Headaches can have a variety of causes, but a deficiency of serotonin may be a major factor. Various studies in both adults and children have reported significant improvements in patients using 5-HTP therapy (in one double blind study the 5-HTP group gained such good results that they were unwilling to swap medication for the second phase of the study). 5-HTP not only increases serotonin levels, but also levels of beta-endorphins – compounds that have significant pain-reducing properties.
EPA and GLA
Listed among the causes of migraines are excessive blood clotting, reduced cerebral blood flow, and increased inflammatory response. The essential fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and GLA (gamma linolenic acid) have been shown to decrease blood platelet aggregation (clotting), increase blood flow and reduce inflammation, so although studies looking specifically at EFA intake in migraine are not abundant, they are theoretically worth considering in those with migraines.
Studies indicate a correlation between low magnesium status and migraine headaches. Magnesium deficiency appears to be an important factor in migraine development and in studies magnesium deficient,subjects have reported improvements when given supplemental magnesium. This action is probably due to the role of magnesium in maintaining blood vessel tone and calming nerve impulses.
Studies indicate that oral niacin may be helpful in the prevention and relief of migraine and tension-type headaches. Although the exact mechanism is not yet clearly understood, it has been theorised that niacin helps to normalise mitochondrial energy production, particularly in cerebral blood vessels. Niacin also dilates these blood vessels, improving blood flow, which becomes restricted in migraine development. Niacin used every day may prevent, or reduce the incidence of migraine headaches. Niacin causes blood vessels in the skin to dilate resulting in a flush during which the skin may feel hot and prickly. This is perfectly normal, but it is advised to take niacin with food and build up the dosage slowly to avoid a severe reaction.
Feverfew (tanacetum parthenium)
The herb feverfew has been shown to decrease the severity and frequency of migraine headaches. The effects appear to be due the ability of its active constituents to improve blood vessel function, correct platelet abnormalities and reduce inflammatory response.
Migraine Headache Summary
Nutrient/Herb Typical intake range
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) (1)
Fish oil (2)
Borage oil/evening primrose oil (3)
Feverfew extract (0.7% parthenolides) (6)
100 – 300mg per day (away from food)
1000 – 3000mg per day
150 – 300mg GLA per day
200 – 600mg per day
100 – 500mg per day (build up intake slowly)
200 – 1000mg per day
Identify and avoid allergens (primary trigger for migraine headaches)
Eliminate amine containing foods (chocolate, cheese, wine, beer, shellfish) which can trigger migraines
Vegetables (esp. dark leafy green)
Nuts and seeds
Take regular, gentle exercise
Consider TENS therapy
1. May increase risk of sclcroderma-like symptoms in susceptible individuals. May cause serotonin syndrome if combined with anridepressant drugs that increase serotonin levels – avoid concurrent use. Best avoided by pregnant women and nursing mothers.
2. Do not take in conjunction with anticoagulant medication unless under medical supervision.
3. Some reports suggest GLA is contraindicated in epilepsy. Epileptics should use only under medical supervision.
4. High doses may cause loose stools. Those taking heart medication should use magnesium under supervision from a Doctor.
5. High-dose niacin in any form should be avoided in those with pre-existing liver disease (or elevated liver enzymes) or gall bladder disease, unless under medical supervision. Long-term, high-dose niacin or inositol hexanicotinate should be avoided in diabetics unless medically supervised. High-dose niacin should be avoided in cases of pregnancy, peptic ulcers or gout unless under medical supervision. Taking high-dose niacin with alcohol, beta-blockers, mecamylamine or pargyline may cause severe hypotension (low blood pressure).
6. Do not use in pregnancy or lactation.