By Dr. Mark Wiley
Migraine headaches are among the most debilitating and painful things one can experience. They come on quickly, with little warning except for an aura or dull pain if a “classic” migraine is in store. When they strike, the pain goes from a 2 to a 10 in a matter of minutes. And if you don’t “catch” the migraine at “first sign” and take meds or use techniques to keep it at bay, there is almost nothing you can do to reduce its severity or duration.
When it comes to migraines, prevention is the key and a new study shows that one particular natural remedy is more effective, and less toxic, than a prescription drug for prevention and reduction of migraine frequency.
From Sleep Aid to Migraine Prevention
Many are familiar with melatonin and know it as a sleep aid. Your body produces melatonin in the pineal gland during the evening hours (beginning about 9pm). It is believed that when the sun goes down and the darkness signals it’s time for your body to rest, melatonin is produced to help you begin feeling sleepy, fall asleep, and then, as there is less melatonin in the body as the sun rises, you awaken. During the day there is almost no melatonin found in your blood because the pineal gland is inactive.
Melatonin as a supplement is a lab-created form of the natural hormone produced by the pineal gland. It has been shown as an effective aid for insomnia. However, the Sleep Foundation reports that “when scientists conduct tests to compare melatonin as a ‘sleeping pill’ to a placebo most studies show no benefit of melatonin. Evidence that melatonin can reset the body clock is better established, although it is not clear whether exposure to light may be more effective.”
The good news, for our discussion today, is that melatonin supplementation has been proven in a clinical trial to beat the prescription drug Amitriptyline for migraine prevention.
Rx for Depression and Now Migraine
Amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant, perhaps better known by its brand names Elavil, Vanatrip, and Endep. It is most commonly used to treat depression by affecting a balance of chemicals in the brain that, when imbalanced, cause symptoms of depression. It has also come into its own as a drug to treat migraines.
The bad news is Amitriptyline’s major side effects, which include: chest pain or discomfort, convulsions, difficulty in breathing, inability to move arms, legs, or facial muscles, inability to speak, loss of consciousness, mental depression or anxiety, seizures, and severe muscle stiffness, among 119 others!
As a general rule, if a drug has more side effects than positive effects, or if the chances of serious damage outweigh the severity for the problem for which it is being used… look elsewhere for a solution! Be that as it may, not everyone thinks this way and Amitriptyline continues to be prescribed.
Well, at least where migraines are involved, this may be a thing of the past. Let’s now review the clinical trial.
Melatonin Defeats Amitriptyline
The results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the May 2016 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychology, compared the effects of taking 3mg of melatonin at bedtime versus 25 mg of Amitriptyline once daily over a 12 week period for migraine prevention.
Participants included men and women between the ages of 18-65 years who were experiencing between 2-8 migraine attacks per month. 196 participants were randomly assigned to placebo, amitriptyline, or melatonin groups.
At the end of the three month study, those taking melatonin experienced a reduction of 2.7 “headache days”, whereas the Amitriptyline groups saw a smaller reduction of 2.2 headache days during the same period. The placebo group found a reduction of 1.1 headache days. What’s more, the study also found:
Melatonin was superior to amitriptyline in the percentage of patients with a greater than 50% reduction in migraine frequency.
Melatonin was better tolerated than amitriptyline.
Weight loss was found in the melatonin group, a slight weight gain in placebo and significantly for amitriptyline users.
While the drug Amitriptyline may be effective at preventing migraines, its serious side effects make it unfavorable, especially when melatonin was slightly more effective at migraine prevention. While melatonin should not be taken by patients with autoimmune diseases, it shows itself to be a safe and rather effective natural remedy for migraine prevention and reduction of overall “headache days.”
For those who do not get headaches frequently, even though you may only get a migraine twice per month each may last for 2-6 days and so reduction in “headache days” is as significant as reduction of headache onset.
If you suffer migraines and maybe insomnia, go ahead and take melatonin before bed every night and see how it can work for you. Other supplements, natural therapies, and lifestyle changes also work to reduce headache pain and prevent onset.
I have suffered personally with headaches for over three decades and developed a 30-Day Headache Relief Action Plan, which includes strategies like taking supplements (like melatonin) based on research. It also includes lifestyle modification, meditation, and looks at energy medicine and many many other forms of non-pharmaceutical treatment. This Action Plan relieved my headaches after decades of drugs and a world search for a cure. It can help you, too. The program is outlined in my new book, Headaches Relieved, and you can learn more about it here.