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Medically reviewed by Danielle Aberman, RD
The benefits of turmeric are often praised for its potent anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, cancer and pain fighting properties. But, what about turmeric for migraines? Migraine disease is largely genetic and is not often connected with inflammation. But, there is increasing interest in the area and a bit of emerging research that points to a neurogenic inflammatory response during attacks. So it makes sense that treating the neuroinflammatory response may prove to be a benefit in managing migraine. (1.) Stay with me to learn more about turmeric for migraines. I hope it helps you decide if it’s a good treatment strategy option for you.
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.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a flowering plant in the ginger family. As a close relative to ginger it has many of the same pain relieving benefits often discussed around managing the symptoms of migraine with ginger. It is native to and grown commercially in Asia, India and Central America. Commonly used as a spice, turmeric has a warm, bitter, pungent flavor and is probably best known as the main spice in curry. It’s pretty golden yellow color is often used as a food coloring as well.
While turmeric gets all the fanfare, the real hero here is curcumin. Curcumin is the magic active ingredient in turmeric. It’s actually the curcumin that contains the impressive anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, symptom fighting benefits. Turmeric only contains about 3% curcumin making it very hard to get the therapeutic benefits of curcumin by cooking with the spice alone. Finding a curcumin supplement in addition to working it into your diet, will help ensure you get the most of its beneficial effects, but more on that later.
How might turmeric help migraine?
Turmeric may help improve symptoms of migraine in four ways.
- It is a powerful pain fighting anti-inflammatory making it a good non-addictive option for chronic pain relief. (2.)
- Reduces oxidative stress and increases antioxidant capacity. (3.)
- Improves brain function and lowers the risk of brain disease. (4.)
- Increases circulation making it a good choice to help reduce brain fog, tinnitus and histamine responses in the body. (5.)
Is turmeric for migraines well researched?
Honestly, the study links above are not directly related to turmeric for migraines. Like most supplements, research on using turmeric for migraines is pretty limited. The jury is still out on just how much turmeric can improve our symptoms. But, even if it’s simply a reduction of the number of attacks you experience each month or a reduction in the severity of symptoms you experience during an attack it’s an interesting spice to explore. There are many studies available that support turmeric’s pain fighting abilities like this one managing arthritis pain with daily turmeric use. (6.)
I also came across a small Iranian study that found a reduction in frequency of migraine attacks when turmeric and omega 3 fatty acids were taken together as a daily migraine preventative. (7.) Yet another small study that showed turmeric can increase the effectiveness of naproxen. Since naproxen is my abortive of choice, I can’t wait to try this one out myself during my next painful attack. (8.)
Should you consider a supplement that has only a few studies for migraine use?
Many experts believe neurogenic inflammation plays a role in migraine disease. Over the counter anti-inflammatory NSAIDS like naproxen and ibuprofen are used very successfully to treat migraine attacks. So with its anti-inflammatory benefit, it’s not that big of a jump to consider turmeric for the management of migraine pain even with little research supporting it. Especially for those who are looking for natural migraine relief.
This makes me think of Dr. Geppetti’s talk on multi-modal treatment approach at the 2019 Migraine World Summit. In his talk he stated that because most of us have migraine for many years, we should try everything reasonable to gain control over our symptoms. Not necessarily everything proven or well-studied but, everything rational. I consider it reasonable to try a supplement with so many health benefits standing behind it.
In a recently published must-read book by Dr. Alexander Mauskop, prominent headache specialist, founder and director of NY Headache Center, specifically discusses curcumin as one of the “150 Ways to Stop Your Pain.”
I have personally supplemented with turmeric for many years and believe it helps gently calm down my inflammatory response, soothing my pain and reducing dizziness and ear symptoms related to vestibular migraine. One thing I’ve learned when it comes to managing migraine symptoms is to stick with what works even if no one else is talking about it or doing it. Continue what’s effective and rewarding for you personally. If it works, I keep going! Logically it just makes sense to me to consider turmeric’s studied benefits and try applying their effectiveness for migraine use.
Tips to increase absorption to effectively use turmeric for migraines
Turmeric is processed very quickly through the digestive tract making it difficult to absorb into the bloodstream. But there are two things you can do to help increase its absorption.
- Make sure your supplement contains black pepper, cayenne pepper or chili powder. Each contain an active ingredient called piperine. Piperine is a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in its own right, but its main benefit here is that it boosts the absorption of curcumin.
- Curcumin is fat soluble so combining it with a meal high in healthy fat or taking it alongside a bit of healthy fat like ghee, olive oil or an Omega 3 supplement will increase absorption as well.
Ways to get turmeric
In cooking– If you prefer not to supplement, you can use turmeric spice in countless ways to incorporate it into your diet. Turmeric is an easy spice to add into scrambled eggs, smoothies, tuna salad, roasted vegetables, meats and so much more. So, get creative with this one.
Tea– As mentioned turmeric has a pungent flavor. I find mixing it with other herbs or spices to be the most pleasing way to ingest it. The Republic of Tea makes a couple of yummy teas. One is called Organic Turmeric Ginger Green Tea. The other is Biodynamic Turmeric Cinnamon that I add a pinch of black pepper and honey to. I really love this tea because it contains only cinnamon & turmeric. Look for any tea brand with few ingredients like theirs.
Golden milk or turmeric latte– is turmeric and other spices heated with warm milk. Generally, a dairy free milk like rice, oat or coconut is used, but you can use any milk you like. Preferably full fat to help absorption. Migraine Strong Facebook group moderator Sally Platt shared her delicious recipe for “turmeric tea” with us. On the stove top simmer 1 cup of rice milk, 1 cup of water, 2 decaf green tea bags, ½ teaspoon ground turmeric, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, a pinch of black or cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of honey (or maple syrup) and a teaspoon of ghee. If you tolerate lemon add a squeeze and enjoy.
Topical turmeric balms– If you have tummy trouble with turmeric consider a topical version. Is anyone else excited that topical turmeric exists in the world? It’s warming properties are so nice to add to the back of your neck during an attack. It also great for those painful allodynia spots around your face and head. Look for an Organic Turmeric Pain Cream or a Healing Turmeric Rub.
Supplement– In Migraine strong we often share the supplement recommendations of Johns Hopkins and Dr. Michael Greger. While we have yet to find it in writing, some members of Migraine Strong who see doctors in the Johns Hopkins headache center have reported they recommend supplementing with turmeric and see patients who are having success with it. This along with our own success, has lead us to recently add it to our list of supplements to consider discussing with your doctor. Members of Migraine Strong have reported using Gaia Herbs Turmeric Supreme, Turmeric Supreme Pain or Pure Encapsulations Curcumin. You can receive a discount on your purchase through Migraine Strong’s supplements dispensary where you’ll also find more turmeric brand options.
Proceed carefully when taking any herbal supplements. Turmeric is used to treat conditions like heartburn, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. But, even so it can cause tummy upset especially at high doses in some people. I found no research that ensures the safety of taking high doses of turmeric for an extended period of time. In addition, not everyone is a good candidate for taking turmeric. Turmeric can contribute to bleeding disorders, kidney stones, iron deficiency and more. Those who are pregnant or nursing should avoid supplementing with turmeric.
Turmeric can also thin the blood, so, discontinue use before surgery. It’s so important to consider possible drug interactions. Many supplements can interfere with medications and other underlying health conditions. Please never start a supplement on your own based on articles like ours. Go see your primary care doctor and/or neurologist for advice. We recommend running EVERY supplement you consider taking by your doctor for approval.
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