Kava for Migraines?

Migraines are an affliction that strikes millions of people in the United States: these severe headaches can often be disabling, interfering with one's ability to work full-time or attend to other apsects of daily life. Given the severity of this condition, the concept of using a natural remedy like kava for migraines might seem farfetched. However, some holistic healthcare practitioners specializing in migraine treatment have suggested that kava may reduce some of the most common symptoms of migraine*, including tension in the head and neck, sore muscles, and of course, the emotional stress caused by the painful symptoms. (If you are currently pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medication for migraine or any other condition, consult a physician before beginning a kava supplement or other alternative therapy.)

Migraines are more than just a bad headache: the National Headache Foundation defines migraine as a throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, often accompanied by nausea or stomachache, sensitivity to light and sound, blurred vision, or temporary partial blindness. Migraine sufferers sometimes also experience visual hallucinations called "auras" that portend the onset of a migraine. Since migraines typically worsen with physical activity, often the sufferer's only recourse is to lie down in a dark, quiet room until the symptoms subside. This can take anywhere from a few hours up to days depending on the severity of the attack. Besides being painful and unpleasant in themselves, migraines also heighten the sufferer's risk of stroke and high blood pressure.

So what exactly can taking kava for migraines do to help the situation? Healthcare practitioners who specialize in migraine treatment have identified three areas of migraine management where kava may be of some help:

Muscle Tension: the onset of a migraine often causes extreme muscle tension in the face, neck and shoulders. By acting as a muscle relaxant, kava can reduce some of this tension and lessen discomfort in these areas.

Stress Reduction: Because migraines are quite painful, those afflicted with them often suffer emotional distress both during a migraine attack and afterward. Over time, kava can gently reduce this stress* and balance mood* so that migraine sufferers are able to recoup more quickly from an episode. Some researchers have suggested kava may have direct analgesic effects on headaches as well, though this is still being studied.

Sleep Regulation: Kava has also been used to treat occasional sleeplessness* and to balance a disordered sleep cycle. Nowadays, migraine specialists are beginning to think that disordered or inadequate sleep may be one of the triggers behind migraine, so getting regular and adequate sleep may be crucial for dispelling migraines in the long term.

Although migraines are often a debilitating condition, the good news is that there are a number of ways they can be managed and treated. One of the best things you can do if you suffer migraines is to keep a journal of what you did, including what you ate and drank, immediately before an attack. Some common triggers for migraine include caffeine, alcohol and tannins: compounds in coffee, tea, chocolate and red wine that give these foods their characteristic bitter edge. Migraines can also be caused by certain activities and even emotions. By journaling the circumstances that led up to a migraine, you have the best chance of discovering your triggers and taking steps to avoid or manage them.

Certain herbs, taken as a tea, may also work directly to reduce and ameliorate migraine: although evidence is still being compiled, the most helpful natural remedies seem to be licorice, peppermint, rooibos (red bush), and green tea. All of these teas have anti-inflammatory properties which may be helpful in lowering the risk of migraine onset over time. With the exception of green tea, all of these herbal remedies are also free of tannins. Furthermore, licorice contains phytoestrogens and may be especially helpful for women for whom a drop in estrogen (such as during the monthly period) is a migraine trigger. Since regular green tea contains some caffeine and tannins (both of which can be a trigger), it's best to start with decaffeinated plain green tea when using it for migraine and pay attention to how your condition responds to it.

Finally, supplements such as melatonin and probiotics are also being investigated as natural migraine treatments. Some researchers believe that an imbalance in melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and feelings of drowsiness, may lead to the onset of migraines. For some, taking a melatonin supplement and maintaining a healthy sleep cycle can be an effective way of reducing the severity and frequency of migraines.

Lastly, migraines have also been linked to an imbalance in gut flora, the "good bacteria" that help maintain the health of our digestive system. Therefore, some healthcare practitioners recommend supplementing the diet with probiotics: live active cultures of beneficial bacteria that are also found in fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kambucha, natto (fermented soy bean curd), sauerkraut, and others.

Migraines can be a disabling and stressful condition, but there is help: taking kava for migraines can reduce many of their worst symptoms*, and with the support of other herbal remedies, supplements, and healthy habits, you too can gain respite from this chronic condition.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease.