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How to Manage Migraines

Science is helping solve the mystery of migraines with research-backed remedies that offer much-needed relief.

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Living with migraines—even occasional ones—can make life almost unbearable. A terribly painful, throbbing, recurrent pain on (usually) one or both sides of the head characterizes a migraine headache, which usually is accompanied by one or more associated symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and an increased sensitivity to noise and/or bright light. It’s a comparatively common issue, with about 6 percent of men and 18 percent of women having at least one episode per year that typically lasts about four hours but can continue for three days.

Magnesium for Migraine Prevention

Over the past two decades, it’s become clear that migraine patients have low magnesium levels between attacks, and the levels tend to be even lower during attacks. One theory is that low magnesium levels cause instability of neuronal function, which enhances the brain’s susceptibility to a migraine. 

Magnesium is therefore a major preventive remedy, and most types of magnesium supplements work well. A daily dose up to bowel tolerance is recommended for prevention—for most people, that’s about 1,200 mg daily. 

Intravenous magnesium works well to abort a migraine. In one study, pain reduction of 50 percent or more occurred within 15 minutes of infusion in 87 percent of the patients. In more than half the patients, at least this degree of improvement or complete relief persisted for 24 hours or more. In another study from 2005, the IV magnesium worked as well as metoclopramide, a standard medication.

Avoid an Attack with Feverfew

Feverfew is well-known as a possible migraine preventive. On the whole, scientific evidence, while sparse, is positive. There are many types of preparations available, which makes comparison tricky. One small study found that combining feverfew with willow bark markedly increased the effect.

If using good-quality herb powder in capsules, start with 500 mg per day, gradually increasing until you experience prevention—many people need to use 5 grams for complete control. Be sure to give the herb enough time to work, at least one month of daily use.  

If All Else Fails, Try Ginger

In one clinical trial, researchers  studied a combination of ginger and feverfew given at pain onset. Two hours after treatment, 48 percent of patients were pain free, and 34 percent reported only mild pain. Of the subjects, 59 percent were satisfied with the herb therapy, and 41 percent preferred it or felt it was equal to their regular medication.

At the first signs of an impending attack, stir 2 tablespoons of dry ginger powder into a glass of water and drink immediately. The attack will usually recede. If it begins again a few hours later, repeat the dose.

Related: What to Eat When You Have a Migraine