Safely Prevent Migraines with B Vitamin (Riboflavin)
A new study confirms that supplementing with high-dose vitamin B2 (riboflavin) may help prevent migraines, according to the European Journal of Neurology (2004;11:475–7).
About 28 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, with women commonly affected three times more than men. The headaches are sometimes preceded by flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms or legs, or anxiety. Typical migraine pain is pounding, usually affecting one side of the head, and many people also experience nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and noise. The symptoms are often severe and debilitating, lasting anywhere from 4 to 72 hours.
Migraine pain is believed to originate from inflammation of blood vessels in the brain. Theories about the exact cause of inflammation range from nervous system malfunctions to an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. Known migraine triggers include hormonal fluctuations, emotions, changes in weather, strong odors, and some foods. Alcohol, aged cheeses, monosodium glutamate (MSG), chocolate, and fermented foods commonly initiate migraines.
Typical migraine treatments include pain relievers and preventative medication. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil™, Motrin™) are usually taken once a migraine starts, and are best for moderate migraine pain. Side effects of these drugs include stomach upset, peptic ulcers, and gastrointestinal bleeding. If they are taken too often, headaches can actually occur more frequently. Sumatriptan (Imitrex™), a prescription drug for migraine pain, offers relief to most people within two hours; side effects include muscle pain and weakness, chest discomfort, and irregular heartbeat.
Preventative medications are not used during a migraine, but instead are taken in between headaches to try to prevent them. Medications used to treat high blood pressure, such as atenolol (Tenormin™), are sometimes prescribed to prevent migraines. These drugs may decrease the frequency and severity of migraines. Atenolol may cause side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and an increase in blood sugar. Anti-seizure drugs such as gabapentin (Neurontin™) are also prescribed for migraine prevention. These medications can cause tremors, dizziness, and visual disturbances.
The new study investigated the effect of high-dose riboflavin on migraine frequency, duration, and intensity in 23 people aged 20 to 65. Each participant received 400 mg of riboflavin per day for three months and kept a diary recording the number of migraine attacks, duration of each migraine, headache intensity, and the use of pain relievers during a migraine.
Participants suffered significantly fewer migraines while taking riboflavin. The average number of headaches decreased from four per month prior to the study, to two per month during treatment with riboflavin. Participants also used significantly less pain-relieving medication while taking riboflavin than before the study. Headache duration also decreased during the treatment period, though headache intensity was unchanged. Only mild adverse reactions were reported, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and facial redness.
This study supports the results of others that have shown a decrease in migraine frequency with the use of high-dose riboflavin. As there are no known interactions between riboflavin and pain relievers, riboflavin appears to be a safe and effective therapy for the prevention of migraine headaches.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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