While herbal medicinal treatments thrive in China, Japan, and Korea, due in large part to their medical traditions in botanical therapy, herbal treatments in general, and specifically for headaches are less common in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, more than half of physicians in France and Germany now prescribe herbal medicines to their patients. Dr. Morris Levin, of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire has written an article regarding herbal treatment of headache. Though some herbal treatments may be beneficial for people with migraine, tension-type and cluster headache, there is a lack of evidence to support the benefits. Most botanicals cannot be patented or sold in a proprietary way – so there is not a lot of incentive for scientific investigations. Consequently, double-blind, randomized, controlled trials (DBRCTs) are not being carried out due to their cost. There is some evidence that feverfew, butterbur (Petadolex) and other botanicals have been effective in headache management.  Botanical therapy can be divided into 3 groups: oral therapy, topical therapy and aromatherapy.  The following are some types of herbal treatments for headache:

ORAL BOTANICAL THERAPY – Feverfew, a member of the daisy family, has been used for centuries to treat pain, fever and headache.  It has been helpful for some people with headaches – though the differences in strains can produce inconsistency in success. Double blind studies have yielded only so-so results, indicating that feverfew may not be much better than placebo…..Feverfew should not be taken during pregnancy.

Butterbur – Petadolex is an herbal supplementation from the butterbur root.  Petadolex is the adulterated form of the parent compound, butterbur.  Several well done studies have supported its effectiveness in the prevention of migraine.  Petadolex should not be taken during pregnancy. The parent compound butterbur(probably not with Petadolex) may carry the slight increased risk of causing cancer.

TOPICAL BOTANICAL THERAPY – Mustard , a very old remedy for headache can be used in a bath.  While there are no studies on it’s effectiveness, references to mustard baths can be found in various sources. U.S.Grant had a severe migraine the night before Appomattox with General Lee, and reportedly soaked his feet(to no avail) in some solution containing mustard; he found a drink worked better.

Cayenne Pepper – Some studies have suggested that applying capsaicin (cayenne extract) topically can help to prevent a migraine as well as aiding in a migraine attack.

AROMATHERAPY – Botanical sources include chamomile, peppermint, sandalwood, lavender, rosemary, geranium and eucalyptus. Aromatherapy is the inhalation of aromas for medical illnesses. The oils can also be used as a compress or massaged into the skin.

Treating headache disorders with herbal therapy has been practiced for thousands of years  A papyrus discovered from around 2500 BCE instructs the headache sufferer to put a clay crocodile filled with herbs to the head.  Medical texts from Hippocrates suggest taking herbs orally. There is confirmation that some botanicals including feverfew and butterbur can be effective – however, the hope is that additional studies will bring about more evidence as to the effectiveness of herbal treatments….. Headache The Journal of Head and Face Pain   October  2012


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