Scientific evidence tells us that the leaves of this herb can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches when used properly. The link between feverfew and migraine became popular in England back in the 1970s, when a doctor’s wife noticed that her migraines were much improved once she started chewing fresh feverfew leaves. As the story goes, after one year of faithfully taking the leaves, she almost forgot she ever suffered from migraines.
Since then, this herbal remedy has been the focus of a number of studies in people with migraines. Of these trials, one hailing from Nottingham, England, was a randomized controlled trial (the gold standard among researchers). In this study, 76 people who experienced migraines were given either whole feverfew leaf or a placebo for four months, and then the treatments were reversed for another four-month period. The results were impressive. Without knowing what treatment they received, 59 percent of the people taking feverfew identified the treatment during the feverfew period as more effective, compared to 24 percent who chose the placebo period. The herbal remedy reduced the number of classic migraines (with aura) by 32 percent and common migraines (without aura) by 21 percent.3
Researchers believe that feverfew reduces the frequency and intensity of migraines by preventing the release of substances called prostaglandins, which dilate blood vessels and cause inflammation. It was once thought that an active ingredient called parthenolide in the herb was responsible for feverfew’s beneficial effect. But when researchers made a special alcohol extract that contained the same amount of partheno-lide as an effective dose of feverfew leaf, there was no effect on migraine headaches. It seems that other compounds in the leaf of the plant are responsible for feverfew’s effect on migraines.
To prevent a migraine, the recommended dose of feverfew is 80 to 100 milligrams daily of powdered feverfew leaf. We know that whole feverfew leaf is effective, so don’t buy an alcohol extract made up of parthenolide. Instead, buy capsules of powdered feverfew leaf. You can also try taking the herb at the onset of a migraine to ease the symptoms.
Feverfew is deemed to be very safe as it rarely causes side effects other than mild gastrointestinal upset. The herb may cause an allergic reaction in people sensitive to members of the Asteracease/Compositae plant family: ragweed, daisy, marigold and chrysanthemum. Like many other herbs, the safety of feverfew has not been studied in pregnant or nursing women, or in those with liver or kidney disease.
The Bottom Line…
Leslie’s recommendations for managing migraines
1. Identify your food triggers. If you are not sure what component of your diet might be a culprit, try an elimination and challenge diet. You might also consider getting tested for food allergies.
2. To prevent a migraine, boost your intake of riboflavin (vitamin B2). Take a 400-milligram supplement each day.
3. Consider supplementing with magnesium to avoid a migraine attack. Research indicates that 600 milligrams of the mineral in supplement form may prevent headaches. Buy magnesium citrate supplements and take 600 milligrams per day in divided doses.
4. If you’re looking for an herbal remedy to prevent and lessen the severity of your migraines, reach for feverfew. Take 80 to 100 milligrams of dry powdered leaf once daily. Feverfew may cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to ragweed, daisies, marigolds and chrysanthemums.