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Medically reviewed by Danielle Aberman, RD
Ginger for migraine has become a much talked about topic within the migraine community. And with good reason! A few studies have shown that it is effective in the treatment of acute migraine attacks. For chronic migraine patients, having another option to reach for besides our potentially rebound triggering medications is invaluable.
**While Migraine Strong writes about the latest in migraine treatments, this is not medical advice. We are patient educators and all information you read should be discussed with your doctor.
The history of ginger
Ginger is a member of the plant family Zingiberaceae, which also includes turmeric and cardamom. It has been used as far back as time is recorded for medicinal purposes such as treating colds, nausea, arthritis, migraine and hypertension. Its spicy taste and smell comes from the gingerols ‘which appear to be the primary component of ginger studied in much of the health-related scientific research’. (1)
Ginger contains about 2 percent essential oil. The main component is zingiberene and the pungent component of the spice is zingerone. The oil is distilled from rhizomes, the underground stem that we add to food and drinks. (2)
This spicy root has been a hot commodity through much of history. It was a popular trade item from India to the Roman Empire where it was valued for its medicinal properties. Ginger was so valued at that time that one pound of ginger was worth the cost of a sheep! (3)
Does ginger help with migraine or headaches?
Using ginger for migraine treatment 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 a 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. (4)
The Migraine Strong team puts ginger for migraine to the test
After reading these studies, 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 as well as extended aura, sumatriptan was no longer an available option for me.
We decided to try two of our favorite supplement brands, Pure Encapsulations Ginger Extract capsules (also available at a discount in our Supplement Dispensary) and Gaia Ginger Supreme to see how they worked. Both brands of capsules contain ginger (Zingiber officinale) or ginger root. The Pure Encapsulations brand contains twice the amount of ginger as in the capsules from the study and the Gaia ginger had 100mg less.
My personal experience
My experience with the ginger capsules was interesting. When I took two capsules (1000mg of Pure Encapsulations) 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 usually 45-60 minutes 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.
I decided to wait for the 2 hour mark, after taking ginger, because that was the real test. I still had good results with aborting my attack if I took ginger at the first sign. If the attack was slow moving, ginger was very effective. If the attack was proceeding rapidly, ginger would reduce the intensity of the attack, but not completely abort it.
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 three experienced some heartburn with the Pure Encapsulations brand, possibly due to its higher dose. One said that there was only one time that ginger and naproxen didn’t work, requiring a triptan. Overall, our 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. We have listed a few of our favorites below. 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.
- A cup of strong ginger tea – recipe using fresh ginger below.
- Crystallized ginger – this is ginger that has been boiled in sugar syrup and coated with granulated sugar.
- Pure Encapsulations Ginger Extract – ground ginger rhizome in a capsule.
- Gaia Herbs Ginger Supreme – organic ginger liquid in a capsule.
- Ginger candies like Chimes or Gin Gins – My favorite flavor of Chimes ginger candies is mango. Peppermint it also great.
- Ginger Rescue – a chewable ginger tablet from The Ginger People.
- Ground ginger spice – this is usually found in your spice cabinet. You can take 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger and mix with some water to see if it works for your headache or nausea. It is an easy test to see if you tolerate it as well.
Ginger for headache in the ER
Interestingly, another study was released in 2019 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.’ (5) More patients were fully satisfied (73.1%) with their treatment after receiving ginger than placebo (28.1%).
Ginger as a migraine preventive
Another study by Mustafa et al reported the success of a patient who had supplemented daily with ginger. This study referenced a woman who’d had migraine for 16 years, which was very close to my 18 years of chronic, intractable migraine. 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. Supplementing daily with ginger 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 had lessened. The violent dropping sensations I frequently felt now occurred maybe twice a month. 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 or any other supplement to your routine.
Using ginger tea for headache
Our Facebook community supports the use of ginger tea. Many drink this daily and some only at the first sign of an attack. There are many dried ginger teas on the market. Our best tea for migraine article has other options to include in your daily regimen.
Fresh ginger can also be used to make a spicy ginger tea. Use one inch of ginger root (sliced into pieces, no need to peel) per 8-10 ounces of water. Bring to a simmer in a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and add your sweetener of choice, if you like. You can also add lemon (if not a trigger) after straining or add a cinnamon stick to the saucepan with the ginger while simmering.
How to use ginger for nausea
Overwhelmingly, ginger is most often recommended for nausea and vomiting as well as sea sickness. Several studies have also shown that ginger is safe and effective during pregnancy when so many are plagued by nausea and vomiting. (6)
These trials suggest ‘that although ginger might not be as potent as some treatments, its consumption for treating nausea or vomiting or both in early pregnancy has very few or no adverse side effects’. And ginger showed to be as effective as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) in treating pregnancy related nausea and vomiting with less side effects. Ginger also showed to be effective for reducing pain from dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps). (7)
Nausea and vomiting with migraine attacks is, unfortunately, common. Our article on migraine nausea relief is full of helpful tips to manage this migraine symptom.
Could ginger work for chronic migraine patients?
We asked the members of our closed Facebook group how ginger worked for them. According to the results, about half 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, just under half said that ginger was ineffective as a preventive or in treating acute attacks.
Additionally, a small percentage said that they had to discontinue it because they didn’t tolerate it well. This was mostly due to heart burn, but a few indicated that ginger was a migraine trigger for them. Just as migraine specific meds (sumatriptan, CGRP meds etc.) don’t work for everyone, neither will ginger. It is by trial and error that we can determine if it will be something we add to our toolkit.
Of note, our closed Facebook group is populated with mostly chronic migraine members, including those with vestibular migraine. In contrast, each study mentioned above has been conducted on episodic migraine patients. Any form of chronic migraine can be more difficult to treat. Especially when the threat of rebound looms over us.
Effectiveness of ginger for migraine
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 have switched to the Gaia Ginger Supreme because I find that with my history of reflux, I tolerate it better and it doesn’t trigger heartburn or reflux attacks for me. Waiting two hours to see if ginger alone will resolve the migraine attack has proven to be useful.
I have also found that adding ginger to my migraine cocktail can help it be more effective. I have better results taking ginger with Ubrelvy than by taking Ubrelvy alone. Ginger helps with the nausea Ubrelvy triggers. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding ginger to any regimen you take for migraine attacks.
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.
If you have tried ginger for your migraine attacks, drop us a comment here or on any of our social media platforms. We’d love to hear how your personal trials turned out.
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