Turmeric, also known as curcumin, is a close relative of ginger. Some people tout it as a useful home remedy for migraine attacks. But does it really work?
Can turmeric really soothe migraine?
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric can offer some relief from migraine pain or even prevent migraine attacks from happening.
Taking turmeric also has few side effects even at high doses, so there’s really little downside to trying it — especially if you’re looking for an herbal alternative to pain medication.
Bottom line: It can’t hurt to get more turmeric in your diet, and it just might help relieve your migraine symptoms.
Turmeric is well-known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and makes for a bangin’ curry, too. But what if you’re having a migraine attack that is seriously hurting right now, and you need relief fast?
Well, your migraine might have something to do with inflammation in your body. And if turmeric works against inflammation, you might be onto a winner — in theory.
We look into whether this herbal remedy will actually do the turme-trick.
The causes of migraine remain a mystery. But some researchers suggest that the condition may be a way of protecting the brain against high levels of oxidative stress.
As an antioxidant, turmeric may help reduce or prevent migraine symptoms, according to some studies.
A 2021 study found that turmeric combined with the antioxidant CoQ10 reduced how often, how severely, and for how long people experienced migraine attacks.
Another study found that people with migraine who took a combo of turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids had fewer migraine episodes and lower levels of ICAM-1, a protein that plays a role in inflammation.
An animal study in 2017 found that turmeric relieved pain in rats with simulated migraine symptoms, as well as bringing down oxidative stress levels and blood pressure.
The study found that turmeric was actually more effective in reducing migraine-like symptoms in the lab rats than the antimigraine drugs Propranolol and Indomethacin.
For people who’d prefer the herbal route to put a pin in their pain, turmeric could well be safe alternative. However, if your pain is unbearable, you should really visit an ER for a migraine cocktail.
Medical pros haven’t established a standard dose of turmeric to treat migraine. However, a study of a turmeric component that docs used to treat other diseases found that patients tolerate a daily 8-gram dose pretty well.
If you take turmeric on its own, whether as a whole herb or in a supplement form, its bioavailability is low. This means that the body doesn’t absorb it well.
However, if you combine your turmeric dose with compounds like piperine, the main ingredient in black pepper, your body may absorb the benefits of turmeric better.
Is ginger a possible alternative to turmeric for migraine treatment?
Ginger, a close relative of turmeric (they bicker on the regs at family gatherings), has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
A 2013 study of 100 migraine patients (without the symptom of an aura in their visual field) found that ginger powder reduced migraine symptoms on par with a control group who took the antimigraine medication sumatriptan, and with fewer side effects.
So it’s definitely an option that could work for you.
It’s usually best to get nutrients through what you eat instead of supplements. However, if your brainbox is screaming with pain, you’re likely going to want a higher dose of those anti-inflammatory compounds. That’s where supplements enter the arena.
Most turmeric supplements contain a higher dosage of turmeric than you’d find in food. Eating a curry is not going to help you manage your migraine — it might just taste nice.
You can prep food to include black pepper and other ingredients that improve how your body and uses turmeric. Likewise, when you’re buying supplements, look for products that also include bioavailability agents.
Turmeric is a natural food and pretty safe — but not without risks, particularly at higher doses.
In one study, diarrhea, headache, rash, and yellow stool were reported in people who took doses of 500 to 12,000 milligrams of turmeric.
Diarrhea, nausea, and elevated levels of the digestive enzymes alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase were found in another study group that received 0.45 to 3.6 grams per day of turmeric for 1 to 4 months.
Might turmeric trigger migraine attacks in some people?
Headache is one possible side-effect of taking high doses of turmeric, but there’s no available evidence to suggest that it can cause migraine.
Turmeric and ginger are just a couple of the natural remedies that people can use to prevent and treat migraine symptoms.
According to the Migraine Trust, migraine attacks can be associated with low magnesium levels, so taking magnesium may help prevent migraine attacks.
Feverfew, an herb also available in supplement form, may also prevent migraine symptoms.
COQ10 supplements may reduce headache days among migraine patients, some studies say. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) also seems to reduce migraine frequency and number of headache days.
The evidence supporting these other remedies is actually much more robust than the research supporting turmeric. None of them, however, are a replacement for mainstream medicine — just a potential aid you can use alongside conventional treatments.
The American Migraine Foundation adds that vitamin E may help ease menstrual migraine symptoms.
Other benefits of turmeric
Turmeric, like ginger, has been extensively studied for its health benefits.
Research has shown that, when combined with agents that improve its bioavailability, it can help manage oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and high cholesterol.
Other health benefits attributed to turmeric include the reduction of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness.
It’s often best to take herbal remedies like turmeric and ginger alongside more conventional medications to treat migraine. Dream team!
Medications used to treat migraine
The drugs that people commonly use to treat migraine include:
- Pain relievers. These include pain relief and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Ergotamines. These help blood vessels around the brain contract.
- Triptans. These increase serotonin levels in the brain.
- Antinausea drugs. People use these to treat nausea, one of the most common symptoms of migraine.
- Gepants. This is a pretty new treatment for migraine attacks that people use as a rescue medication.
- Ditans. These are pretty similar to triptans, but they might have sedating effects — so don’t drive for a little while after.
Medications used to prevent migraine
Some drugs reduce how often migraine attacks happen. These include:
- CGRP antagonists
- beta blockers
Turmeric boasts awesome anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and it might well help you get through a migraine attack as a combo with conventional treatment.
There’s no standard dose of turmeric for fighting migraine, but turmeric is well-tolerated even at high doses, with few serious side-effects.
Ginger and magnesium are among the other herbs, spices, and nutrients that may work alongside commonly prescribed medications to ease migraine symptoms.