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Medically reviewed by Danielle Aberman, RD
Ginger for migraine first showed up on our radar in 2016 during the first annual Migraine World Summit. Dr. Michael Greger told us about a double-blinded randomized clinical study where ginger and sumatriptan were tested side by side. We were more than surprised to learn that ginger for migraine was found to be as effective as the powerful migraine medication.
The study took 100 patients and divided them into two groups. They were randomly assigned to receive either a 250mg capsule of powdered ginger rhizome or 50mg tablet of sumatriptan. The patients were evaluated over the course of a month to measure how they responded to the medication they were given during five subsequent migraine attacks. After two hours, each medication had significantly reduced headache severity. The efficacy of the ginger powder was similar to that of the sumatriptan tablet, however, it had less side effects. The patients’ willingness to continue treatment didn’t differ between the two medications. (1)
** This article is written for information purposes only. It is not medical advice or a substitute for medical advice. Consult your doctor for any changes to your migraine care plan.**
The team puts ginger for migraine to the test
After reading this study, our team felt it was certainly worth it to try ginger for our migraine attacks. I will confess that I thought it was almost a ridiculous test. Ginger for migraine? A spice? But, having a history of migrainous stroke and also extended aura, sumatriptan was no longer an available option for me. We decided to try one of our favorite supplement brands, Pure Encapsulations Ginger Extract capsules (also HERE), to see how they worked. Each capsule contains 500mg of ginger (Zingiber officinale) or ginger root, twice the amount of ginger in the capsules from the study.
My experience with the ginger capsules was interesting. When I took two capsules (1000mg) at the first sign of an impending migraine attack, my success with completely aborting that attack was approximately 60%. If I took ginger capsules when an attack was already underway, it was less effective, but reduced the overall intensity. When I look at my notes, I never waited the two hours measured in the study to see if ginger was going to work. At least not in the beginning. It was 45-60 minutes tops before I was reaching for my cocktail. But I could also usually tell if the attack was continuing to escalate after I had taken the ginger.
Ginger for headaches – positive experience
The other admins on the team had similar experiences. Discussing our experiences we found, we were most satisfied with ginger when we combined it with a NSAID. Two out of five experienced some heartburn. One said that there was only one time that ginger and naproxen didn’t work for her, requiring a triptan. Overall, the ginger for migraine experience was surprisingly more positive than I expected.
Some of us are prone to lots of tension headaches in between full migraine attacks. Ginger for headache has been a handy help, too.
Different forms of ginger we like
We have trialed all types of ginger to see what works best. Our experience is that ginger seems to work well no matter what form it takes. A cup of strong ginger tea, crystallized ginger, Gaia Herbs Ginger Supreme and ginger candies like Chimes or Gin Gins. They all work well to treat our attacks and symptoms. I tend to start my day with ginger tea and I always have some ginger candies in my purse for easy access when I’m on the go.
Ginger for headache in the ER
Interestingly, another study was released this year that supported how we were using ginger to boost our NSAID. This double-blind placebo controlled randomized clinical trial added ginger or placebo to intravenous ketoprofen administered to migraine patients presenting in the emergency room. The researchers found that ‘the addition of ginger extract to conventional treatment for acute migraine may improve pain and functional capacity of patients faster and more significantly than conventional therapy alone.’ (2) More patients were fully satisfied (73.1%) with their treatment after receiving ginger than placebo (28.1%).
Ginger as a preventive
Another study by Mustafa et al reported the success of a patient who had supplemented daily with ginger. This interested me because while the other studies were all conducted using people with episodic migraine, I was chronic and looking for ways to make a difference. This study referenced a woman who had migraine for 16 years, which was very close to my 18 years. Supplementing daily with ginger had brought her significant relief. This approach seemed like it was worth trying.
I started taking one 500mg ginger extract capsule daily along with my regular medications and supplements. I also continued to take two additional capsules at the first sign of migraine symptoms. By the end of the first month, I noticed the severity and duration of my attacks had definitely diminished. My daily symptoms of being off balance and dizzy lessened. The violent dropping sensations I frequently felt now occurred maybe once a week. It felt like ginger was giving me a subtle edge over my daily chronic migraine symptoms. **It should be noted that ginger is a natural blood thinner and can reduce blood pressure as well. Consult your physician before adding ginger to your routine.
Could ginger work for chronic migraine patients?
Recently, we asked the members of our closed Facebook group how ginger worked for them. According to the results, 49% said that ginger was effective some of the time for acute attacks, very effective when combined with a NSAID and very effective as a preventive. On the other side of the coin, 47% said that ginger was ineffective as a preventive or in treating acute attacks. Additionally, 4% said that they had to discontinue it because they didn’t tolerate it well. Of note, our closed Facebook group is populated with mostly chronic migraine members. In contrast, each study mentioned above has been conducted on episodic migraine patients.
While I feel ginger was effective for me from the beginning, the more managed my migraine became, the more effective ginger was as my acute medication. I continue to take one capsule daily as a preventive and two capsules at the onset of migraine symptoms. I also frequently wait the two hours to see if ginger alone will resolve the migraine attack. Learning about ginger and how useful it can be for headache has given me another tool in my migraine toolbox. I am hopeful that we will continue to see more studies about ginger and its effectiveness for treating migraine.
- Maghbooli, Mehdi et al “Comparison Between the Efficacy of Ginger and Sumatriptan in the Ablative Treatment of the Common Migraine.” Phytotherapy Research 28(2014): 412-415. PubMed. Web. 10 June 2016
- Martins, Lais Bhering et al “Double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) addition in migraine acute treatment.” Cephalgia Vol. 39(I) (2019): 68-76. PubMed. Web. 27 February 2019
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