Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

  • What it is: Feverfew grows throughout Europe and North America. An extract from the dried, powdered leaves of the plant can ease the frequency, severity, and length of migraine attacks.
  • How it works: Several studies show that taking this herb daily protects against migraines (Cephalalgia, 2005, vol. 25, no. 11), though scientists aren't certain exactly how feverfew does so. Keep in mind that this herb is preventive; although feverfew can reduce the frequency and severity of attacks, it is not useful to start taking it once a migraine sets in.
  • Side effects: Only minor problems, such as gastrointestinal upset, have been reported with the use of feverfew, and even these are fairly uncommon.

Coenzyme Q10

  • What it is: Coenzyme Q10 (Co-Q10), a compound made naturally by the body, helps turn food into energy inside a part of the cell called the mitochondria. Co-Q10 also has powerful antioxidant properties.
  • How it works: A lot about migraines remains a mystery, but one leading theory suggests that impaired energy production within the mitochondria could set the stage for a migraine. Through its support of mitochondrial energy production, Co-Q10 appears to help prevent migraines. In one recent study, 42 migraine patients took coenzyme Q10 daily for several months (Neurology, 2005, vol. 64, no. 4). Compared with those taking placebo, Co-Q10 users experienced fewer migraine attacks, had fewer days each month with migraines, and had fewer episodes of nausea. To prevent migraines, take 150–300 mg of Co-Q10 daily. (Be prepared for sticker shock, however, as taking a preventive dose of this supplement costs $50 to $100 a month, depending on the brand.)
  • Side effects: None.

Magnesium

  • What it is: The mineral magnesium plays numerous essential roles in the body, including building strong bones, relaxing muscles, clotting blood, and helping to produce mitochondrial energy.
  • How it works: Similar to Co-Q10, magnesium is thought to quell migraine attacks through its role in increasing energy production in the mitochondria. People with recurrent migraines tend to have lower levels of magnesium. When frequent migraine sufferers supplemented with 600 mg of magnesium daily for three months, they reported a significant—42 percent—drop in the frequency of their migraines (Cephalalgia, 1996, vol. 16, no. 4).
  • Side effects: The high amount of magnesium used in most research studies (600 mg daily) could cause diarrhea. If that occurs, try lowering your dosage to 200–300 mg.

Oregon-based freelancer Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, is the author of User's Guide to Sexual Satisfaction (Basic Health, 2003).