Reduce the frequency and severity of migraines

Power to the Powerhouses

Many years ago I worked with a woman who had migraine headaches so bad that when they came on suddenly she would have to lay on the floor under her desk with a sweater over her face to block out the light.

Back then I sometimes suspected that my co-worker was over doing it a bit. But like many people, I knew very little a about migraines. I thought they were simply very bad headaches.

In fact, a migraine is just one symptom of a larger problem – a neurological and vascular disorder with additional symptoms, such as nausea, auras (flashes of light or blurred vision), vomiting, limb numbness and speech impairment. And if migraines go untreated, they can sometimes lead to more serious conditions, including permanent loss of vision, strokes, aneurysms, coma, and even death.

Now new research reveals that a key enzyme may provide an effective way to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.

Cellular connection

This past April, Swiss researchers presented a migraine study at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. In their introduction, the researchers observed that migraine headaches may be triggered by a breakdown in the production of cellular energy. Their objective: Expand on previous research indicating that coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may help prevent migraines by promoting proper respiration in the powerhouses of the cell: the mitochondria.

Researchers enrolled 42 migraine patients to receive either 100 mg of CoQ10 three times each day, or a placebo. For one month all of the subjects received the placebo. Then, for the next three months, 21 received CoQ10 daily, while 21 received placebo. Subjects agreed to not use any other methods to prevent migraines during the study period.

The results were dramatic. Researchers found that migraine frequency, total days with migraine, and total days with nausea were all significantly reduced in the CoQ10 group, compared to placebo. Overall, the incidence of migraines was almost cut in half in the CoQ10 group, while the reduction of migraines in the placebo group was less than 15 percent.

One subject dropped out of the study after an apparent allergic reaction to CoQ10. But no other side effects were reported.

Cutting down the down time

David Dodick, M.D. – an associate professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic – told the Los Angeles Times that if larger clinical trials confirm the Swiss results, migraine patients may find a natural alternative to migraine prevention drugs.

Of course, this cautious viewpoint is expected from the scientific community. But the Swiss study isn’t the first research to show that CoQ10 safely helps prevent migraine headaches.

In a 2002 trial at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University, 32 migraine patients each received 150 mg per day of CoQ10 for three months. In the month before the study began, the group experienced an average of more than seven days of migraine each. But by the end of the study that monthly average had dropped to just under three days. About 60 percent of the subjects reported that their incidence of migraines was less than half of what it had been before the study.

No adverse side effects were reported.

CoQ10 helpers

As we’ve told you in e-Alerts and HSI Members Alerts, CoQ10 is a superior antioxidant, essential for the production of energy in every cell of the body. But if you do decide to supplement with CoQ10 – whether for migraine prevention or to help protect your cardiovascular system – it’s important to find a form that’s highly absorbable. Tablets and caplets tend to be harder to absorb.

And in addition to CoQ10, two other nutrients and one botanical have also been shown to help prevent migraines:

  • Riboflavin – also a factor in the production of energy in cells
  • Magnesium – many migraine patients have been shown to have magnesium deficiencies
  • Feverfew – an herbal anti-inflammatory (see the e- Alert “How do You Spell Respect?” 11/5/02)

If you suffer from migraines, tell your doctor or naturopath about these two studies and discuss the option of supplementing with CoQ10.

Sources: “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Coenzyme Q10 in Migraine Prophylaxis” Abstract S43.004, American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, 4/28/04, “Dietary Supplements Show Promise in Migraine Prevention” Los Angeles Times, 6/3/04, “Coenzyme Q10 May Ward Off Migraine Attacks” Melissa Schorr, Medscape, 4/29/04, “Open Label Trial of Coenzyme Q10 as a Migraine Preventive” Cephalalgia, Vol. 22, No. 2, 3/22/02,