Migraine headaches are more common than you'd probably think.
Up to 15% of the population in the United states are reported to suffer from the often debilitating occurrence of migraine headaches [1, 2].
This condition is for the most part under-treated in the western world, and the vast majority of treatment involves symptomatic treatment only.
Painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen are often used to help with the pain, yet little is done in the way of prevention.
What Causes Migraine Headaches?
The causes of migraine headaches are often very elusive and hard to determine, coming and going whenever they please with very little rhyme or reason.
Stress, diet, hormonal imbalance, and exposure to allergens are definitely triggers, but cannot be relied upon to know exactly when an attack will occur.
The actual processes that are going on during migraine headaches are often incredibly hard to identify, and can vary a lot from person to person. This makes it very difficult to understand what exactly is going on during these attacks and how they are triggered.
That said... there are a few theories as to what is going on within the body during a migraine attack, which can include:
Excessive release of serotonin from platelet triggers
Inflammatory side effects (Especially from NF-kB)
Muscular spasms of the veins and arteries
Platelet granule secretion
Symptoms of Migraine Headaches
One sided, throbbing headache
Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
Phonophobia (sensitivity to noise)
Osmophobia (sensitivity to smell)
Aura (visual disturbances)
Difficulty in concentrating
Stiffness of the neck and shoulders
Pins and needles in the limbs
Paralysis or loss of consciousness
Modern Treatment of Migraines:
Currently, migraines are treated using pain killers such as aspirin, paracetamol, NSAID drugs, ergotamine, narcotic drugs, beta blockers (such as propranolol), serotonin antagonists, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants, and finally our focus treatment, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).
These medicines often aim at dealing with the immediate symptoms but do very little to correct the problem at its source. As such, the migraines will continue to come back as often as they please.
Some of you might point out that, yes... some of the above mentioned drugs such as the serotonin antagonists, and beta blockers are in fact used as a preventative treatment, but success is sporadic at best and the list of side effects can be long and uncomfortable. This problem is common with reductionist style drugs.
Feverfew for Migraines:
Traditional usage of feverfew mainly involved treatment for allergies, and cold/flu type symptoms, and has been suggested by the highly esteemed physician and botanist Dioscorides to be useful in "all hot inflammations". Only in more modern times have we discovered feverfew so effective for migraine headaches.
Beginning in around the 1980's, media coverage of feverfew being the "cure" for migraines led several doctors to conduct a closer study to see if feverfew actually worked in clinical practice, and submitted a series of clinical case studies to a Scientific journal. This led to a huge increase in research interest on the herb and several large scale studies have been done to investigate these effects closer.
One double blind placebo controlled clinical trial for example  found that feverfew produced a significant reduction in both migraine headache frequency and intensity compared with a placebo. Multiple similar studies have been done since this time, all finding similar results.
Herbalists, naturopaths, and an increasing number of physicians are beginning to use this botanical on their patients more commonly, as the evidence towards its effectiveness is hard to argue in light of these recent studies on the herb.
How Feverfew Works:
The symptoms of migraine headache can vary a lot from person to person, and the actual cause is little understood even by modern medicine. There are several ways feverfew has been suggested to treat and prevent migraine headaches however. (This may get fairly technical).
Inhibiting serotonin release from platelet triggers. (This thought to lead to a highly complex chain reaction in the body which leads to the experience of a migraine headache).
Anti-inflammatory action (via NF-kB inhibition) This anti-inflammatory action differs from the normal treatment of COX inhibition from such products as aspirin. This difference may in part explain why it works so much better than aspirin and related chemicals.
Decreases vascular muscle spasms (If the veins and arteries begin to spasm, a migraine headache may be experienced. Feverfew stops this spasm, and prevents it from happening in the first place through a variety of mechanisms).
Blocks platelet granule secretion (This has been found abnormal in migraine sufferers).
Don't worry if none of that made any sense to you,
Migraines have been puzzling researchers for decades!
Basically, the complexity of migraines can vary greatly, and each sufferer likely has something different going on.
Feverfew has multiple possible mechanisms of action for treating and preventing the onset of migraine attacks.
This multifaceted anti-migraine activity is probably why feverfew has had so much success for migraine sufferers who may have very different causes for their migraines.
How to Use Feverfew for Migraines:
Most herbal medicine can take some time to work, but tend to have a lasting effect when compared with pharmaceutical treatments. Feverfew is no different. In order to correct a problem, a solution usually requires coaxing the body back to proper health on its own accord, which can take some time.
Sadly, there does not exist instant, cure-all pills or tablets, no matter how good the marketing may be. Masking a symptom and correcting the problem are two very different things and fortunately for us feverfew falls closer to the latter.
This means that in the initial weeks of using feverfew, it may be necessary to use the treatments you usually use to treat the symptoms if they are too debilitating to go without. This may include pain killers, dark quiet rooms, and cold or warm towels over the head.
With regular usage of feverfew however the severity, and occurrence is likely to decrease gradually overtime to the point where they may not even be noticeable.
The general recommendation for treating migraines with feverfew is to take it on a consistent basis (everyday) for just a few months. This is usually sufficient for most people, however those with significant migraines may need to take a lowered dose of feverfew regularly for a year or more. Many people who have migraines mostly under control, will take a much larger dose whenever they feel some of the warning signs coming on for an attack.
Many will even keep a potted feverfew plant in their garden or house and eat a leaf or 2 each day as a preventative.
Now that we've established that the best method for taking feverfew to treating or correcting your migraines on a consistent basis, over a long period of time, lets look at the dosage.
You can find feverfew liquid extracts most commonly in the ratios of 1:1 (strongest), or 1:5 (weakest).
Take the 1:1 extract at a dose of 1-2 ml/day as a preventative.
For the 1:5 extract take a daily dose of 4-6 ml and double them during an attack.
Due to the length of time it can take for feverfew to correct the issue, doubling the dose during attacks can help with symptoms. It will, however, still take a few months to actually correct the problem on a more permanent level.
Tablets can also be found (although they are not my preferred method of ingesting this herb). They should be taken at a dose of 50-150 mg 1-2 times a day of a dried leaf preparation, or follow the label for concentrated tablets.
Feverfew is a great herb for migraines, and works through multiple pathways to treat and prevent the condition. Just as feverfew offers multiple lines of support, it is good to supplement additional preventative techniques to make sure the migraines never come back.
Other Ways To Alleviate Migraines:
Improving your diet
Attending regular yoga sessions
Other stress relieving techniques
The Sunlight Experiment
Recent Blog Posts
Lipton, R. B., Bigal, M. E., Diamond, M., Freitag, F., Reed, M. L., & Stewart, W. F. (2007). Migraine prevalence, disease burden, and the need for preventive therapy. Neurology,68(5), 343-349. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000252808.97649.21
Stewart, W. F. (1992). Prevalence of Migraine Headache in the United States. JAMA, 267(1), 64. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03480010072027
Headache Australia. (2015). What is a migraine. Retrieved from headacheaustralia.org.au/
Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a.: Churchill Livingstone. (Pg. 219-221)
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. (Pg. 5587)
Johnson ES, Kadam NP, Hylands DM. (1985). Efficacy of feverfew as prophylactic treatment of migraine. British medical journal (Clinical research Ed.) 291:569-573
Barsby RW, Salan U, Knight DW, Hoult JR. Feverfew extracts and parthenolide irreversibly inhibit vascular responses of the rabbit aorta. J Pharm Pharmacol.1992;44:737–40.
Heptinstall S, White A, Williamson L, Mitchell JR. Extracts of feverfew inhibit granule secretion in blood platelets and polymorphonuclear leucocytes. Lancet.1985;1:1071–4.