Migraine headaches are estimated to affect over 28 million Americans. These headaches are caused by excessive dilation of blood vessels in the head and are characterized by a throbbing or pounding sharp pain.
The standard medical approach is the use of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription (Rx) drugs. The OTC options are pain relievers alone or in combination such as the combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine. OTC choices are usually of limited benefit, especially in more severe cases.
The most popular Rx drugs are the triptans. These drugs work by constricting blood vessels as well as blocking pain pathways in the brain. Sumatriptan (Imitrex) is regarded as the gold standard of these drugs as it has the longest track record and is the most studied. It brings about almost immediate relief for many patients, but headache recurs in almost 40% of people within 24 hours after taking the drug. Minor side effects of triptans include nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and muscle weakness. But, these medications can also cause more serious side effects such as coronary artery spasms, heart attacks, stroke, abnormal heart beats, and seizures.
There are a number of dietary and supplement strategies that have been shown to be effective alternative treatments in migraine with success rates often superior to standard therapy. In particular, a new study compared ginger powder head-to-head with Sumatriptan. Ginger showed equal effectiveness, but a better safety profile.
A double-blinded randomized controlled clinical trial compared the efficacy of ginger to sumatriptan, also known as Imitrex–one of the top-selling billion dollar drugs in the world–in the treatment of migraine headaches.
They tried using just one-eighth of a teaspoon of powdered ginger versus a good dose of the drug. And they both worked just as well, just as fast. Most started out in moderate or severe pain before, but after the drug or ginger, ended up in mild pain or pain free. The same proportion of migraine sufferers reported satisfaction with the results either way, and so as far as I’m concerned, ginger won–not only because it’s a few billion dollars cheaper, but because there were significantly fewer side effects in the ginger group. On the drug, people reported dizziness, a sedative effect, vertigo, and heartburn. The only thing reported for ginger was an upset tummy in about 1 out of 25 people, though taking a whole tablespoon of ginger powder at one time on an empty stomach could irritate anyone’s tummy (just as a note of caution).
Sticking to an eighth of a teaspoon is not only up to 3,000 times cheaper than the drug, but you’re probably less likely to end up as a case report yourself–of people who have had a heart attack or died after taking the drug.
M Maghbooli, F Golipour, A Moghimi Esfandabadi, M Yousefi. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine. Phytother Res. 2014 Mar;28(3):412-5. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4996.