Ginger May Offer Effective, Cheap Migraine Relief, Study Finds

by Liz Neporent
February 9, 2023 at 12:05 PM UTC

Ginger root may be a cheap, effective alternative to prescription migraine drugs, a PCC study finds.

Clinical relevance: Ginger may be cheap, accessible alternative to prescription migraine drugs

  • A systematic review and meta-analysis looked at three randomized controlled trials that tested the effectiveness of ginger in migraine treatment.
  • Two of the studies found the spice holds promise in reducing pain, likelihood of staying pain-free for 2 hours, and reducing the risk of nausea and vomiting
  • However, in the third trial there was no significant reduction of migraine frequency between the ginger and placebo groups.

An inexpensive migraine relief option may be as close as the nearest supermarket produce section, according to a review conducted by investigators at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, India.

Ginger has long been used as a home remedy for acute migraine attacks. Some migraineurs swear by its ability to dull the pounding headache and calm the roiling nausea that often accompanies an episode. Ginger root, tea, and extract are typically cheaper than most prescription drugs and carry very few side effects. Yet there’s been very little scientific evidence to back up how useful this Southeast Asian spice really is for treating a migraine.

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The systematic review and meta-analysis led by Chittaranjan Andrade, MD, a professor of clinical psychopharmacology and neurotoxicology, looked at three randomized controlled trials (RTCs) that tested the effectiveness of various forms of ginger as a migraine treatment. Results were mixed.

The first RTC of 60 patients examined the therapeutic efficacy of a proprietary formulation of ginger plus the herb, feverfew. The second tested the benefits of an add-on dry ginger extract in 60 patients who also received a 100 mg of the first-line treatment drug, ketoprofen. And the third looked at the 3-month prophylactic efficacy of a dry ginger extract in 107 patients to determine whether taking ginger for three months on a daily basis was a good strategy for migraine prevention.

In the first two studies, ginger reduced mean pain scores and increased the likelihood of a patient staying pain free for at least 2-hours after treatment by nearly 80 percent compared to a placebo. It also reduced the risk of migraine-related nausea and vomiting by half without any reports of meaningful adverse side effects. 

However, in the single RCT that examined its use in prevention, there was no significant reduction of migraine frequency between the ginger and placebo groups. More than 40 percent of the patients taking ginger reported cutting their monthly frequency of migraine episodes in half, but the researchers concluded this result wasn’t significantly different compared to the controls. There were also no consequential differences between the two groups for secondary outcomes such as days of pain, days of severe pain, days requiring the use of analgesics, number of migraine episodes, and maximum duration of migraine episodes.

This is a fairly small number of trials and total subjects on which to base general conclusions about how well ginger works in migraine, the authors cautioned. The use of different pain scales might skew the reliability of the results as well. And, in the one trial that used ginger in combo with feverfew, who’s to say which compound provided the benefit?

Still, migraine is a debilitating medical problem impacting more than 10 percent of the world’s population, and nearly twice as many women than men. For patients who can’t afford — or don’t have access to — prescription migraine drugs, ginger might be worth a try, the study authors concluded. Stirring half a teaspoon of ground ginger into a glass of water to create a “ginger juice,” or sipping a hot tea made from a teaspoon of freshly ground ginger are two easy and palatable recipes popular among migraineurs, the authors suggested. 

“… users must be aware that, just as people are different from place to place, the chemical composition of ginger, and hence its efficacy, could vary from source to source,” they wrote. “Users would therefore need to determine by trial and error what source and dosing works best for them, assuming that the treatment does work.”

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