Here's the truth: If you're in the middle of a migraine attack, reach for your prescription drug. But if you want to prevent them or make future attacks less frequent and less severe, then natural remedies can help. What's more, these natural treatments rarely have side effects.
Drugs treat pain, but "migraines can be a sign of a deeper imbalance that demands attention," says Dr. Robert Schulman, author of Solve It with Supplements and clinical assistant professor of rehabilitative medicine at Weill Medical College, Cornell University. Here are the most effective alternatives.
Several large studies prove that acupuncture is an effective migraine treatment with few side effects. In one study, it eased pain as effectively as the migraine drug sumatriptan. You can find a certified acupuncturist at aaom.org or medicalacupuncture.org.
This herb contains compounds that seem to prevent blood vessel inflammation, which may trigger migraines. Butterbur helps prevent migraines when taken over time, but it won't relieve one once it strikes, says Dr. Sigrun Chrubasik, a researcher at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, Freiburg, Germany. Before taking butterbur, consult your doctor about possible side effects and drug interactions. Petadolex, the extract used in most of the studies, can be found at health food stores.
Cognitive Therapy (CT)
Migraine sufferers who receive CT have fewer, less severe headaches and less depression, and some can even lower their medication, says Judith Beck, director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in suburban Philadelphia. CT helps people identify the triggers that set off their migraines and learn techniques for lowering stress levels, which worsen the pain. "We help people develop an 'oh, well' attitude," says Beck, as in "Oh, well, I don't like getting migraines, but since I can't eliminate them, I'm going to accept them." CT usually involves hourlong sessions for several weeks to several months. Find a therapist at academyofct.org.
When European researchers test this natural antioxidant against a placebo, they found that those who'd taken 100mg of Q10 three times a day had fewer attacks, fewer headache days, and fewer headaches with nausea. Ask your pharmacist for a reputable brand since not all are of equal quality.
How to Breathe Easy
Breathing exercises reduce stress that may trigger attacks. "I'm fond of yoga and of yoga breathing exercises, which anyone can learn," says Schulman. Yoga practitioners suggest this technique called anuloma viloma.
Step 1: Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril, closing the right with your thumb, to a count of four.
Step 2: Hold the breath, closing both nostrils, to a count of 16.
Step 3: Exhale through the right nostril, closing the left, to a count of eight.
Step 4: Inhale through the right nostril, closing the left nostril, to a count of four.
Step 5: Hold the breath, with both nostrils closed, to a count of 16.
Step 6: Exhale through the left nostril, keeping the right closed, for a count of eight.
Step 7: Start with three repetitions and, over time, build up to 20 reps.