The Best Supplements for Migraine Headaches
The exact cause is not really known and may be different for each individual person. Inflammation around the nerves and blood vessels in the head are thought to be part of the reasons for the pain. (1) Dysfunction in the energy producing cells of the body
Is migraine different than a regular headache?
Headaches cause pain in the head, neck and/or jaw but migraines come with more than just some head pain. Generally migraine headaches are characterized by head pain that can be moderate to severe, often with only on one side of the head being affected, and have a pulsating sensation. Some people also experience sensitivity to light, smell or sounds, nausea, vomiting and some can even see strange lights or spots when the pain starts which is known as an aura. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to several days and cause significant debility. Migraine headaches are thought to affect up to 1 in 7 adults around the world and is far more commonly affects women. (1)
What exactly cause migraine headaches and what are the treatment options?
The exact cause is not really known and may be different for each individual person. Inflammation around the nerves and blood vessels in the head are thought to be part of the reasons for the pain. (1) Dysfunction in the energy producing cells of the body, called mitochondria, are also thought to play a role in migraine headaches. (2) When the mitochondria don’t work properly there is insufficient energy production for the cells to use and carry out their many functions. Several downstream imbalances can result throughout the body, leading to many different symptoms that can include migraine headaches.
Conventional treatments include selective serotonin agonist drugs, which do not work for 30% of patients, can cause serious side effects and can become very costly. (2) For these reasons it may be a good idea to consider some other options before seeking out these types of drugs.
What are the best supplements to naturally prevent and treat migraine headaches?
The standard diet contains a much higher proportion of omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids. This leads to higher levels of inflammation in the cells of your body, as omega-6 fatty acids produce inflammation. Large enough doses of omega-3 fatty acids, found in things like fish oil, have been shown to replace some of the omega-6 fatty acids in the bodies cells and thus decrease the inflammatory cascade. (1) A recent meta-analysis demonstrated that omega-3 intake resulted in significant decreases in the duration of migraine episodes as well as decreasing the number of episodes experienced each month and the severity of migraine pain. (1)
As mentioned earlier, dysfunction with the body's mitochondrial cells has been associated with the development of migraine headaches. Riboflavin is an important vitamin that is used in the mitochondria to produce energy and many studies have shown high doses can be effective in decreasing the number of attacks and duration of migraine headaches. 400mg of riboflavin was compared with a placebo in a study involving 55 patients that suffered from migraines. The vitamin supplement was reported to be significantly superior over placebo in reducing attack frequency and duration and there were minimal to know adverse side effects. (3)
Both of these supplements play different roles in the mitochondria cell. Coenzyme Q10 is vital to the production of energy and use of oxygen by the mitochondria, while also being a powerful antioxidant to provide protection to the energy cell. L-carnitine acts to bring fatty acids into the mitochondria to be used for energy production. (4) Clinical trials examining the use of each of these supplements individually have produced varying results, however one recent double-blind, placebo controlled trial demonstrated significant decreases in severity, duration and frequency of migraine headaches in the group receiving both coenzyme Q10 and L-carnitine supplements together for 8 weeks. A significant reduction in blood lactate levels was also demonstrated in the supplemented group, which indicates better oxidative metabolism and thus potentially better mitochondrial function. (4)
Always speak to your medical provider before starting any treatments to help determine what may be right for you.
1. Maghsoumi-Norouzabad L, Mansoori A, Abed R, Shishehbor F. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine attacks: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Neurosci. 2018 Oct 21;21(9):614–23.
2. Rehman T, Ahmad S, Fatima Q. Effects of dietary supplementations and herbs on migraine – a systematic review. J Complement Integr Med [Internet]. 2019 Aug 27
3. Schoenen J, Jacquy J, Lenaerts M. Effectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraine prophylaxis A randomized controlled trial. Neurology. 1998 Feb 1;50(2):466–70.
4. Hajihashemi P, Askari G, Khorvash F, Reza Maracy M, Nourian M. The effects of concurrent Coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine supplementation in migraine prophylaxis: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. Cephalalgia. 2019 Apr 1;39(5):648–54.