Those who suffer from migraines know that migraine relief is the difference between functioning and, well, not. There’s no middle ground. Migraines typically start with a throbbing, blinding, nausea-inducing headache that drives you to a darkened room with all light and sound minimized — an agonizing experience, in and of itself. Factor in symptoms like dizziness, lightheadedness, distorted vision, sensory disturbances, and pulsating pain in the face or neck and it can be absolutely crippling. A migraine is an extreme neurological condition that affects more than 37 million people in the United States and close to 1 billion people worldwide.
A study by the World Health Organization identified migraine headaches as the third most prevalent illness in the world, one that is so incapacitating that during an attack sufferers are often unable to function normally. Chronic and recurring migraines can seriously diminish one’s quality of life.
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but current research indicates that both genetic and environmental factors both play a part. Given the variety and severity of symptoms, migraine relief options can be complicated and frustrating. Today, care for this neurologically-based condition runs the gamut from both acute and preventative medicines to nontraditional remedies that include a variety of herbal solutions. These alternative methods for migraine relief are gaining widespread support for those sufferers who can’t tolerate prescription drugs, want to avoid the potential side effects, or simply want a more natural approach to healing.
What You Eat … or Don’t … Can Cause Migraines
Keeping track of what you eat and how it affects you in a food journal is a way to not only maintain good health but to also mitigate the occurrence of migraines. Certain foods, particularly processed foods, can trigger the onset of a headache because they contain chemical additives like food colorings, preservatives, and other additives like monosodium glutamate or aspartame. Spending some time identifying which foods are triggers is an important step toward better headache relief.
Following a gluten-free diet, can help relieve digestive issues, which may be linked to migraines. Consuming foods like nuts, fish, and seeds which are high in Omega-3 fats, a natural anti-inflammatory, may help reduce the pain that is associated with a migraine. Healthy Omega-3 supplements, such as krill oil, are another good option.
According to Jeanette Campbell, Master of Science in Oriental Medicine, Licensed in Acupuncture, and Diplomate in Oriental Medicine (MSOM, Dipl.Om, L.Ac.), migraines are just as difficult to treat with herbs as they are with traditional Western medicine. “I move slowly with patients,” says Campbell. “I do one thing at a time and build on the success of each therapy before introducing a new one. In Chinese medicine, creating unwanted side-effects is considered bad medicine, so the goal is to create a solution that doesn’t do that.” Yet, herbal migraine relief treatments address the underlying cause instead of just treating the symptoms.
History Of Medicinal Herbs For Migraine Relief
Historically, the first forms of headache relief were plant-based, conducted by the earliest herbalists like the Chinese. Peppermint oil, smoothed across the temples, has been used for centuries as an effective migraine and headache relief treatment.
“A migraine is an indicator that there’s more to explore. Delve deeper, to look beyond just the symptoms and determine if the cause is hormonal, nutritional, emotional, environmental or behavioral,” adds Campbell, who often sees migraine sufferers in her practice.
With her foundation in Oriental medicine, her goal is to re-establish the body’s physiological equilibrium, its homeostasis state. She gave insight for this list of helpful herbal remedies.
10 Medicinal Herbs for Migraine Relief
1. Basil — Ocimum basilicum
A tender, easy-to-grow annual herb, the healing effects of basil work as a muscle relaxant. Traditionally considered a warming herb which stimulates the body processes, a basil tonic has an analgesic effect that helps to relieve pain.
2. Bay — Laurus nobilis
Also known as sweet bay, Bay leaves were predominantly considered a culinary herb, but were also used by the Native Americans for headache relief. Bay laurel contains the natural anti-inflammatory chemical parthenolide (also found in feverfew). Leaves can be steeped in hot water for tea or used in the bath. The oil, diluted and in small amounts, can be applied topically to alleviate pain.
3. Butterbur — Petasites hybridus
This anti-inflammatory herb relaxes the blood vessels in the brain and as a natural beta-blocker encourages normal blood flow. Raw, unprocessed butterbur should not be used since it contains harmful properties. Only use the extract of the root, processed to remove toxicity. It most often comes in capsule form.
4. Catnip — Nepeta cataria
Not just for cats! The flowering top of this member of the mint family is excellent for migraine relief. Taken in tea form, catnip is a mild sedative used in traditional herbology for hundreds of years. It has anti-inflammatory characteristics that help reduce stress and anxiety, often the cause of migraine headaches. The (diluted) essential oil or a leaf salve can be used topically on the temples.
5. Chamomile — Chamaemelum nobile
A cup of chamomile tea acts as a mild sedative, with anti-inflammatory components that can help reduce muscle spasms. It can also be used in a hot compress on the back to relieve the pain caused by muscle tension.
6. Feverfew — Tanacetum parthenium
At one time known as medieval aspirin, feverfew is a longstanding headache remedy, also called wild chamomile. It has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory qualities and a mild tranquilizing effect. Use it dried or fresh in tinctures or teas (although it has a bitter taste) or take it in capsule form.
7. Ginger — Zingiber officinale
The ginger root is actually not a root at all but a rhizome, and this is the source of the plant’s healing qualities. Another herb with anti-inflammatory traits, ginger root is an excellent herb for migraine relief. Add fresh slices of ginger root to your cup of tea in the morning. Extracted ginger juice can be used on compresses and in baths or made into a paste or oil for topical use.
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8. Lavender — Lavandula species
The wonderfully aromatic scent of lavender is an uplifting boost in its own right just by inhaling it. Also, rubbing a few drops of diluted lavender oil on the temples brings about soothing relief to headache pain.
9. Mint — Mentha piperita
The perennial peppermint is one of the most widely-used plants in herbal remedies. It contains menthol, thymol, and other oils that add to the powerhouse punch it packs. Peppermint tea is excellent for migraine relief and other ailments, like cough and cold. A simple infusion of its leaves taken as a drink can help reduce headache pain and also as a cold compress applied to the head with a few drops of diluted mint oil.
10. Rosemary — Rosmarinus officinalis
The earliest Chinese herbalists used rosemary in tea for treating headaches. It warms the body from the inside out according to traditional wisdom. It continues to be a viable choice for migraine sufferers, reducing feelings of tension and stress. Use the essential oil in diluted form in the bath, in a salve or cream, or as a rub on temples and neck.
If used correctly and with understanding and guidance, herbal remedies have no debilitating repercussions. However, when embarking on any type of migraine relief treatment, keep track of the frequency, severity and symptoms in a diary or journal so your treatment plan is specific and personalized and to, of course, seek professional guidance.
Susan Brown has written about a broad range of subjects for local and regional newspapers and magazines, for business advertising and marketing collaterals. She is also a website content writer. As the editor and writer for a monthly humor magazine, she get to poke fun at her own Master Gardener exploits. On any given day you can find her outside on her three-acre farm on California’s Central Coast. Read about it.
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