Supplements for Migraine - They ARE Drugs

by Teri Robert, Lead Expert

When it comes to Migraines and medications, I don't know anyone who wouldn't prefer to use only "natural" treatments (or better yet, none at all). However, there's a essential fact that is often overlooked in this quest for "natural" treatments:

"Natural" Supplements ARE Drugs.

It really is that simple, yet that fact is too often overlooked. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a drug as "a substance used in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of a disease or as a component of a medication." Herbs, minerals, and other such substances were mankind's first drugs. That hasn't changed. As drugs, they have potential side effects and potential contraindications (circumstances under which they should not be used).

Since these products are drugs, it would seem reasonable that they undergo the same scrutiny by the FDA that prescription drugs do, but they don't. The FDA regulations governing dietary supplements are far less stringent than those applicable to prescription medications. If anything, this means that we need to approach them with more caution, not less. Certainly, we should always discuss them with our doctors before taking them. Most doctors are ready and willing to discuss dietary supplements with us. If, for some reason, yours isn't, maybe it's time for a new doctor. (Check our quiz Is Your Doctor Right for You?)

Why are there fewer clinical trials of supplements? The answer is sadly simple. Financing. Properly done clinical trials are extremely expensive, and competition among manufacturers is fierce. Most clinical trials are financed by the manufacturer of the medication. This isn't likely to happen in an industry where the sales of most supplements are spread across so many different manufacturers. In a few cases, universities and other institutions have undertaken these trials, but they are few and far between.

What about information in vitamin and health food stores? For the most part, the sales associates in those stores are just that - sales associates. They're there to sell us their products, nothing more. Some of them are fairly knowledgeable about the uses of their products, but they are not trained medical professionals. They are seldom well versed in the potential side effects and contraindications of their products. Let me give you an example. Feverfew is very widely sold as a supplement for Migraine prevention. I've talked with many women who purchased it, and almost none of them knew that it shouldn't be taken by women who are or could become pregnant because it can cause miscarriage. See what I mean? This is as serious an issue as we see with prescription medications, but it is sold over-the-counter, and that warning is seldom given.

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