Update On Supplements For Migraine

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Many patients with migraine use “complementary and alternative medicine” and often do not discuss this with their physicians. There have been guidelines from various professional societies, and recommendations often conflict.

The greatest number of studies has been done with riboflavin, coenzyme Q10, magnesium, butterbur, feverfew, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Nutraceuticals are lightly regulated by the FDA. It considers them as different from conventional foods and drugs. By contrast, in Canada, there are strict regulations. In 2015, the attorney’s office of New York State brought suit against 4 major US retailers for selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements and demanded that they be removed from store shelves. At a popular retail chain, 3 out of the 6 products tested negative for the herbs listed on their labels.

Riboflavin

This is vitamin B2. Patients who take this have a yellow color in their urine. Dose is 400 mg daily. It is usually well tolerated, with minor side effects of diarrhea and increased urination. There is a compound consisting of riboflavin 400 mg daily with magnesium 300 mg and feverfew 100 mg daily. It did not show consistent benefit in one study. There is low quality evidence for use of riboflavin though there are minimal side effects.

Coenzyme Q10

This is widely used, and some patients think it can reduce the risk of heart disease or dementia, though these conclusions are unproven. The migraine dose is 100 mg 3 times a day, obviously less convenient than a single daily dose. There was significant benefit compared to placebo, with effect appearing after the first month and being maximal after 3 months. Side effects were minimal, with only 1 patient having a skin allergy. Some studies show that CoQ10 deficiency may be common in children and adolescents with migraine, and obtaining a serum CoQ10 level before supplementation may be a helpful guide.

Magnesium

The usual dose is magnesium citrate, which contains 600 mg of elemental magnesium daily. Diarrhea was seen in about 20% and gastric irritation in 5%. Similar to CoQ10, some studies show low magnesium levels in migraineurs, and checking levels prior to supplementation may be helpful.

Butterbur

This is derived from a shrub called Petasites hybridus. It was initially available as a particular brand, Petadolex, manufactured in Germany with a method that was said to remove toxins termed pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have hepatotoxicity. This preparation has been widely used for years and has shown effect in placebo studies. In the last several years, cases have been recognized of significant liver damage from both the Petadolex formulation and other products. Marketing authorization for Petadolex was withdrawn in Germany in 2008. To me, the risks do not outweigh the modest benefit seen in trials.

Feverfew

This is derived from a daisy-like plant. A review of 5 trials covering 343 patients found mixed results and did not convincingly establish that it is effective for preventing migraine. No safety problems were found, and side effects were minimal.

The best evidence is for use of riboflavin 400 mg daily, coenzyme Q10 100 mg three times daily, and magnesium 600 mg daily.

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