I slowly begin to lose my vision. Whatever I’m reading goes from totally legible to partially obstructed, like the words have been burnt out and replaced with a blaze of light, until finally my entire computer screen (and everything else I try to focus on) dissolves into flash blindness.
Also known as an aura migraine, this phenomenon is pretty common. It’s basically your body telling you that something really bad is coming—so you better prepare yourself. Some people experience prickling skin, hallucinations, dizziness, or even hiccups as signals that a brutal migraine is on the way.
A migraine is an intense throbbing pain (usually on one side of the head) accompanied by a whole host of physiological symptoms. Typically, once an episode begins, the person is sensitive to light, sound, and movement. It can last a few hours or up to three days at a time.
Even though the exact cause is unknown, some researchers believe it’s due to an overactive pain-signal firing in brain cells. Scans have shown that people who suffer from migraines have different biochemical activity in their brains than those who don’t—and a whopping 70 percent of them have a family history of headaches, which could mean there’s a genetic link. Like other headaches, doctors believe inflammation could be a factor, too.
Speaking from personal experience, when one of these comes on the first inclination is to down an entire bottle of extra-strength ibuprofen in order to ward it off. But overdosing on over-the-counter pain relievers is dangerous, and even migraine drugs prescribed by doctors have nasty side effects.
If you’re one of the 35 million Americans who deal with migraines on the regular, finding a more natural way to relieve headaches seems like a fantasy. Here’s the thing: There are some natural ways to defeat a brain-splitting headache the next time it strikes. Start with these three.
Butterbur root extract
Alas, it’s not the golden drink from “Harry Potter” (that’s butterbeer)—but butterbur is some kind of magic for headache relief. The plant, which grows in marshy wetland areas, is packed with anti-inflammatory chemicals. In fact, it’s often used to help with allergies, another condition that could be exacerbated by inflammation.
Because it’s poisonous in plant form, the detoxified butterbur root extract has been studied extensively for its safety and effectiveness—and fortunately, it works pretty well! In fact, the American Headache Society gives it a “level A” recommendation, which means it has more evidence of migraine prevention than most supplements. Migraineurs can safely take up to 150 milligrams a day. The one downside? It can sometimes result in mild gastrointestinal discomfort—burping is a widely reported side effect.
A study that examined the effects of riboflavin (vitamin B2) found 56 percent of participants who took 400 milligrams daily for three months cut their migraine frequency in half—proving it’s a powerful way to prevent headaches. Riboflavin is often added to “enriched” processed breads and cereals (along with other B vitamins like niacin and thiamin), but B2 is also found in organ meats, almonds, and dairy. All of the B vitamins work to metabolize energy, and riboflavin might help prevent headaches because it improves how efficiently cells use oxygen, in turn enhancing brain function.
As little as 25 milligrams a day have proven to be beneficial, but it’s safe to take up to 400 milligrams for preventative measures.
Magnesium powers so many important enzymatic reactions in the body (get to know all of them here), so it makes sense that a deficiency could trigger migraines. Nearly 80 percent of Americans don’t get their daily dose of magnesium, and people who follow a low-carb diet or take acid reflux medication are at an even higher risk for developing a deficiency.
Simply getting enough magnesium can prevent migraines—a dosage of 600 milligrams daily has been proven to be effective at reducing severity and frequency.
With your doctor’s OK, experiment with taking any of these supplements for three months to see if they’re effective against your headaches.
Photo credits: Alicia Cho