By Jorie –
I’m a big believer in treating our ailments as naturally and holistically as we can. Why not use the gifts the earth has given us? And if they work–well, even better. I’m not anti-medication, but I am very PRO- natural remedies.
Vitamins and supplements have long been used to treat several medical conditions, including migraines, and many are still used in the same ways they were first discovered; the ingredients used are one and the same. However, thanks to the modern, convenient invention of the capsule (or not–frankly, I hate taking pills) we’re able to take them in one little dose.
I only started taking vitamins and supplements in the last 5 or 6 years for my migraines, but I notice a vast difference. Many people might gloat, “but you still have migraines, obviously they aren’t working!”
That’s not the case at all. They are working, and well. My health has noticed a vibrant boost, my immunity is stronger (I can’t remember the last time I had a head cold), and in fact, the biology of my migraines has drastically changed since I started supplementing. Bear with me– just keep reading…
The Basics: What are Vitamins and Supplements, Actually?
Vitamins are an organic compound and type of supplement, specifically a dietary supplement, derived from plants and animals. Most of us shorten it to “supplement,” because who wants to use that mouthful of words all the time?
A supplement, on the other hand, isn’t always a vitamin. Supplements often contain vitamins within them, but also may be made up of minerals, amino acids, herbs, extracts, and other ingredients.
The word “vitamin” dates back to 1912, when Polish scientist Cashmir Funk (what a name, right?) coined the term while studying nutrition. He called it a “vitamine” deriving “vita” from the Latin for “life” and “amine” from compounds found in thiamine.
The theory of vitamin deficiency initially comes from English biochemist Sir Frederick Hopkins, who discovered in 1906 the importance of certain food factors on diet and health. As his and Funk’s studies progressed, scientists in the 20th century were able to determine much more about vitamin deficiencies, pinpointing specific vitamins, why they are so important to overall health, and how to incorporate them into our diets for a healthier life.
Today, there are currently 13 vitamins officially recognized by the FDA:
Vitamin A – Sources include squash, spinach, fish, soy milk, milk
Vitamin B1 – Sources include pork, oatmeal, brown rice, vegetables, potatoes, liver, eggs
Vitamin B2 (aka Riboflavin)– Sources include dairy products, bananas, popcorn, green beans, asparagus
Vitamin B3 – Sources include meat, fish, eggs, many vegetables, mushrooms, tree nuts
Vitamin B5 – Sources include meat, broccoli, avocados
Vitamin B6 – Sources include meat, vegetables, tree nuts, bananas
Vitamin B7 – Sources include egg yolk, liver, peanuts, leafy green vegetables
Vitamin B9 – Sources include leafy vegetables, pasta, bread, cereal, liver
Vitamin B12 – Sources include meat and other animal products
Vitamin C – Sources include many fruits and vegetables, liver
Vitamin D – Sources include fish, eggs, liver, mushrooms
Vitamin E – Sources include fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds
Vitamin K – Sources include leafy green vegetables such as spinach, egg yolks, liver
Of these vitamins, several are used to combat migraines–specifically the B-complex vitamins. I’ll get to that a little further in this article.
Vitamins and Supplements that Impact Migraine
Enough about the historical and technical details. I’m going to focus on the most popular vitamins and supplements for treatment and prevention of migraines, as well as my experience with many of them.
According to many sources, a few of the top vitamins and supplements for treatment and prevention of migraines are:
- B2, aka Riboflavin
This, of course, isn’t a complete list– I just chose 6 to discuss. However, I’ll go over each one of these, why they’re beneficial to migraines, and more.
Vitamin B2, aka Riboflavin
Of all the B-complex vitamins, B2, also known as riboflavin, is the most important for migraine prevention. Why is that?
Think back to your middle or high school science classes. Do you remember making those models of the body’s cellular structure? In my class we all made huge cookies. Each part of the cell was represented by some type of sweet candy on top of a coat of icing. I guess this project stuck with me pretty well. Mixing kids and sweets probably does that.
Anyway, if you recall your old text books, riboflavin played a big role in the function of the cell by helping to produce energy for the body (as all the B-complex vitamins do) and essentially manage metabolism.
But that’s about all we know about riboflavin’s impact on migraines. Scientists aren’t really sure what role riboflavin plays in prevention, but they do know it can help.
In one study of 55 migraine patients conducted by a neurologist, “59% of the participants who took 400 mg per day of riboflavin for 3 months experienced at least 50% reduction in migraine attacks compared with 15% for placebo.”
American Academy of Neurology/American Headache Society (AAN/AHS) Rating: Probably Effective
My experience: I have been taking riboflavin for about a year now at 400mg per day and have noticed a slight boost in energy and alertness. I can’t quite tell if it has targeted my migraines, but will continue to take it as a preventative measure and overall wellness. We can all use some riboflavin.
Butterbur (Petasites Hybridus)
Usually sold on the market as “Petadolex,” butterbur is an herbal supplement that is part of the daisy family.
While it has been “established as effective” by AAN/AHS for the prevention of migraines, butterbur has a bit of a bad rap due to the fact that it contains toxic substances (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) and can be dangerous to take if not regulated. The extracts used in supplements must be carefully filtered to remove toxins.
It is also advised that women who are pregnant or nursing, or anyone with an allergy to the daisy plant avoid taking butterbur. Butterbur has also been banned in the UK because of its risk associated with liver toxicity.
AAN/AHS Rating: Established as Effective
My experience: None. I’ve never tried it.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Feverfew, another member of the daisy family, also works well to fight migraines due to an extract found in the plant called MIG-99. It helps to reduce inflammation in the body (hence its name feverfew: it was traditionally used to treat fevers) and regulate prostaglandins, a hormone substance that plays a role in producing pain sensations.
In a study of 72 patients, feverfew presented a 24% reduction in the average number and severity of attacks, however the duration of the individual attacks was unaltered.
Again, just as with butterbur, feverfew should be avoided by any pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as those with allergies to the Compositae plant family.
AAN/AHS Rating: Probably Effective
My experience: None. I’ve never tried it.
While this supplement isn’t as well-known as others for migraine prevention, L-arginine packs a punch (no pun intended). L-arginine is best known for its use in the gym–weight lifters, body builders, and other fitness junkies use L-arginine to aid in blood flow, producing those bulked-up arteries you see.
But this isn’t why you’d take it for migraine. In order for your body to remain healthy, it must get rid of toxins. One of the key ways our bodies do this is through our kidneys, bladder, and ultimately, urination.
In some cases, too much waste builds up in our bodies because we have a deficiency of L-arginine, which is an amino acid responsible for balancing proteins. Taking it as a supplement converts it into nitric oxide, which improves blood vessel function. When we are full of toxins, our blood pumps hard, but constricts our vessels. And what does that mean? Yep, a migraine.
L-arginine is great, in fact, for onset of migraine pain as well as prevention. Some patients have seen relief within 30 minutes of taking a dose of L-arginine combined with a light pain-killer. I’ll let you try that out for yourself.
AAN/AHS Rating: Unknown
My experience: I love L-arginine. It’s an unconventional, yet effective way to combat migraines and help my vascular system flourish. I no longer take L-arginine daily due to the cost, but I still keep some handy and take it at onset of a migraine and do experience relief if it is mild pain. Success!
Perhaps the most renowned of the vitamins used for migraine prevention, magnesium is vital to our physiological processes. Healthy adults contain about 24 grams of magnesium, but that number is generally much lower among migraine patients.
Low brain magnesium is a particular concern. Researchers at UCB found that people with migraines tend to have low brain magnesium levels during an attack and are more likely to have low magnesium overall.
According to the Association of Migraine Disorders, daily doses of magnesium may reduce migraine symptoms by 50% for about half of people who experience migraines, and was found to be especially relevant for menstrual migraine. Additionally, two studies from the 1990’s found that taking a magnesium supplements helped reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
Magnesium is primarily absorbed through the gastrointestinal system, and there are many forms of magnesium on the market, making it difficult to decide which one to choose for migraine prevention. Doctors recommend magnesium citrate for maximum efficacy in migraine prevention.
AAN/AHS Rating: Probably Effective
My experience: Magnesium has been a part of my diet for a few years now as recommended by my neurologist. I take about 1,000mg per day, which sounds high, but it is a necessary dose for someone with a deficiency battling migraines. I also use magnesium oil and lotion, both of which are better absorbed by the body and can be used at onset of a migraine attack. I combine magnesium oil with my essential oils for the best relief and overall really like using magnesium in all the ways I can.
While it may be considered more of a food or spice, turmeric can be taken as an herbal supplement as well. It is quickly becoming popular as an anti-inflammatory in the western world, but turmeric as a medicine has been around for thousands of years in the eastern hemisphere, especially India.
The key ingredients in turmeric are curcumin and piperine. Turmeric and curcumin are very poorly absorbed by the body unless piperine is present–piperine is responsible for a 2000% increase in the body’s ability to absorb turmeric.
Turmeric is probably my favorite of everything on this list. Why, you might ask? Well, turmeric is as close to a miracle remedy as you can get. It functions in a very unique way in the body by targeting what needs fixing and has healing properties for almost any ailment.
A few things turmeric works well for are:
- pain & inflammation,
- gut health,
- cardiovascular function,
- combatting fatigue,
- mitochondrial dysfunction,
- clearing acne,
- amyloid plaque reduction (cause of dementia), and
- increase in serotonin.
And that’s not even a full list.
I would boast about the benefits of turmeric all day, but I want you to go out and try it for yourself. So by all means stop reading this article and go get you some!
AAN/AHS Rating: Unknown
My experience: See above. I’m a huge believer in using turmeric not only for my migraines but for almost anything. One of the biggest benefits I’ve witnessed is a reduction in joint pain (from RA). I take it in a capsule as well as eating it in some of my favorite Thai curry dishes and fixing turmeric milk tea. The possibilities are endless!
So after all that, even though I love taking vitamins and supplements, they aren’t a cure all. I have to show both sides of the coin here. They’re great for some prevention and overall wellness, but my migraines aren’t gone.
It’s all better than it could be, though. My body feels better, my health is better, and, while it’s hard to gauge whether or not the vitamins and supplements have had a positive impact on my migraines, I intuitively believe they have. It’s all part of maintenance treatment.
I don’t like to end things on a sour note; if you know me, you know I’m the type of person who tries to see the good in everything. And there’s even some good in things that don’t work 100%. A migraineur knows that. So I’m going to close by listing all the pros I’ve experienced while taking vitamins and supplements. I hope you can try some of them for yourself and have a positive outcome too.
- I’ve been able to reduce the number of prescription medications I’m taking,
- I experience fewer side effects by taking vitamins and supplements,
- I feel better about my body having switched to more natural treatments,
- I’ve found things that work–and things that don’t. It’s all part of the process.
- By taking vitamins and supplements, I’ve educated myself much more on the biology of medicine and the human body,
- And… my wallet isn’t quite so light anymore.
(Disclaimer: The content of this article should not be considered as or replaced by medical advice. Always discuss taking vitamins and supplements with your doctor or a professional first.)