Feverfew is a traditional, European herbal remedy for migraine headaches. Its use has gained increasing acceptance in the medical community over the past two decades as an alternative to over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.
Modern medicine has made great strides to provide relief to migraine sufferers. Drugs like Amerge and Imitrex work to relieve migraines by altering the muscle tone of the particular arteries found in the brain that cause migraines. However, these drugs are not without side effects, making herbal remedies such as feverfew an increasingly attractive option.
Migraines are a type of vascular headache, which are caused by vascular spasms of certain blood vessels in the brain. As such, they cannot effectively be treated with painkillers, which merely target the blinding pain. Excruciating as it is, migraine pain is merely a symptom of the underlying cause of migraine headaches. Feverfew is believed to be an effective herbal remedy for migraine headaches, because it targets the root cause of this debilitating condition.
Feverfew as an Herbal Remedy for Migraine Headaches
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) has traditionally been used as an herbal remedy for migraines, with relatively few side effects being reported. Also called bachelor's button, this aromatic, perennial herb is native to southeastern Europe. While some anecdotal reports indicate that feverfew may be an effective treatment for active migraine headaches, this herb holds the most promise as a preventive remedy for migraines.
How it Works
Clinical research has isolated and identified the key active components in feverfew as a group of compounds called sequiterpene lactones (STL). The most important STL is parthenolide, which comprises up to 85 percent of the total STL content found in feverfew.
STLs are believed to prevent the vascular spasms that cause migraines by regulating the serotonin mechanism as well as inhibiting the release of histimine and prostaglandin. It is also believed that it has an anti-inflammatory effect by decreasing the secretion of pro-inflammatory enzymes by particular white blood cells called polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs).
Clinical studies indicate that daily oral doses of feverfew are effective in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. Results from a 1997 double-blind, placebo study conducted in Israel showed that participants treated with feverfew experienced a significant reduction in the intensity of their migraine headaches. There was also a significant reduction in the severity of associated symptoms such as nausea and vomiting as well as light and sound sensitivity. No serious side effects were reported
To provide migraine relief, feverfew preparations need to be taken orally on a daily basis. The encapsulated form of dried feverfew leaf is the most often prescribed form, because chewing the fresh feverfew leaves may cause mouth ulcers. The typical standardized preparation contains at least 0.2 percent parthenolides, the active constituent in feverfew. (Higher concentrations are fine, too). The recommended daily dosage is at least 125 mg of this preparation.
For the most effective, long-term treatment of migraines with feverfew, migraineurs should take the recommended feverfew preparation on a regular basis for a number of months. Medical research indicates that a period of four to six weeks is required before any results will be noted.
Feverfew Side Effects
- Pregnant women must never take feverfew, as it is known to cause uterine contractions.
- Feverfew's bitter tonic properties may cause gastric pain if taken by people who suffer from gall-bladder conditions or stomach ulcers.
- People who are allergic to herbs in the ragweed family such as daisies, marigolds and chrysanthemums may also have allergic reactions to feverfew.
Other Herbs Used in the Treatment of Migraines Headaches
While feverfew is the most widely used herbal remedy for migraine headaches, a few other herbs have traditionally been used to treat this condition:
- Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)
- Lavender (Lavandula Officinalis)
- Butterbur (Petasites Hybridus)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis)
- Peppermint (Mentha Piperita)
As always, you must consult with your health care provider before you begin to take feverfew or any other herbal remedy. This will arm you with the best of both conventional and herbal wisdom to take on your migraine headaches.