The symptoms of migraines can make it hard to manage daily life. These intense headaches can cause throbbing pain, sensitivity to light or sound, and nausea.
Several prescription drugs treat migraines, but they can come with unwanted side effects. The good news is that there may be natural alternatives you can try. Certain vitamins and supplements may reduce the frequency or severity of your migraines.
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 important to work with your health care provider. They can help develop a treatment plan that works for you.
No one vitamin or supplement or combination of vitamins and supplements has been proven to help relieve or prevent migraines in everyone. That’s partly because every person's headaches are different and have unique triggers.
Still, the nutritional supplements that follow have science supporting their effectiveness and may be worth trying.
Research has yet to show how or why vitamin B-2, also known as riboflavin, helps prevent migraines. It may have an effect on the way cells metabolize energy, according to Mark W. Green, MD, a professor of neurology, anesthesiology, and rehabilitation medicine, and a director of headache and pain medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
A research review published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research concluded that riboflavin can play a positive role in reducing the frequency and duration of migraine attacks, with no serious side effects.
If you choose vitamin B-2 supplementation, you’ll want to aim for 400 milligrams of vitamin B-2 daily. Clifford Segil, DO, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, recommends taking two 100-mg tablets, twice per day.
Although the evidence from research is limited, he’s optimistic about vitamin B-2’s potential for treating migraines. “Among the few vitamins I use in my clinical practice, it helps more often than the others many neurologists use,” he says.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, daily doses of 400 to 500 mg of magnesium may help prevent migraines in some people. They say it’s especially effective for migraines related to menstruation, and those with accompanying aura, or visual changes.
A review of the research on magnesium’s effectiveness for migraine prevention notes that migraine attacks have been linked to magnesium deficiency in some people. The authors found that giving magnesium intravenously can help reduce acute migraine attacks, and that oral magnesium can 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.
Researchers are just beginning to investigate what role vitamin D may play in migraines. At least
Before you start taking supplements, ask your doctor how much vitamin D your body needs. You can also check out the Vitamin D Council for general guidance.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a substance that has important functions in our bodies, like helping to generate energy in cells and protecting cells from oxidative damage. Because people with certain diseases have been shown to have lower levels of CoQ10 in their blood, researchers are interested in finding out whether supplements might have health benefits.
While there isn’t a lot of evidence available on CoQ10’s effectiveness for preventing migraines, it may help decrease the frequency of migraine headaches. It’s classified in the American Headache Society’s guidelines as “possibly effective.” Larger studies are needed to provide a definitive link.
The typical dosage of CoQ10 is up to 100 mg taken three times per day. This supplement may interact with certain medications or other supplements, so check with your doctor.
The study showed that melatonin was generally better tolerated and in many cases more effective than the drug amitriptyline, which is often prescribed for migraine prevention but can have side effects. The dosage used in the study was 3 mg daily.
Melatonin has the advantage of being available over the counter at low cost. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is generally considered safe in recommended dosages, although the FDA does not recommend it for any specific use.
Most over-the-counter supplements are generally well-tolerated and safe, but here are some things to keep in mind:
- Always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement. Some vitamins, minerals, and other supplements can interact with medications you may be taking. They could also aggravate an existing health condition.
- Women who are pregnant should be especially careful about taking new supplements. Some are not safe for pregnant women.
- If you have gastrointestinal (GI) 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.
Also keep in mind that when 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 noticing the benefits.
If your new supplement seems to be making your migraines or another health condition worse, stop taking it immediately and talk to your doctor. For example, caffeine may help reduce headaches in some people, but may trigger them in others.
Never assume that all vitamins, minerals, and other supplements are safe, or that they’re of the same quality. For example, taking too much vitamin A can lead to headaches, nausea, coma, and even death.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist before deciding to try a new supplement brand or dosage.
Not all headaches are migraines. A migraine is a specific subtype of headache. 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”
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 after a woman’s period
- exercise, or sudden movements
In rare cases, headaches may be a symptom of a brain tumor. You should always tell your doctor if you have regular headaches that affect your quality of life.
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 it is pretty good at helping patients with headaches,” Segil adds. If you’re open to taking prescription 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.
A 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 primary care doctor about finding one.
Vitamins and other supplements can help ease or prevent migraines for some people.
There are some herbal remedies that may also be effective treatments for migraines. Of particular note is butterbur. Its purified root extract, called petasites, is “established as effective” according to the guidelines of the American Headache Society.
Be sure to consult with your doctor before trying any of these vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies.