Avoid the side effects that migraine remedies like sumatriptan can cause.

Migraine. The sound of the word is like nails on a chalkboard for sufferers. If you deal with these headaches, the mere hint of an attack probably drives you to the medicine cabinet in search of any number of oral, inhaled or injectable drugs despite their dreadful side effects, because nothing matters except relief. But what if instead of rushing to the medicine cabinet, you could get relief from a safer, natural food supplement?

That supplement is ginger, and new research shows that it offers a natural alternative to sumatriptan (Imitrex), a commonly prescribed migraine medication. But you have to know exactly how to use it…


A team of neuroscientists compared ginger and sumatriptan in 100 men and women who had suffered migraines for an average of seven years. The participants were randomly assigned to take one capsule of either ginger (at a dose of 250 mg) or sumatriptan (50 mg) as soon as a migraine started. Participants didn’t know whether they were taking ginger or sumatriptan until the end of the study, which lasted for one month.

For each headache that occurred during that month, participants recorded the time the headache began, headache severity before taking the remedy and degree of pain relief from the remedy at 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes as well as 24 hours after taking it.

The results. Sumatriptan and ginger both, on average, decreased the severity of headache by 44% within two hours. Slightly more people in the sumatriptan group—70% versus 64%—achieved 90% migraine relief after two hours had elapsed.

Now think about that for a minute. Regular old ginger darn near matched the prescription pharmaceutical sumatriptan for migraine headache relief.

The biggest difference in the study results, as you might guess, had to do with side effects. Twenty percent of patients taking sumatriptan reported dizziness, drowsiness, vertigo or heartburn. Meanwhile, 4% of those taking ginger had some indigestion.

I’ll mention that the doses of ginger and sumatriptan used in the study were moderate. Oral sumatriptan is generally prescribed in doses of 25 mg, 50 mg or 100 mg depending on the severity of migraine that a person suffers. If no relief occurs within two hours, another dose can be taken, but the maximum dosage allowed per day is 200 mg. Mild side effects include pressure or a heavy feeling in any part of the body, feeling hot or cold, dizziness, vertigo, drowsiness and nausea or other gastrointestinal problems. And serious adverse events, such as heart attack, stroke and seizure, can occur. That’s enough for me to look for an alternative!

Although the most effective dosage of ginger for migraine has yet to be established, dosages of ginger at 250 mg four times per day have been safely used in research studies of morning sickness and arthritis. Ginger supplements are widely available in stores, usually in doses higher than 250 mg, and are considered “generally safe” by National Institute of Health standards, but people taking blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), high blood pressure medications, especially nifedipine (Procardia), or insulin should speak with their doctors before taking ginger supplements because ginger can interfere with their medications. Because ginger is a natural blood thinner, people with bleeding disorders should also shy away from ginger supplements or take them only under a doctor’s supervision.

Although earlier studies have shown that ginger can reduce or deactivate a migraine, this was the first study to pit ginger against a big-name migraine drug. The robustness of the results are encouraging so, if you have concerns about taking sumatriptan for migraine relief, ask your doctor about whether a ginger supplement might be a safe and effective alternative remedy.