Ashwagandha For Migraines
Ashwagandha is an herb commonly referred to as Indian ginseng or withania somnifera.
It’s well known for increasing focus and clarity. This article reviews the pros and cons of ashwagandha for migraine prevention.
Ten Reasons Why Ashwagandha May Prevent Migraines
1. Migraine Case study
A case study of a 45-year-old woman found that her migraine disability went from a MIDAS grade of 2 (Mild Disability) to a 1 (little or no disability) after two months of ashwagandha use.
Her pain score went from a four-out-of-four down to a one (case study).
This case study is anecdotal evidence that needs to be repeated in large placebo-controlled trials.
Unfortunately, with migraine drugs being a 3-billion-dollar market, it’s unlikely that anyone will fund a trial for a cheap herbal alternative to medication.
2. Anti-inflammatory Effects
A recent study found that 250 mg or 500 mg of ashwagandha per day significantly reduced pain and stiffness in patients with knee joint pain (study).
Migraines and migraine triggers are associated with inflammation (full article).
Anti-inflammatories are underrated migraine treatments. Research shows that 1000 mg of aspirin is as effective as 100 mg of sumatriptan for immediate migraine relief (13 studies).
3. Oxidative Stress
Ashwagandha protects the brain against oxidative stress and glutamate toxicity (study).
Ashwagandha turns on a switch (nrf2) in the body that releases antioxidants to fight oxidative stress (study).
Oxidative stress may be responsible for triggering all migraines (full article).
Glutamate toxicity is also a migraine trigger (full article).
4. Stress Reduction
An ashwagandha study from 2012 reduced depression, anxiety, and stress by a massive 71 percent (study).
The study administered 300 mg of ashwagandha twice per day to 64 chronically stressed patients for 60 days.
The study concluded that “ashwagandha safely improves an individual’s resistance towards stress.” Similar results have been replicated in other studies (study).
Emotional stress is the most common migraine trigger (study).
Depression increases the risk of migraines (full article, #5).
The stress reduction from relaxation techniques has the same reduction in migraines as popular medications (study).
Ashwagandha may directly reduce migraines by controlling stress. Read more about controlling stress and migraines here.
5. Weight Loss
An ashwagandha study published in 2016 found that patients significantly reduced body fat, perceived stress, cortisol levels, food cravings, and increased their happiness levels (based on the Oxford happiness questionnaire score) (study).
The study administered 300 mg of ashwagandha twice per day for eight weeks to 52 overweight patients with chronic stress (study).
Obesity is associated with oxidative stress and increases migraine risk by 81 percent (study link).
6. Focus, Memory, and Brain Function
A placebo-controlled study increased focus, concentration, and improved reaction times between the brain and motor functions (study).
The cognitive success was measured after 500 mg of ashwagandha was administered for 12 days to 20 healthy male adults.
Alzheimer’s disease and brain lesions are also more common in migraine sufferers (full article, #13).
Ashwagandha reversed the buildup of plaque that is associated with Alzheimer’s and brain lesions in a study of human cells (study).
Long-term memory problems are debatable in migraine sufferers, although migraine support groups on Facebook have hundreds of migraineurs questioning if migraines are responsible for their long-term memory loss (study) (Migraine Support Group Facebook).
It’s difficult to tell what is causing memory loss because migraine medications such as topiramate cause memory loss as a side effect.
Ashwagandha is a potential treatment for reducing brain lesions and memory problems in migraine sufferers.
One study on epileptic rats found that ashwagandha almost completely reversed oxidative stress buildup and memory impairment (study).
8. Thyroid Function
Studies on mice show that ashwagandha improves thyroid function (study).
A small study on people with bipolar disease found that ashwagandha improved thyroid function (study). One patient had hypothyroidism before the study and became “normalized” by the end of the eight-week study.
Hypothyroidism is several times more likely in migraine patients and vice versa (full article, #1).
Thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating metabolism, energy, and reducing oxidative stress (study).
Low thyroid hormones could lead to fatigue, weight gain, sensitivity to the cold, and migraines.
9. Increased Strength
One study found a significant increase in muscle strength with less fatigue after eight weeks of ashwagandha use (study).
The men given ashwagandha were able to bench press 74 percent more weight than those given a placebo. I had to double check the study because that level of increased strength is hard to believe. It’s almost scary.
Another study found an increase in leg and back strength despite no exercise (study).
A study conducted in 2010 found that ashwagandha increased the speed and cardio strength of runners (study). The runners increased the amount of oxygen (VO2 max) that their bodies could utilize. The study concluded that ashwagandha may “therefore be useful for generalized weakness.”
Migraines are associated with generalized weakness and fatigue. In fact, 82 percent of those with chronic fatigue also have migraines (full article, #17).
Ashwagandha has even reduced chemotherapy-induced fatigue in a study of 100 cancer patients (study).
Muscular fatigue can trigger migraines by increasing total levels of inflammation in the body (full article). Ashwagandha’s ability to increase oxygen may decrease inflammation and prevent migraines (study).
Exercise studies that increase muscular and cardiovascular strength show a large reduction in migraine frequency (full article).
Increased cardiovascular strength may prevent heart attacks. Migraine sufferers are at a 50 percent higher risk of cardiovascular attacks (full article, #26).
Migraine attacks are also associated with a decrease in brain perfusion (blood and oxygen supply) (study). Improved cardiovascular output could possibly reduce this problem.
10. Reduced Blood Sugar Levels
An ashwagandha study conducted in 2013 reduced high levels of blood sugar in patients with schizophrenia (study).
Patients received 400 mg of ashwagandha several times per day for a month.
The patients started with an average fasting blood sugar level of 106 mg/dl. Over 100 mg/dl of blood sugar is considered prediabetes (diabtetes.org). The blood sugar average for the group went down to a healthy 92 mg/dl by the end of the study.
An earlier study on people with diabetes found that ashwagandha could decrease blood glucose in a comparable way to diabetic medications (study).
Having high blood sugar on a constant basis is bad because it can lead to insulin resistance and hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) attacks.
Migraines are often triggered by low blood sugar attacks from skipping a meal. Reducing high blood sugar levels will improve the body’s ability to utilize sugar even when you skip a meal.
Diabetic patients with hypoglycemic attacks are more likely to have migraines (full article, #10).
Insulin resistance (the decreased ability to utilize sugar) is more likely the longer duration a patient has migraines (study).
Obesity increases migraine risk and can affect both insulin resistance and glucose levels (full article, #29).
Controlling blood glucose levels may be why the ketogenic diet is so effective at reducing migraines (full article).
Ashwagandha’s ability to control blood sugar may help reduce migraines.
Who Shouldn’t Take Ashwagandha
The studies mentioned here suggest that ashwagandha is safe with no serious side effects (study). However, studies are limited on the safety of ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha can affect medications for thyroid disorders, surgery, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and may be unsafe for pregnancy (WebMD).
Allergic reactions to ashwagandha are rare, but any herb is a possible personal allergen and migraine trigger.
Before You Try Ashwagandha
Speak with your doctor or nutritionist before taking any new supplement.
Ashwagandha is not the first migraine supplement you should try. Butterbur, coenzyme Q10, feverfew, and ginger have more robust research in migraine prevention (full article).
What to Buy
Supplements are not regulated by the FDA and many are fake (NYT article). Ensure that your brand is from a reputable company.
Most studies discussed here used 250 mg to 600 mg of ashwagandha per day. However, the correct dosage required to help with your migraines is unknown.
Disclosure: I have no affiliation with any supplement company. It’s best to do your own research because many companies sell fake supplements.
Examples of supplements on Amazon:
It’s common for good supplement manufacturers to have small particles of other supplements that are not on the label, as reviewed by labdoor.com above. This is from cross contamination of shared equipment. However, this is different from the products that are completely fake as reviewed in the NYT article.
Pure Encapsulations—500 mg ashwagandha—is an elite tier of supplement companies that sell directly to health practitioners. Their facility is FDA inspected, GMP certified, free of common allergens or contamination, and has an A rating through Labdoor. The down side is that they are more expensive, but you get what you pay for.