Feverfew

For the Relief of Migraines

As someone has said, headaches can be a real pain! Too many Americans suffer from the nagging pain and inconvenience of headaches. Some experience headaches caused by stress or tension, while others experience the intense throbbing of a migraine headache.

The length of pain from a headache is quite variable. A migraine may last anywhere from several hours to several days. Women are affected by migraines about three times more commonly than men. The pain associated with migraines can be so severe that individuals are unable to conduct routine activities. Headache is known to be a leading cause of absenteeism from work.

A migraine is a type of throbbing headache caused by vascular constriction in the brain. Migraines can be triggered by a variety of factors, including anxiety, lack of sleep, noise, glaring lights, allergies, or dietary factors. Some of the foods thought to trigger migraines are aged and processed cheese; red wine; aged, cured, and processed meats; yogurt, peanuts, and chocolate; caffeine-containing beverages; and some food additives, such as soy sauce, yeast extracts, meat tenderizers, and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).

Herbal Relief

Migraine sufferers often seek relief in a variety of ways. Rather than traditional drugs, alternative medicine may be used. One answer to migraines may be found in the use of the herb feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).

The name feverfew comes from the Latin febrifugia, referring to the plant’s ancient role in reducing fevers. Culpepper, the English herbalist of the eighteenth century, wrote that feverfew was effective for all pains in the head.

Feverfew is an herb that belongs to the aster family. It is a strongly aromatic perennial plant that originated from the rocky hills of the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe. Feverfew now grows along roadsides and waste places all over North America and Europe. It is also commonly cultivated as an ornamental in gardens. It is the fresh or dried aerial parts, or the leaves, that are regarded as possessing medicinal properties.

Clinical trials

Persons using feverfew report a reduction in the severity and frequency of migraines. In addition, feverfew can also reduce the discomfort of nausea and vomiting often associated with the migraine.

The daily consumption of two dried leaves of feverfew, administered to migraine patients for six months, produced a 50 percent decrease in the frequency of migraine headaches and a 65 percent drop in nausea and vomiting associated with the migraine.

In another trial with 59 migraine patients, the daily consumption of three to four ounces of dried feverfew (taken as a capsule) for four months produced a 24 percent decrease in migraine attacks and substantial alleviation of associated symptoms.

How Does It Work?

Migraines are thought to be related to changes in blood flow in the brain. Levels of serotonin in the brain may influence the dilation of blood vessels in the head and hence mediate vascular headaches. Compounds in feverfew inhibit the release of serotonin from platelets in the blood. In this way feverfew helps to diminish migraines. Feverfew can reduce blood vessel spasms and the associated discomfort.

Some have claimed that feverfew can reduce attacks of rheumatoid arthritis. However, beneficial effects of feverfew on arthritis have not been seen in well-controlled studies.

Feverfew products are often standardized to contain not less than 0.2 percent of the organic compound. However, additional constituents such as other sesquiterpene lactones, terpenoids, and flavonoids may be responsible for the medicinal properties. The sesquiterpenoids in feverfew are known to possess anti-inflammatory activity.

How Do You Use It?

Feverfew is available in many forms including leaves, tablets, capsules, and tinctures. About one to three leaves taken once or twice daily has been recommended to reduce the severity and duration of a migraine. For those using capsules, one to three 300- to 400-milligram capsules a day is recommended. At no time should one exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Feverfew tea can be brewed by pouring a cup of boiling water over one to two teaspoons of dried leaves and allowing the mixture to sit for 10 minutes. One to two cups of tea daily may be used. Though feverfew is not unbearable, the taste is quite bitter. Feverfew must be used on a regular basis for it to be most effective. Remission of migraines should begin after two months of feverfew use.

Safety Issues

Feverfew can safely be taken for many months following the designated therapeutic dosages. For those who opt to chew the feverfew leaves, there is a chance of getting ulcerations of the mouth, inflammation of the tongue, and swelling of the lips. In rare cases, allergic dermatitis may occur.

Feverfew is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, or for children under the age of 2. Feverfew should be avoided by individuals with a hypersensitivity to any member of the daisy family, such as ragweed.

Conclusion

Feverfew has proved to be effective for reducing the number and severity of migraine attacks. In the management of migraines, other factors to be considered include getting plenty of rest and sleep, regular exercise, avoiding stressful situations, and avoiding certain foods that trigger a migraine.

Remember: Herbal products and dietary supplements can have pharmacological effects, may produce adverse reactions in some people, and could interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications you may take. Discuss with your physician your decision to use any herbal product. Anything mentioned in this article is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any ailment.

Winston J. Craig, Ph.D., R.D., is a professor of nutrition at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.