Turmeric for Migraines
Turmeric is a medicinal spice that has been used for thousands of years in India.
Robust research shows that a compound in turmeric called curcumin has numerous medical benefits (study).
Will curcumin bring migraine relief? This article discusses the benefits and disadvantages of turmeric for migraine relief.
Thirteen reasons why turmeric benefits migraines:
One study found that curcumin is a much stronger anti-inflammatory than aspirin and ibuprofen (study).
1000 mg of aspirin is as effective as the strongest migraine drugs (100 mg of sumatriptan) (13 studies).
Inflammation is a migraine trigger (full article).
2. Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress may be the reason all migraines are triggered (full article).
A 2014 study found that curcumin had anti-depressant properties that were about as effective as Prozac (study).
4. Heart Attack
Curcumin plays a protective role in cardiovascular disease (study).
A 2012 study found that curcumin reduced the risk of a heart attack by 66 percent in patients that underwent coronary bypass surgery (study).
The risk of cardiovascular events is 50 percent higher in women with migraines (study).
Migraines may double the risk of stroke (WebMD).
Low levels of serotonin are associated with migraines and drugs that increase serotonin successfully treat migraines (study).
6. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Eighty-two percent of those with chronic fatigue syndrome have migraines (study).
7. Gut Inflammation
Gut problems are synonymous with migraines (full article).
Glutamate and excitotoxicity are associated with triggering migraines (full article).
Studies show turmeric significantly reduces acne (study).
Children with migraines have seven times the odds of also having acne (study).
10. Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Curcumin protects astrocytes and reverses mitochondrial damage (study).
Migraines are associated with mitochondrial dysfunction (study).
For more on glutamate buildup, check out my article and video on estrogen and progesterone.
Curcumin improves lupus symptoms (study). Lupus is when the body’s immune system attacks its own cells.
In a Harvard Medical School study, 62 percent of patients with lupus reported headaches and 39 percent met the criteria for migraines (study).
12. Carpal Tunnel
Curcumin reduced carpal tunnel pain by more than 66 percent in a 2013 study (study).
Migraineurs are nearly three times more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome (study).
13. Alzheimer’s Disease
Migraines may triple the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (study).
Some attribute turmeric as the reason why Alzheimer’s disease only causes one percent of deaths in India (U.S. 10.5 percent) (study). However, this statistic only represents rural northern India as national data was not available.
Southern India has Alzheimer’s rates that are significantly higher than rural northern India and only marginally less than the United States.
Rural areas of India consume three times as much turmeric as urban areas (study). One could argue that turmeric prevents Alzheimer’s disease in rural India, but that is only a correlation. A good correlation nonetheless.
Two reasons why turmeric may trigger migraines:
A 2012 study found curcumin increased nitric oxide production by about 40 percent in middle-aged men (study). The study listed turmeric as beneficial for preventing heart disease.
Nitric oxide reduces blood pressure. This is fantastic for most people.
Nitric oxide, however, can be a migraine trigger (full article).
Nitric oxide increases a peptide (calcitonin gene-related peptide or CGRP) that may be responsible for triggering migraines (study). CGRP is not released from curcumin in animal studies and curcumin even reduces CGRP in human studies (study 1, 2, 3). However, curcumin may still be a problem for some.
Research shows that migraine sufferers have severely low autonomic function (study). Poor autonomic function makes it difficult to maintain blood pressure.
Some migraine sufferers have abnormally low blood pressure (study).
Increasing nitric oxide with turmeric may be a problem for those migraine sufferers who have low blood pressure or problems maintaining blood pressure.
Update: A study on asthma sufferers found that turmeric significantly reduced nitric oxide and oxidative stress. This increases the possibility that turmeric could improve migraines by reducing nitric oxide (study).
Turmeric could be a personal allergen for some migraine sufferers, but that is unlikely. All of the studies mentioned found that turmeric is well tolerated in patients.
Should I take turmeric?
There are 13 reasons why turmeric is likely to benefit migraineurs and two reasons that turmeric is a possible migraine trigger for a select few migraineurs. Overall, turmeric is expected to greatly help migraine sufferers who don’t have abnormally low blood pressure.
(Update: asthma study found that turmeric decreases nitric oxide, thus it may improve migraine for those with abnormally low blood pressure- study).
There is very little research on turmeric and migraines. It’s likely to benefit most migraine sufferers, but we won’t know for sure until a placebo-controlled study is completed.
Turmeric does not cause significant side effects, unlike nearly all migraine drugs. However, you should speak with your doctor before taking turmeric, especially if you are taking medications (WebMD).
The benefits are high and the risks are low.
How is turmeric absorbed?
Crack some pepper on meals with turmeric. For supplements, look for piperine, black pepper extract, or Bioperine on the label.
Curcuminoids are fat soluble. A diet that includes healthy fats is needed to fully absorb turmeric.
How much do I take?
Arthritis studies have recommended 8-60 grams of fresh turmeric root three times daily.
The usual dosage of standardized turmeric powder is 400-600 mg taken three times per day (study).
Of course, many people do fine when consuming large amounts of turmeric in curry dishes and some health professionals simply suggest eating more turmeric (Dr. Axe).
Most turmeric supplements come with increased curcumin because curcumin only represents a small portion of turmeric.
A mixture of turmeric and curcumin is ideal because turmeric contains at least two other compounds (demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin) that have medicinal benefits (study).
Look for supplements that contain: turmeric, curcumin, and black pepper extract (piperine or Bioperine). Make sure you purchase from a reputable company as supplements are not FDA regulated and many are fake (NYT article).
A great option is Turmeric Curcumin by Schwartz Bioresearch with 4.7 stars on Amazon. I like that it has over 2,000 reviews, is third-party tested, and contains all the necessary ingredients.
Sports Research C3 Complex Turmeric Curcumin is 4.7 stars on Amazon. I like that Sports Research is third-party tested, contains the essential curcuminoids, BioPerine, and coconut oil for enhanced absorption. The facility is GMP certified (ensures high quality under FDA guidelines) and is validated through an independent testing company called Labdoor. Sports Research C3 Complex Turmeric Curcumin is my personal choice.
Pure Encapsulations – Curcumin 500 with Bioperine– is the highest quality and that is reflected in its price. Pure Encapsulations is considered an elite tier of supplement companies that sell directly to health practitioners. Their facility is FDA inspected, GMP certified, free of common allergens, and has an A rating through Labdoor.