Migraine Treatment - You Want to Go All Natural?

Patient Expert
Medically Reviewed

It's not unusual for people to say they want to manage their migraines without medications. The number of ads for migraine management without medications also indicates the amount of interest in managing migraines without medications. We're seeing a trend of returning to the "natural" in many areas, not just health. We're seeing the "natural" trend in fabrics, cosmetics, baby care products, cleaning products, and more.

What Qualifies As a Medication?

When it comes to medications and treatments, there's a key point to remember - "natural" treatments were mankind's first medications, and they still act as medications in our bodies. Today's over-the-counter medications and prescription medications have potential side effects and contraindications. It's critical to remember that "natural" treatments have potential side effects and contraindications too. Let me give you a couple of examples:

  • 5-HTP: Quite a few migraineurs have mentioned taking 5-HTP. Unfortunately, it hasn't been unusual for them to also be taking medications that that shouldn't be taken at the same time, including:
    • Carbidopa, which is used to treat Parkinson's disease;
    • triptans - Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, Amerge, Relpax, Axert, Frova;
    • some classes of antidepressants -- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), Selective Serotonin Reuptake
    • Inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants
    • barbiturates (including the butalbital in Fiorinal and Fioricet)
    • chemotherapy drugs
    • antibiotics
    • tramadol
  • Willow Bark: Willow bark is used to reduce pain and inflammation. It contains salicin, which is a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). There are several potential issues with willow bark:
    • It has potential side effects similar to those of aspirin:
      • stomach upset,
      • ulcers, nausea,
      • vomiting, and
      • stomach bleeding
    • Also similar to aspirin, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take willow bark.
    • Willow bark may interact with other medications including:
      • Anticoagulants (blood-thinning medications)
      • herbs with blood-thinning properties, .
      • Beta blockers -- including Atenolol (Tenormin), Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL), Propranolol (Inderal, Inderal LA).
      • Diuretics (water pills)
      • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).
      • Methotrexate and phenytoin (Dilantin)

Prescription Medications Don't Indicate Failure

Personally, I don't care if a treatment is "natural," complementary, or a modern prescription. If it works, I'll use it. The key is that I don't use any treatment without checking with my doctor _first _. The reason I check with my doctor is that he knows my medical history, all of my current health issues, and all the treatments I'm using. He'll sit down with me and look at whether the proposed treatment poses any problems in light of all he knows about my history, conditions, and current treatments.

Some people are so extremely into all things "natural" that things they say can make us feel as if we've failed if we need prescription medications for migraine management. Poppycock! Look at it this way Our migraine management is our responsibility. To manage our migraines most effectively, we must handle it however is best for each of us, regardless of what other people think. .

How Do You View Treating Other Diseases?

Let's look at this issue logically. Migraine is a genetic neurological disease for which, at this time, there is no cure. So far, migraine management is all we've looked at. What if you had another disease thyroid disease, diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis? How would you manage those diseases? Remember that migraine is a disease too, and we should be working with our doctors to manage migraine just as we would any other disease.

Closing Thoughts

"Natural" treatments, complementary therapies, prescription medications and devices. There's nothing "wrong" with using any of these for disease management as long as they're used correctly and safely. In fact, the best disease management occurs when whatever treatments work for us from all three categories are used in a management regimen that we and our doctors devise. If you prefer to stick with "natural" treatments, that's fine, as long as they work well for you and are safe for you to use. In the end, the best any of us can do is to work with our doctors as treatment partners, making decisions together and working together for the most effective migraine management possible. Our migraines and our bodies' responses to treatment will change over time, so maintaining that partnership with our doctors is essential.


Erlich, Steven D., NMD. "Willow Bark." University of Maryland Medical Center, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide. Last Reviewed February 13, 2014.

Live well,

PurpleRibbonTiny Teri1

Make a difference... _Donate to the 36 Million Migraine Campaign! _

Follow me on     or