Magical Migraine Tea
Due to complications my migraines, particularly my auras, have been massively frequent and severe. Currently I can’t use my DHE or any other migraine abortive. So I’ve gone back to the old school ways of treating migraines, my primary weapon being tea with raw honey.
The tea is magical because we don’t really have a solid scientific understanding of how or even if it works. Unfortunately, hard evidence on herbal remedies for migraines is thin at best. However, I will be linking some articles that provide some of the theories and a bit of evidence as to why the elements of my tea works. However, I’ll start off with a fellow patient advocate migraineur, Teri Robert1, recent article on 9 Teas that can help with Migraine relief2.
Beware, I am in no way saying tea is a cure
While for many, myself included, caffeine 3can stop a migraine if taken at the very beginning of an attack, note I only said can. The goal of using tea and other natural remedies is not to cure the migraine but to soothe it and yourself. Like anything else with migraine what works for one does not work for all. Migraines are mercurial and often downright paradoxical. What helps one person’s migraine my trigger someone else’s. Not to mention in many cases, especially caffeine3, at some points it may trigger migraine and in others completely abort it.
However, remedies like tea that provide partial relief can be crucial to a treatment plan for chronic migraine. Most medications we use to treat individual migraine attacks can also worsen chronic migraine and cause Medication Overuse Headache4. Triptan and Ergotamine “vacation days”, as I like to call them, are critical at preventing this, and finding other gentler means of symptom management plays a key role. First in making days without an abortive medication (or opiate!) more tolerable, second awful migraines tend to perpetuate awful migraines.
It All Comes Down to Chai Tea, Green Tea, Ginger & Raw Honey
My tea has a few components to it, all of them play a role. I typically make a chai or green tea latte sweetened with raw honey and with a bit of soy milk. The ginger I get into the tea a few different ways, though I only bother with it when I’m nauseous.
The first active ingredient is caffeine, which has a long history of being known to help many with migraine3. Why I list both green and chai tea is because both have different caffeine3 content. Black tea tends to have a high caffeine3 content, versus green tea which is moderate. Tea also has the benefit of the caffeine3 level being variable based on how long the tea is steeped. Not to mention that both can be gotten in decaf 🙂 Being able to dose your caffeine3 to where you’re at with your migraine has a lot of advantages.
Decaf is also an option. Many times I choose to use decaf green or chai tea. Both have decaf versions that are readily available at your local grocery store.
Though the real magic of Green and Chai tea is that they are a rich source of Antioxidants
Green tea has a lot of good properties including antioxidants which can potentially help with migraine. Chai tea is a complex black tea that is also loaded with antioxidants and is also believed to aide digestion5.
Though the real surprise a new theory that links that oxidants as potentially being a cause of migraine. The study6 elegantly breaks the major groupings of migraine triggers and their biochemical breakdown and/or response in the body. The majority end in an increased level of oxidants. Oxidative stress is an elegant theory that wraps up migraine very well, and for the first time identifies a link between most major migraine triggers. It also has a lovely link between oxidative stress and cortical spreading depression7, which continues to gather evidence as at the very least being the biological mechanism of migraine aura.
It is important to add though that this is just a theory. There are some interesting animal models of oxidative stress, though it is difficult to tell if a mouse has a migraine 😉 I kid, the reality is that animal models likely will not be anywhere near sufficient to conduct the kind of research needed with this theory. Unlike a lot of other migraine research this one involves chemical levels within the brain, and the blood brain barrier8 gets in the way of non-invasive means of studying this theory. Essentially it would require migraineurs getting their heads cut open, not a great way to go.
What this new research means is that the antioxidants in your tea may be doing more than you think! Chances are, however, if oxidative stress theory bears fruitful treatment options it will involve something a little stronger than tea.
Ginger has been a long time cure for nausea. There is a lot of evidence supporting this. I use a combination of ginger crystals, ginger tea, and green tea with ginger already in it. When I’m in a real bad cycle I’ll keep ginger crystals in my work bag since they can be dissolved in cold water.
- Comparison of ginger and sumatriptan in the treatment of common migraine10
- Ginger for the treatment of migraine headaches11
Honey is the hardest to write about since there is little written about it. I was advised to try honey for migraine by one of the best headache nurses out there. It helps a little bit alone, it seems to be the missing link in the tea. Raw honey is of course a rich source of antioxidants.
The major benefit of honey in migraine treatment is getting complex sugars into the body, as most of us don’t have an appetite durning a migraine. Hypoglycemia is a common trigger for migraine, and not ingesting enough calories during an attack cannot be good.
Honey is also thought to help the digestive tract particularly stomach pain from ulcers.
This is also why I make my tea as “lattes” with soy milk. Milk (soy, cow, almond … ) adds a little bit of nutrition into the mix.
How I use tea
I keep on hand green and chai tea both regular and decaf. I also keep around multiple sources of ginger. I have ginger tea bags, ginger combined already with green tea, and ginger crystals. I also have a vat of raw honey. Depending on my migraine depends on how I make my tea.
If it is before 6pm and it is early into a moderate to severe migraine I use 1-2 bags of regular chai tea. If it is a moderate migraine I will use regular green tea, and if I have nausea I will add ginger.
After 6pm it’s all green tea or decaf. Caffeinated tea depends on whatever else I had during the day and what kind of migraine cycle I am in.
I always add honey and soy milk to my tea. Both add enough nutritional heft to make my body feel like it got something. However, as soon as possible I try to eat because the nutrition of the tea is just an illusion.
Is it tea time?
I will state again migraines are mercurial, and what works for me may not work for you. There is also very little research backing up all the amazing claims about tea. This is one where it really comes to your own judgement. The reality is that there is no magic, nor a cure all. We only have what we understand about the world, and what we don’t understand. We don’t understand tea and migraine, we have some idea, but that is very different than real knowledge.