The symptoms of migraines, such as throbbing pain, sensitivity to light or sound, and even nausea, can make it hard to manage daily life. You can use prescription drugs to treat migraines, but you may find those medications come with other side effects, too. Or maybe you’re just looking for a more natural alternative. Take a moment to learn how certain vitamins, minerals, and other supplements may affect the frequency or severity of your migraines.
What Are Migraines?
Not all headaches are migraines. A migraine is a specific subtype of a headache. It can be accompanied by other symptoms, too.
Your migraine symptoms may include any combination of the following:
- pain on one side of your head
- a throbbing sensation in your head
- sensitivity to bright light or sounds
- blurred vision or visual changes, which are referred to as “aura”
“Although there are thousands of types of headaches, migraine accounts for 94 percent of headaches that are disabling,” explains Dr. Mark W. Green, M.D., a professor of neurology, anesthesiology, and rehabilitation medicine, and a director of headache and pain medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Much is still unclear about what causes migraines. They likely have at least some genetic component. Environmental factors also appear to play a part. For example, the following factors can trigger migraines:
- certain foods
- food additives
- hormonal changes, such as the drop in estrogen that occurs either right before or right after a woman’s period
In rare cases, headaches may be a symptom of a brain tumor. You should always tell your doctor if you have even semiregular headaches that disrupt your quality of life, says Clifford Segil, D.O., a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Supplements for Migraine Relief
Sometimes, strategies for treating migraines that work for one person provide little relief for another. They may even make your migraines worse. That’s why it’s so important to work with your doctor. They can help develop a treatment plan that works for you.
No one vitamin, or vitamin combination, has been proven to help relieve or prevent migraines in everyone. That’s partly because triggers are unique to each individual. Even so, some nutritional supplements have been shown to help some people.
Research has yet to show how or why vitamin B-2, or riboflavin, might help prevent migraines. Green says it may have an effect on the energy metabolism of cells. However it works, taking vitamin B-2 supplements may help you prevent migraines.
You’ll want to aim for 400 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B-2 daily. Segil recommends taking two 100-mg tablets at a time, twice per day. Although the evidence from research is limited, he’s optimistic about vitamin B-2’s potential for treating migraines. It may be especially helpful for people who don’t want to take mainstream pharmaceutical migraine medications.
“Among the few vitamins I use in my clinical practice, it helps more often than the others many neurologists use,” he says.
Sold as Petadolex, butterbur is an herb that may help some people prevent migraines. One study published in the journal Neurology found that butterbur extract was more effective than a placebo for preventing migraines. It was also well-tolerated by study participants.
Those research participants took 75 mg of butterbur daily. Segil says this dosage would be appropriate for most people. He notes that butterbur has provided relief to some of his patients, but it doesn’t seem to help as much as riboflavin.
According to the Association of Migraine Disorders, daily doses of magnesium may reduce migraine symptoms by 50 percent for about half of people who experience migraines. The typical dose is 400 mg per day.
A recent review of the research on magnesium’s effectiveness for migraine prevention was published in the journal Pain Physician. The authors note that migraine attacks have been linked to magnesium deficiency in some people. They found that giving magnesium intravenously can help reduce acute migraine attacks. They also report that oral doses of magnesium reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines.
When looking for a magnesium supplement, note the amount contained in each pill. If one pill only contains 200 mg of magnesium, you’ll want to take it twice daily. If you notice loose stools after taking this dose, you may want to try taking less.
While Segil has seen magnesium being recommended for migraine prevention, he has yet to see evidence of its effectiveness in his own patients.
Researchers are just beginning to investigate how vitamin D may play a role in migraines. At least one study, which was published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, suggests that vitamin D supplementation may help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
The research participants were given 50,000 international units of vitamin D per week. Ask your doctor how much vitamin D your body needs. You can also visit the Vitamin D Council for general guidance.
There isn’t a lot of evidence from research available on coenzyme Q10’s effectiveness for preventing migraines. According to the Association of Migraine Disorders, a few smaller studies suggest that coenzyme Q10 is more effective than placebos for reducing the frequency of migraines. The typical dosage is up to 100 mg of coenzyme Q10 taken three times per day.
Coenzyme Q10 may interact with certain medications or supplements. It’s important to check with your doctor before starting a new vitamin regimen with coenzyme Q10.
Most vitamins and minerals are generally well-tolerated and safe, but you there are a few safety notes you should remember.
Always check with your doctor before starting to take a new supplement. Some vitamins, minerals, and other supplements can interact with medications you may be taking. They may also aggravate an existing health condition. Your doctor can help you determine if a new supplement is safe for you.
Women who are pregnant should be especially careful about taking new supplements. If you have an abnormal gastrointestinal (GI) tract, other digestive issues, or you’ve had GI surgery, you should also talk to your doctor before taking new supplements. You may not be able to absorb them like most people do, says Segil.
After you start taking a new supplement, you may not see results right away. You may need to continue taking it for at least a month before learning if it’s helping you. If it seems to be making your migraines or other health conditions worse, stop taking it immediately and talk to your doctor. For example, caffeine may help reduce headaches in some people, while triggering them in others.
Never assume that all supplements are safe or that they’re of the same quality. For example, taking too much vitamin A can lead to headaches and even blindness, says Green. Do your research or ask your pharmacist before deciding to try a new supplement brand or dosage.
Being in a quiet, dark room may be another way to prevent or help treat a migraine. That may sound simple, but it’s becoming more and more uncommon in today’s fast-paced world.
“Modern life doesn’t allow us to do this often,” says Segil. “Simply relaxing or taking a few minutes to relax in a quiet and dark space often aborts headaches.”
“Modern medicine is not good at treating a lot of ailments but is pretty good at helping patients with headaches,” Segil adds. If you’re open to taking pharmaceutical medications, you might be surprised at how well some of them work. The right medication may help you lower the number of migraines you experience. It may also reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Your neurologist can help you develop a medication or supplement regimen that suits your individual circumstances. They can also provide tips to help you identify and avoid your migraine triggers. If you don’t already have a neurologist, ask your family doctor about finding one.