All you want to do is climb into bed, crawl under the covers, and make everything go away. The throbbing pain in your head, the searing light, the intense nausea. Make it all go away.
But you can’t. You’re having a migraine. And they never just “go away” by crawling under the covers.
Instead, these intense, painful, and often chronic headaches can wreak havoc on your day-to-day life. And they’re notoriously tricky to treat.
But a new medical study out of Australia shows that upping your dosage of one the most common vitamins just might turn your life around.
More on that in a moment, but first let’s look at why some people get migraines and others don’t.
Why are you prone to migraines?
According to the National Headache Foundation, almost 30 million Americans get migraines. And about 70 percent of these sufferers are women. Triggers can include dips in estrogen during a women’s menstrual cycle, certain foods (MSG, sugar, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol), hidden food allergies, sunlight, loud noises, low blood sugar, and, of course, stress.
For the occasional migraine sufferer, the acute pain experienced during the attack is typically managed with over-the-counter drugs like Excedrin Migraine (a combination of ibuprofen, aspirin, and caffeine).
But for many sufferers, this first line of treatment falls short. The migraines keep coming back. And instead of just controlling the pain during an attack, you want to PREVENT the migraine in the first place. And while avoiding known triggers can help, sufferers can still get a migraine out of the blue.
What about drugs to prevent migraines?
Sure, I’ve known people to try “preventative” migraine drugs, such as TOPAMAX (topiramate). Initially used to treat epilepsy, TOPAMAX was approved by the FDA for the prevention of migraines in 2004. And now, just five years later, it’s the most widely prescribed drug for migraine prevention in the U.S.
But just how well does the #1 migraine prevention drug work? I have my doubts.
Lots of headaches
Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (the manufacturers of Topamax) conducted several large clinical trials on their drug TOPAMAX. In one study, the drug company invited a broad sampling of men and women ages 13 to 70 with a history of migraines to try TOPAMAX for 26 weeks.
During a baseline phase (when no drugs were administered), participants had their migraine frequency measured. On average, the men and women experienced 5.5 headaches per 28 days.
Then the participants were divided into four groups. One group was given a placebo for 26 weeks. The three other groups were given 25 mg/per day of TOPAMAX (gradually increasing the dosage) until they reached the established targets of: 50 mg/day, 100 mg/day, or 200 mg/day.
According to the drug’s prescribing literature, “The effectiveness of treatment was assessed by the reduction in migraine headache frequency, as measured by the change in 4-week migraine rate from the baseline phase to double-blind treatment period in each TOPAMAX treatment group compared to placebo.”
Basically, this means that they measured how well TOPAMAX worked. Did it cut down on the number of migraines a person got in a month?
The results for America’s #1 prescribed migraine prevention medicine might surprise you!
Remember, before starting the drug, these men and women averaged about 5.5 migraines per 28 days. So, here’s how they did after 26 weeks on the drug, compared to the baseline frequency:
* The 50 mg/day group dropped -1.3
* The 100 mg/day group dropped by -2.1
* The 200 mg/day group dropped by -2.2
This means, at most the people taking TOPAMAX for 26 weeks averaged a 2.2 decrease in the number of attacks per 28 days. So, on average, instead of having 5.5 attacks per month, they had 3.3 attacks per month.
Come on, that’s not even a 50% reduction! And not really a rallying cry for taking TOPAMAX, in my opinion.
Plus — surprise, surprise — TOPAMAX has been linked to a slew of nasty side effects ranging from alopecia (hair loss) to “cognitive-related dysfunction.” In fact, in one study, 28 percent of patients taking 200 mg/day of TOPAMAX experienced “cognitive-related dysfunction.”
What does that mean, exactly?
Well, after careful reading of the fine print in the company’s prescribing literature, I figured it out. This means that 28 percent of patients in the trial who took 200 mg/day of TOPAMAX experienced one or more events of “confusion, psychomotor slowing, difficulty with concentration/attention, difficulty with memory, speech or language problems, particularly word-finding difficulties.”
How’s that for an unwanted side effect?
And I’m just getting started, folks!
I dug up another study from 2008 that got published in the Journal of Neurology. In that study, TOPAMAX was linked to an increase in birth defects in newborns whose mothers took the drug while pregnant. This is not good, especially when you consider that most people who suffer migraines are women of childbearing age.
It certainly has got me wondering why doctors are prescribing this drug to “prevent” migraines. Especially when there are safe, natural alternatives that work quite well.
Safe & effective alternatives abound
First off the bat, I always recommend looking for hidden food allergies if you suffer from migraines. These food sensitivities could be the source of all your headaches. I’d suggest starting an elimination diet to target problem foods. Common culprits include: diary, soy, sugar, caffeine, gluten, nuts (peanut butter), and even food additives (such as colorings, flavorings, MSG, and common preservatives).
If a thorough elimination diet doesn’t turn up any answers, you may want to consider upping your vitamin B. Scientists in Australia recently gave migraine sufferers 2 mg of folic acid, 25 mg of vitamin B6, and 400 micrograms of B12 for six months.
During this time, researchers noted that participants reduced their “prevalence of migraine disability” from 60 percent to 30 percent after 6 months. Plus, the participants experienced reductions in the severity of pain.
Translation? The vitamin regimen helped the participants cut their “migraine disability” in half in just 6 months. Plus — the migraines they did get weren’t as painful.
(Researchers also noted a common side effect among the participants. In stark contrast to the TOPAMAX study, participants in this study reaped healing benefits from their new regimen. In fact, the B vitamin participants lowered their homocysteine levels by 39 percent. Homocysteine is an amino acid found in the body. It’s used as a marker of inflammation in the body and is a powerful risk factor of cardiovascular disease.)
More from the versatile vitamin B
Another study from 2004 showed that vitamin B2 (riboflavin) could work wonders. Participants in this study who took 400 mg/day of B2 for three months reduced their number of migraine attacks from four per month to two per month.
Again, I’m comparing apples to oranges…but nevertheless…in my book that’s a 50 percent reduction in frequency. Remind me, how well did TOPAMAX fair in preventing migraines? Just under a 50 percent reduction, right?
Plus — these participants used significantly less pain-relieving medication while taking B2 than before the study. While headache intensity didn’t improve with the B2, the migraine length did. The migraines didn’t last as long.
Look for answers
In conclusion, just remember there are lots of options out there for anyone willing to do a little homework and give the natural route a try. You can overcome migraines without resorting to drugs. Give the B vitamins a try. It may take a little time before you notice a difference. I’d give it 3 to 6 months. If you see results, leave me a comment and let me know how you’re doing.
P.S. Butterbur is another powerful herbal supplement that’s been shown to work for some migraine sufferers. Some studies I’ve seen it reduces frequency of migraine attacks by 62%. Try 50 mg to 75 mg twice daily.
Dr. Allan Spreen
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