Migraines are notoriously hard to treat, perhaps because their causes aren’t fully understood. Over-the-counter medications don’t always work, leaving many people with severe migraines no option but to retire to a dark, quiet room until the pain subsides.
Yarnell reviewed available research on the herbs, roots, and spices he has used in his 21 years of experience as a clinician, drawing on wide knowledge of what people in his field are studying for migraine treatment. He catalogued a number of herbal remedies, including ginger, cayenne, Spanish lavender, butterbur root, turmeric and fish oil, citron, feverfew, white willow, ginkgo, bushy matgrass, select Chinese herbal formulas, and, of course, cannabis, a treatment previous research has suggested could be a superior option for heading off and halting migraines. (Find more inner calm and build strength in just minutes a day with WH’s With Yoga DVD!)
Determining the best herbal agent for you is an entirely subjective process that requires pinpointing migraine triggers beforehand, Yarnell told Women’s Health. Migraines might be caused by food, allergens, stress, sleep cycles—the possibilities are many, and distinct for every person. To find a natural fix, it’s best to consult a professional.
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“For the most part, migraine should not be treated with home remedies,” Yarnell says. “Given the severity of migraines, and the very large number of treatments available, consulting a practitioner knowledgeable in herbal medicine is really important. I don’t say that about everything, but this is an example. And also because again, migraine is not one disease or at least it presents in many different ways, and it really takes a trained practitioner to help sort through which type is happening and to pair the right herbs with that type.”
As to the most effective herb to combat migraines, Yarnell advised: “There is no one most effective answer; it really does depend on the individual.” For a person who gets migraines at menstruation, Yarnell suggests cannabis in conjunction with Cimicifuga racemosa, or black cohosh. Someone whose migraines stem from food allergies might benefit from herbs targeting inflammation: zingiber (or ginger) for acute migraines and curcuma (turmeric) or petasites (butterbur) for migraines prevention. Yarnell explained that herbs can certainly be used in combination for greater effect, but urged that readers seek help from a legitimate herbal medicine practitioner—”not just someone who took a weekend seminar in herbs”—to determine the best formula.
And for people with severe migraines, the solution might not lie in plants alone: In his paper, Yarnell writes that people with particularly bad migraines might fare best when they use natural remedies together with pharmaceuticals.
With migraines as with any health concern, though, it’s always advisable to consult with a doctor when it comes to treatment options.