Feverfew: Hope for Fewer and Milder Migraines
In the past 20 years, the leaves of feverfew, a short bushy member of the daisy family, have been used to prevent migraine headaches as well as fevers.
Feverfew was mentioned in Greek medical literature as a remedy for inflammation and swelling, as well as menstrual discomfort. The name "feverfew" is derived from the Latin for "chase away fevers." Beginning in the 16th century, it was used by British herbalists for the treatment of fevers and rheumatic aches and pains. During the next few hundred years, the herb fell into disuse among herbalists. In the last two decades, however, use of the leaves to prevent migraine headache has led feverfew back to popularity with herbalists and healthcare practitioners who use phytotherapy.
Because of the popularity of feverfew in Great Britain and increased medical research, the active component of feverfew is now well understood. Feverfew was found to contain a range of compounds known as sequiterpene lactones (STL). The most important STL in feverfew is parthenolide. First isolated in 1960, parthenolide comprises up to 85% of the STL content in feverfew.
Proper concentration of parthenolide in feverfew extracts is critical for the effective treatment and prevention of migraines. A critical consideration in commercial feverfew products has been consistency in parthenolide content. Standardized feverfew extracts, developed in the last few years, are manufactured to insure a minimum parthenolide content of at least .2%. Consumers buying feverfew products should seek those with a guaranteed parthenolide content.
How Does Feverfew Work?
Even though a lack of consensus remains about the exact cause of migraine headaches, recent medical research and drug development have focused on the role of platelets and the release of substances they contain. Platelets, which are a normal part of the blood and involved in clotting, appear to behave abnormally in migraine sufferers.
Platelets appear to over-aggregate prior to a migraine and then release a substance known as serotonin. Serotonin, in turn, causes abnormal blood vessel tone (primarily dilation) noted during a migraine attack. Inflammatory substances are also released locally during a migraine and probably contribute to the severity of an attack.
Feverfew, and specifically parthenolide, act to inhibit over-aggregating. More importantly, is their blockage of serotonin from platelets as well as the production of inflammatory substances. The cumulative result is a normalization of blood vessel tone and a reduction in the severity and frequency of migraine headaches.
Use of Feverfew for Migraines
Medical interest in feverfew arose in Great Britain after the publication of a story in Prevention Magazine in 1978 that related the success a certain Mrs. Jenkins had in using feverfew for her migraines. After suffering with migraines for over 50 years, Mrs. Jenkins found relief after consuming feverfew leaves for ten months.
The first clinical study examining the effect of feverfew on migraines begin with migraine patients who had been using feverfew for several years prior to the study. Seventeen patients were enrolled and divided into one of two treatment groups: feverfew (50 mg per day) or placebo (an inactive substance). The eight patients staying on feverfew experienced continued successful management of migraines over a six-month period. The nine patients that were switched over to the placebo had an almost three-fold increase in migraine attacks over the same period of time.
For the long-term treatment or prevention of migraines, individuals should use feverfew continuously for several months to as long as two to three years. Clinical experience has indicated that four to six weeks of treatment with feverfew is usually required before results are noted.
Feverfew is not recommended during pregnancy or lactation or for children under the age of two years. Persons on drug therapy for migraines should consult their healthcare practitioner before using feverfew.