Feverfew for migraines

Feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) is one of the oldest herbal remedies for the treatment of migraine headaches. It was first mentioned as a treatment for inflammation 2,000 years ago. Feverfew is a member of the daisy family and all above-ground parts of the plants are safe to ingest and it is usually consumed as dried leaves or tea made of dried flowers. Besides migraine, it has been used for the treatment of fevers, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach aches, toothaches, insect bites, psoriasis, allergies, asthma, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, infertility, problems with menstruation and labor during childbirth.

We do have some scientific evidence for the effectiveness of feverfew in the prevention of migraine headaches. Here is a brief description of two of the five published trials of feverfew.

A study, Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of feverfew in migraine prevention was published in the Lancet by British researchers led by JJ Murphy. 60 patients completed this study, in which half of the migraine patients received feverfew and the other half, placebo. After four months the treatment was switched (so called crossover study). Patients in the feverfew group had 4.7 fewer attacks, while placebo resulted in 3.6 fewer attacks. Global assessment of improvement was 74 vs 60. Feverfew also reduced the severity of nausea and vomiting.

Another, more rigorous study by German researchers led by HC Diener was published in Cephalalgia. It was entitled, Efficacy and safety of 6.25 mg t.i.d. feverfew CO2–extract (MIG-99) in migraine prevention – a randomized, double-blind, multicenter, placebo-controlled study.
This study enrolled 170 migraine sufferers with 89 receiving a special extract of feverfew and 81, placebo. The number of migraine attacks dropped by 1.9 in the feverfew group and by 1.3 attacks in the placebo group. The difference in the global assessment of efficacy was also statistically significant.

As far as side effects, mouth sores have been reported and, like with any herbal product, feverfew can cause upset stomach or an allergic reaction.

An issue with feverfew that applies to all herbal products is that every manufacturer processes the plant differently. In some cases, the product contains very little of active ingredients, such as parthenolides. The British researchers in the study cited above grew their own feverfew in the back yard of the hospital. An easier solution is to buy products of companies with good reputation, such as Nature’s Way, Source Naturals, and Oregon’s Wild Harvest.

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