supports the production of cellular energy. B2 is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from free-radical oxygen damage and is a key component in the process of converting food to energy. As a supplement taken for three months at 400 mg per day, studies show it to reduce migraine onset by 50 percent in more than half of the people who take it. In addition to fortified grains, breads and cereals, riboflavin is found in lean meats, eggs, grass-fed cow’s milk, yogurt, collard greens and other green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, and cremini mushrooms.
- Folic Acid/Folate (a B vitamin): Helps metabolize homocysteine, supports the production of red blood cells and proper nerve function. Helps stave off some cancers, stroke, heart attack, anemia and migraine. In addition to supplements and fortified breads and cereals, good sources of folic acid include: beans (lima, pinto, navy, garbanzo), lentils, spinach, collard greens and turnip greens.
- Magnesium: Vital to health, as it plays important roles in a wide array of physiological processes. It is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract (more when there is less fecal matter in it) and helps facilitate the absorption of calcium. In addition to pill and powder supplements, magnesium is naturally found in foods like seeds (sesame, sunflower), nuts (cashews, almonds), spices, meat, dairy products, green leafy vegetables (Swiss chard, spinach), tea, coffee, cocoa, black beans and halibut. Your body needs a certain amount every day; if you take too much, you will experience diarrhea. Read more about magnificent magnesium.
- Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium): Has been studied more than any other supplement for its effects on migraine. It has been shown to help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines in those who take 100 mg daily. Feverfew works by relaxing blood vessels and decreasing inflammation, thereby improving blood circulation in the brain.
- Butterbur (Petasites hybridus): A perennial shrub effective for people suffering migraine (without aura) when taken for four months at 75 mg twice daily. A 2004 study showed the best response after three months with a 58 percent reduction in attacks. A significant 71 percent of the nearly 250 people in the study responded positively to the supplement.
- Omega-3 fish oils: One of the most powerful and natural anti-inflammatories that have been shown to reduce the frequency, duration and severity of migraines. The three fatty acids in fish oil are known as ALA, DHA and EPA. Taking a combined dose of 1,000 mg daily can help with a host of issues, including headache and migraine. Read more about the essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10): Antioxidant produced by the body. Aids in boosting cellular activity by taking part in the creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the major source of cellular energy. A daily regimen of 200 mg has been shown to help energy levels. CoQ10 has been shown to help reduce the onset of migraine. The best food sources include salmon, tuna, organ meats and whole grains.
Diet and supplementation are two great ways to get enough of the key vitamins and nutrients that are essential to help prevent, delay and reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of headaches (especially migraines).
I will conclude with advice from the New York Headache Center: “The efficacy of some non-pharmacologic therapies appears to approach that of most drugs used for the prevention of migraine and tension-type headaches. These therapies often carry a very low risk of serious side effects and frequently are much less expensive than pharmacologic therapies.”
Safer and cheaper are always good things when it comes to quality of life, pain reduction and migraine relief.