A Deep Dive Into Ginger for Migraine Treatment
If you are searching for natural remedies for head pain, one supplement that you might hear about for migraine relief is ginger.
There is some interesting research into the treatment of migraine headaches using ginger. But can ginger really help you with migraine attacks? Let’s take a look at the research evidence that exists to this point, and also discuss different forms of ginger and how and when you can take it for migraine pain.
What is the Real Science Behind Ginger for Migraines?
Mechanisms of Ginger for Migraines
One reason that ginger may be helpful in treating migraines is that it is anti-inflammatory in nature.
According to the American Headache Society, there is evidence for a connection between migraines and inflammation. Quoting Gretchen Tietjen, the author of a recent study, the page states, “There is limited evidence that anti-inflammatories prevent migraine with aura, but there is still more research to be done on migraines with aura vs. migraines without aura.”
I’m not sure about you, but NSAIDs are among my first line of defense for migraine pain, and I am willing to wager that is true for many migraine patients.
The anti-inflammatory effects of ginger may not be the only thing that could make it helpful for head pain.
This article explains that “antihistaminic and antioxidant factors” of ginger might also contribute to how it could fight against head pain.
Ginger also appears to be involved with serotonin. As serotonin also seems to play a complex role in head pain, that might be another channel through which ginger could influence migraine pain.
I have had a hard time finding a simple explanation of how ginger can affect serotonin levels. The best I have found in terms of an explanation is this research.
The study states, “All tested ginger constituents acted as non-competitive antagonist. Our results imply that ginger and its pungent constituents exert antiemetic effects by blocking 5-HT-induced emetic signal transmission in vagal afferent neurons.”
I wanted to find more references regarding this, just to be sure I am as clear as possible on this point (neurotransmitters can be complicated). I found this book, stating, “Other physiological assays (5-HT-induced hypothermia and diarrhea) have shown serotonin antagonist activity from oral doses of ginger (Huang et al. 1990).”
This book then goes on to add, “Ginger has been shown to release substance P. Substance P is a peptide neurotransmitter present in the brain and spinal cord, and has modulatory effects on several neural processes, including pain transmission … This action relates closely to the analgesic effects of ginger.”
As described here, ginger can also inhibit prostaglandins.
If you experience unpleasant symptoms before or during a menstrual period such as headache, fatigue, weakness and fever-like symptoms, those are in part due to the release of prostaglandins flooding your body.
These inflammatory compounds have shown a role in migraine, and substances which inhibit them such as aspirin and naproxen can help with aborting migraines.
Since ginger blocks these same compounds, it may be particularly helpful to women who experience menstrual migraines.
The same article also talks about blocking the production of thromboxane and activating opiate receptors as another means to treat migraine.
It would seem that ginger may also be able to do this as well. The researchers state, “We and others have found ginger to inhibit strongly prostaglandin synthesis.”
There are a number of promising studies regarding ginger and migraines. Let’s go over a few of them.
Key Point: Possible mechanisms through which ginger might combat migraine attacks include its anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic, antioxidant, and serotonin-influencing properties. Ginger may also be able to act against prostaglandins and may act through opiate receptor channels. Substance P may also be involved.
Ginger for Acute Migraine Attacks
This double-blinded randomized trial was published in 2013. 100 migraine patients participated, specifically those who experienced acute migraine without aura. They were randomized into two groups. One received sumatriptan (Imitrex), and the other received ginger. The sumatriptan doses were 50 mg each, while the ginger powder extract doses were 250 mg each.
As it was a double-blinded study, participants did not know whether they were taking sumatriptan or ginger. That meant that they followed the same rules for taking ginger as they would for taking sumatriptan, meaning that they took it at the first signs of an acute migraine attack.
The conclusion read:
“Two hours after using either drug, mean headaches severity decreased significantly. Efficacy of ginger powder and sumatriptan was similar. Clinical adverse effects of ginger powder were less than sumatriptan. Patients’ satisfaction and willingness to continue did not differ. The effectiveness of ginger powder in the treatment of common migraine attacks is statistically comparable to sumatriptan. Ginger also poses a better side effect profile than sumatriptan.”
If you are wondering about the rate of decline for migraine symptoms with the ginger versus the sumatriptan, the researchers included a graph in their study which illustrated the same rate of decline in symptoms for both treatments.
This review focused on ginger’s potential to prevent nausea and vomiting, two symptoms which many migraine sufferers experience.
The researchers write, “Various preclinical and clinical studies have shown ginger to possess antiemetic [anti-vomiting] effects against different emetogenic stimuli.”
Indeed, this page at Migraine.com mentions, “Most of the research on ginger has been conducted for its benefits on nausea and vomiting.”
As discussed on WebMD, ginger seems to be effective in combating both vomiting and nausea during pregnancy. Additionally, it may be able to counteract vertigo and associated nausea. That does not prove that it can fight nausea during a migraine, but it may be a hopeful pointer in that direction.
The site writes, “Ginger contains chemicals that may reduce nausea and inflammation. Researchers believe the chemicals work primarily in the stomach and intestines, but they may also work in the brain and nervous system to control nausea.”
A case study is described in this paper involving the use of powdered ginger both for abortion of migraine attacks and prevention.
When the patient’s aura would appear at the start of an attack (for her, the first sign of a migraine), she would take 500-600 mg of ginger in a powdered form. This was taken with water. The researchers write that the “abortive effect of migraine headache was perceivable within 30 min.”
Rather than stopping there, however, the researchers directed the patient to take the amount above “twice at every 4-h period on the first day of the onset of the attack and then the above regimen was followed for another 3-4 days.” The phrase “twice” here seems a bit ambiguous, but the researchers say that it all added up to 1.5-2 g of powdered ginger each day.
They add that she was pleased with the results, so began consuming fresh ginger as well each day, and that “This increased consumption of ginger has definitely shown a preventative effect as the frequency of migraine attacks decreased markedly. In the last thirteen months since the subject began the use of ginger, only six migraine headaches took place with much lower intensity than before. Consequently, consumption of ginger powder showed an abortive effect on every occasion. Below we postulate a possible role of ginger in the abortive and prophylactic effects in migraine headache.”
This is quite an exciting result, though it should be noted that a considerable quantity of ginger was required.
Also, keep in mind that this was a case study, so it is not a lot of data. It would make a great basis for running a larger study though.
Key Point: Much research into ginger has focused on its effectiveness in fighting nausea and vomiting, both of which are common migraine symptoms. There is not much research on ginger specifically for the treatment of migraine-associated digestive symptoms, but it does seem as if it might be promising in that regard. There is also one prominent study which shows that it may rival sumatriptan for fighting acute migraine attacks.
Ginger for Migraine Prevention
There is at least one research study which indicates that not only might ginger be useful as an acute treatment for head pain, but it might have a preventative application as well.
The study looked at whether ginger would be helpful for preventing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Describing how the study was conducted, the researchers explain, “each participant received two ginger capsules daily from seven days before menstruation to three days after menstruation for three cycles and they recorded severity of the symptoms by daily record scale questionnaire.”
There were 35 patients in the control group and 35 in the experimental group. The researchers assessed their results one month, two months and three months into treatments.
Regarding head pain tied to the menstrual cycle, the researchers reported, “One of the symptoms of PMS is incidence of headache and exacerbation of migraine. In our study ginger was found to be effective in relieving headaches.”
Key Point: At least one study shows that ginger might be helpful in preventing menstrual migraine when taken on a preventative basis.
My Experiences With Ginger for Head Pain
Anecdotally, I have experimented a little bit with ginger as a treatment for head pain. To be clear, I have migraines which appear to be mixed with myofascial pain and some degree of cervicogenic headache (which may or may not be identical to migraine in my case).
I have not tried using it in a preventative, daily fashion since I’m still a bit unclear on its effects on serotonin (though it does seem to be an antagonist), and am currently using other dugs that modify serotonin.
But I have tried using it as an acute treatment. So far, I have not noticed any benefit for severe pain. But I have noted with some consistency that it does seem to reduce a very particular type of head pain which I experience.
It is difficult to describe this particular type of pain, but it is a sort of “scratching, crawling” sensation which afflicts my face.
Researching this, it does seem to be a feature of migraines for some patients.
The ginger has not yet gotten rid of this particular symptom altogether when it has cropped up, but it does seem to at least temporarily reduce its severity, usually beginning pretty rapidly after I take a couple of capsules.
I’ve experienced no side effects, aside from very mild heartburn. This actually surprised me, as I am quite susceptible to it. But even on an empty stomach, ginger supplements have not been more than mildly annoying with respect to heartburn, and a piece of licorice generally is enough to curb the side effect altogether for me.
I have so far only tried a single brand of ginger supplement, and not one which I’m overly familiar with. It was just something I ran into at the store and bought on a lark.
There can be quite an it a variation in terms of the content and quality of ginger supplement capsules on the market, as discussed in this research.
So for my part, I will probably try a couple different brands which are more familiar to me to see if I achieve more pronounced beneficial effects.
I might also try taking a higher amount of ginger as described in the case study I shared previously.
The jury is still out, but on this one, I am cautiously optimistic, even if fighting that particular scratchy form of pain is all that is good for my case. That would still be exciting, as I have found nothing else which alleviates that particular sensation.
Key Point: My own experiences with ginger seem to suggest that it might be valuable to me in fighting at least one form of head pain. Just as more research is needed in general, further experimentation is required for me to make a conclusion for my own case as well.
Risks and Side Effects of Ginger
As you already know from going over the research studies I have shared, ginger tends to be well-tolerated. But are there any risks, side effects or interactions that you should know about?
WebMD writes, “Ginger can cause mild side effects including heartburn, diarrhea, and general stomach discomfort. Some women have reported extra menstrual bleeding while taking ginger.”
Ginger may or may not be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children, so it is best to avoid it for all of those cases.
You can take ginger if you are diabetic, and in fact, it could even reduce your blood sugar levels.
If you have a bleeding disorder or certain heart conditions, you should avoid taking ginger.
There are some medications with which ginger may interact. These include anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, Phenprocoumon, Warfarin (Coumadin), Cyclosporine, anti-diabetes drugs, calcium channel blockers, and Metronidazole (Flagyl).
I have yet to see any references to ginger interacting with sumatriptan or other medications that impact serotonin levels.
Nonetheless, I would urge caution with regard to piling ginger on top of other serotonin-affecting drugs or supplements. Being as the study I saw described ginger as an antagonist, I am guessing it could reduce their effectiveness. But I may be incorrect in my interpretation.
Until I find research which specifically states that doing so will not lead to adverse effects, it just is something I am not comfortable with.
One more question you might have is whether there is an upper limit for the safe intake of ginger.
This paper says, “Ginger is on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ‘generally regarded as safe (GRAS)’ list, and is considered safe at dosages of up to 4 grams daily.[1,2] Ginger has been shown to reduce platelet aggregation at a single dose of 10 grams in patients with coronary artery disease. Ginger given at daily doses of 4 grams or less for more than 3 months, however, has not altered platelet aggregation, fibrinolytic activities, or fibrinogen levels.”
The same paper notes that no evidence exists to suggest that ginger is unsafe for long-term use.
Key Point: Ginger is safe and well-tolerated by most users, but there are some use restrictions to be aware of, potential mild side effects, and some possible drug interactions. The upper limit is 4 grams a day.
Forms of Ginger for Migraines
If you do decide to try ginger as a head pain and nausea remedy, there are a few different forms in which it is available.
- You can get ginger in a powdered form which you can measure out yourself.
- Ginger is available in capsules, like many other health supplements. You can purchase it on its own or combined with other herbs for head pain.
- You can drink ginger tea.
- Eating fresh ginger is also an option.
Key Point: Ginger is available in a variety of forms. Choose the one which is most convenient to you.
So you decided ginger is for you! Great, now you’ve got more options:
The directions for taking ginger as well as how much to take depend on the form of ginger you have decided upon.
The fastest and easiest way to take ginger is in capsule form, because it has already been measured out for you.
Going by the study which compared ginger to sumatriptan, a dose of 250 mg is supposed to be comparable to 50 mg of sumatriptan.
So that is a good starting point in terms of establishing a dose.
If you want to follow the same directions that were provided for participants in that study, take that dose of 250 mg of ginger at the first signs of a migraine.
The other thing you could try in terms of dosing is to base your treatment regimen off of the case study we talked about.
If you want to try that, you can take 500-600 mg instead at the onset of a migraine, and then do so every four hours for the next 3-4 days.
You will recall that the patient was taking 1.5-2 g per day, which is the same as 1,500-2,000 mg. So that would mean 3 or 4 doses daily.
Another idea would be to try the dosing from the PMS study, particularly if you are trying to get the anti-prostaglandin effect of ginger on your side.
That would mean that beginning 7 days before your expected period and continuing three days from the first day of that period, you would take 250 mg of ginger every twelve hours.
Combining the ideas above, you could come up with a custom experimental plan. You base this off of your particular needs and goals.
For example, when I run a more orderly trial on myself once I obtain a brand that I trust (not the dodgy random one I ran into at the store and bought on a whim), I might do something like this:
- Starting 7 days prior to my expected period and 10 days after, I would take 2,000 mg a day spaced every four hours.
The rationale behind this particular plan for me would be that my migraines are tied to my menstrual cycle, but the worst of my pain happens in the week following my period.
As for why I would take 2,000 mg per day, that is because I have only achieved any effect if I take 500 mg at once. I have noted no effect with just 250 mg.
You could examine the timeframes during which you tend to experience migraine pain and come up with your own dosing plan. You might also discover that you respond to a lower dose more effectively than I do.
Then again, for all I know, if I took a low dose every day, it’d have a preventative effect after a while.
Basically, we have so little data to work with at this point from research that there is a fair degree of guesswork involved with deciding how much ginger to take, and how frequently.
Just do not exceed the 4 g upper limit.
Key Point: Ginger capsules offer an affordable, easy and convenient way to take regular doses of ginger to enjoy its anti-inflammatory properties.
Your next option would be to purchase loose ginger powder. The main benefit of this would probably be cost savings.
It is not a very convenient option, however, because it can be very challenging (if not impossible) to measure out the amount that you want.
Manufacturing differences from brand to brand are one issue. Another is how densely you pack the powder together when you’re trying to measure out your dose.
That means that depending on both factors, ½ teaspoon could contain 250 mg of ginger, but you might also be able to get that amount of ginger in just 1/8 teaspoon.
So, unless you intend to go to the trouble of taking measurements to figure out exactly how to get the right dose of ginger powder for a particular brand, I recommend just going with capsules.
Key Point: Loose ginger powder is probably the least convenient way to take ginger since it is difficult to measure out the dose. There is too much variation from brand to brand based on processing.
Another option for consuming ginger is to brew it as a tea. It takes around 4.5 teaspoons of grated ginger boiled in 9.5 cups of water to produce 9 cups of tea, each delivering a dose of 250 mg of ginger.
Once again, it can be difficult to obtain complete precision, but it seems to be more reliable to grate fresh ginger and get the proper dosage than to try and measure powdered ginger.
Key Point: If you are willing to take the time to make ginger tea in batches, it can be a relatively easy and convenient way to take advantage of the benefits of ginger.
According to this research, you need 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger rhizome (root) to equal 1,000 mg of ginger.
That means that you need ¼ teaspoon of freshly grated ginger to get 250 mg.
A single ginger root placed in your fridge can keep for about a month before it spoils.
I am not sure how many doses you would get out of a single root (it would vary depending on the size of the root).
It is not the most convenient method, and probably not the most cost-effective. But at least you know for sure that you’re getting real ginger.
Of course, you will still want to do your research to make sure that you are getting organic, wholesome ginger that was grown without the use of pesticides.
Key Point: It seems to be easier to reliably measure out the right dose of freshly grated ginger than it is to measure out the right dose of loose powder. This is another option for taking ginger on a daily basis.
Ginger + Other Migraine Herbs (Capsule)
One more way that you can try taking ginger for head pain is to get a supplement which combines ginger with other herbs such as feverfew, Vitex, boswellia and butterbur which research also supports for brain support.
This gives you the same convenience of taking regular ginger capsules, plus the added benefits of additional healthy natural ingredients.
If you are already thinking about trying some of these other supplements, you might save time, money and hassle by getting them all combined into one simple capsule.
Key Point: Ginger is an ingredient you can find in some combined herbal supplements for migraines. Purchasing supplements which include multiple beneficial ingredients can save you money.
Conclusion: Ginger May Be Worth Trying to Treat Symptoms Associated With Migraine
We gave discussed a number of studies which have looked into the potential acute and preventative benefits of ginger as a natural remedy for migraine attacks.
Initial research is promising, but far more is needed to draw conclusions about ginger and head pain, nausea and vomiting.
You now know that ginger is available in a number of different forms, and you are aware that ginger supplements may be high or low in quality.
Make sure that you do the research to pick a ginger product which will be pure and potent. Take it properly in the correct dosage, and keep careful notes on your head pain, nausea, dizziness, and other migraine symptoms.
Whether you combine its use with migraine drugs or not, hopefully you will see the results you are looking for!