Flashback Friday: Ginger for Migraines

Flashback Friday: Ginger for Migraines
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An eighth teaspoon of powdered ginger was found to work as well as the migraine headache drug sumatriptan (Imitrex) without the side effects.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Many successful herbal treatments start like this: some doctor learns that some plant has been used in some ancient medical tradition—like ginger for headaches—and figures, hey, they have patients with headaches, and since it’s just some safe common spice, advises one of their migraine patients to give it a try. At the first sign of a migraine coming on, the patient mixes a quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger in some water, drinks it down, and poof, within a half hour, the migraine goes away. And, it works every time, no side effects.

This is what’s called a case report, which is really just a glorified anecdote. But, case reports have played an important role in the history of medicine. AIDS was first discovered as a series of case reports. Some young guy walks into a clinic in Los Angeles with a bad case of thrush, and the rest is history. Or, reports of an unusual side effect of a failed chest-pain drug leading to the billion dollar blockbuster, Viagra. Case reports may be the “lowest” or “weakest” form of evidence, but they are often the “first line of evidence.” That’s where everything begins. So, a report like this isn’t helpful in and of itself, but it can inspire researchers to put it to the test. The problem is, who’s going to fund it? The market for migraine drugs is worth billions of dollars. A quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger costs about a penny. So, who’d fund a study pitting ginger versus the leading migraine drug? No one, until now.

A double-blinded randomized controlled clinical trial comparing the efficacy of ginger to sumatriptan, also known as Imitrex–one of the top-selling billion-dollar drugs in the world in the treatment of migraine headaches. They tried using just one eighth of a teaspoon of powdered ginger, versus a good dose of the drug. And, they both worked just as well, just as fast. Most started out in moderate or severe pain before. But, after the drug or ginger, ended up in mild pain or pain-free. The same proportion of migraine sufferers reported satisfaction with the results either way. And, so as far as I’m concerned, ginger won—not only because it’s a few billion dollars cheaper, but because there were significantly fewer side effects in the ginger group. On the drug, people reported dizziness, a sedative effect, vertigo, and heartburn. The only thing reported for ginger was an upset tummy, in about one out of 25 people—though taking a whole tablespoon of ginger powder at one time on an empty stomach could irritate anyone’s tummy (just as a note of caution).

Sticking to an eighth of a teaspoon is not only up to 3,000 times cheaper than the drug, but you’re probably less likely to end up as a case report yourself—of people who have had a heart attack, or died, after taking the drug.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Unsplash via Pixabay

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Many successful herbal treatments start like this: some doctor learns that some plant has been used in some ancient medical tradition—like ginger for headaches—and figures, hey, they have patients with headaches, and since it’s just some safe common spice, advises one of their migraine patients to give it a try. At the first sign of a migraine coming on, the patient mixes a quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger in some water, drinks it down, and poof, within a half hour, the migraine goes away. And, it works every time, no side effects.

This is what’s called a case report, which is really just a glorified anecdote. But, case reports have played an important role in the history of medicine. AIDS was first discovered as a series of case reports. Some young guy walks into a clinic in Los Angeles with a bad case of thrush, and the rest is history. Or, reports of an unusual side effect of a failed chest-pain drug leading to the billion dollar blockbuster, Viagra. Case reports may be the “lowest” or “weakest” form of evidence, but they are often the “first line of evidence.” That’s where everything begins. So, a report like this isn’t helpful in and of itself, but it can inspire researchers to put it to the test. The problem is, who’s going to fund it? The market for migraine drugs is worth billions of dollars. A quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger costs about a penny. So, who’d fund a study pitting ginger versus the leading migraine drug? No one, until now.

A double-blinded randomized controlled clinical trial comparing the efficacy of ginger to sumatriptan, also known as Imitrex–one of the top-selling billion-dollar drugs in the world in the treatment of migraine headaches. They tried using just one eighth of a teaspoon of powdered ginger, versus a good dose of the drug. And, they both worked just as well, just as fast. Most started out in moderate or severe pain before. But, after the drug or ginger, ended up in mild pain or pain-free. The same proportion of migraine sufferers reported satisfaction with the results either way. And, so as far as I’m concerned, ginger won—not only because it’s a few billion dollars cheaper, but because there were significantly fewer side effects in the ginger group. On the drug, people reported dizziness, a sedative effect, vertigo, and heartburn. The only thing reported for ginger was an upset tummy, in about one out of 25 people—though taking a whole tablespoon of ginger powder at one time on an empty stomach could irritate anyone’s tummy (just as a note of caution).

Sticking to an eighth of a teaspoon is not only up to 3,000 times cheaper than the drug, but you’re probably less likely to end up as a case report yourself—of people who have had a heart attack, or died, after taking the drug.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Unsplash via Pixabay

Doctor's Note

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For more on ginger root:

Avoiding aspartame (Aspartame & the Brain) and using lavender may also help (Lavender for Migraine Headaches). If you have cluster headaches, ask your physician about capsaicin (Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?).

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

69 responses to “Flashback Friday: Ginger for Migraines

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  1. It’s great to know this about ginger, and it would be so easy to keep a small dose of ginger in purse or pocket while away from home.

    A few months ago my husband learned that giving yourself brain freeze, as with a popsicle, milk shake, extra cold smoothie, or the like, will also stop a migraine from developing, if done quickly after the first signs of an impending migraine are noted. He has stopped a few this way. There are healthy ways of doing this, with fruit juice popsicles, ice cubes, frozen berries and bananas quickly made into smoothies. But when he’s away from home he goes for the milkshake. Not healthy, but if it stops a migraine, to him it’s a worthwhile risk. But ginger would be so easy to have along with you anywhere you travel. Much better.

    1. Thank you for this!!! I don’t get migraines often, but when I do they are completely debilitating. At times lasting up to 2 weeks. The last one I had was a long one and my MD gave me an injection at the base of my skull of steroids and muscle relaxers. I am very allergic to imitrex. Only having the injection once, and landing in the ER after receiving it. This video gives me hope for a natural alternative and I am very hopeful! Thank you for all of your hard work and research that you provide on your site!

  2. Yes, but this is still not a placebo-controlled study (ie. regression to the mean is still possible). If it showed ginger was superior to the drug then that would be something, however. It would be interesting to see eg. regualr ginger consumption vs. botox (or the new drug Emgality) vs. placebo trial.

      1. Good call. Ice machines are one of the most contaminated items in most eateries. If people could see the mildew most of those machines have inside they would never eat ice.

        1. I used to love ice. I don’t really drink many cold drinks out anymore now that I don’t drink soda, so I can’t remember the last time I had it, but I will keep that in mind.

          Someone had asked about hot drinks and I couldn’t find their comment again after I read about it.

          With hot drinks, if we drink them at too high a temperature, we increase our risk of esophageal cancer.

          I let my hot drinks cool down, so I am not worried about that too much either.

          https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-very-hot-drinks-may-cause-cancer.html

          Soup is something I am wondering about.

          I expect that it would work the same way.

    1. YR
      That would mean that my daughter would need to stop being female since her migraines are hormonal and related to her period. Foolish notion. Don’t be glib.

      1. Lida, notice this sentence from the first link:

        “Some headaches are driven by bodily changes”

        1. YR,
          Sorry meant no offense
          Didn’t read link
          Just reacted to your facile statement that we should find the cause and stop
          My daughter’s suffering is real and quite severe so I just reacted

          1. Lida,

            Good reminder that we’re all different. Back in the day, I used to get cramps, but I don’t remember getting headaches.

            And, as we ARE all different, there is no perfect diet for the world at large. Some do well on a no-animal-foods diet, and others do not.

            1. The evidence seems to suggest that most do better eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains (well, fruits and whole grains are vegetables but that’s the usual phraeology) and a lot less meat.

              The problem with this “we are all different and some people …” argument is that it gives us a licence to ignore findings (that are in fact applicable to the vast majority of people) without any good reason to think that we as individuals are.different from the great majority in some important respect or other.

      2. Good point! People need to realize that each person’s experience is their own. Some are fortunate for ginger or ice to make a difference and others have more complicated cases.

    2. Full moons and menstrual cycle cause my migraines but unable to avoid those. If only mine were caused by something intaken it would be easy to control

  3. In the study mentioned, the migraine sufferers had acute migraine without aura. I wonder what difference it makes for those of us who get migraine with aura? Since seeing Dr Greger’s video about ginger and osteoarthritis, I have been taking ginger daily, plus more for when I get migraine, It sure is a lot less worrisome treatment (for me) than the Rizatriptan I was prescribed.

    YR, good list, and interesting about the fruits and veggies containing tyramine. I get migraine with the change in weather from low pressure to high pressure ie clear blue sky and sunny.

    1. I also get migraines with aura (my first indication of the oncoming migraine) and I would be worried about waiting the 30 minutes the ginger takes to be effective. This window of time can make a big difference in how ugly it gets…

      1. The problem is that you have a limited number of choices. Imitrex injectable’s onset is no faster than 15 minutes. Oral is up to 2 hours. The adverse affects, while not common, can be life threatening.

  4. Dr. Greger, I don’t want you to quite moving on your treadmill but could you please look up the PAI or Physical Activity Intelligence metric? Turns out doing a certain amount of short but intense exercise can indeed fully counteract the negative health effects of prolonged sitting if 100% PAI is reached for the individual. Could be nice to include some mention about this while your book(s) is not yet in print? I’m going to write about it in my book too. Check it out doc, did you have your PAI for the week?

    A treadmill could do the trick or a spinner bike but CERG can explain this a whole lot better.

  5. Of course the science and controls are important to prove efficacy in drug trials, but case reports can be equally persuasive in cases like this where a simple potential remedy can offer big relief for little risk… no matter what the action. The placebo effect always seems to have a negative connotation, but to me it is a small miracle that should be celebrated. If our beliefs can have such enormous power in healing us that we can spare ourselves questionable interventions and drugs with slews of side effects, we should embrace it. I’m huge on science but all the studies in the world don’t convince most people like firsthand experience does. I knew the science behind nutrition, but it was the success stories that actually motivated me to adopt the changes.

    1. Vegetater,

      I have friends and acquaintances who know some to a lot of science behind nutrition — as well as many success stories. And yet, they don’t adopt changes.

      Instead, at least some of them wonder: Why can’t I lose weight? What am I doing wrong?

      Others simply remain unconvinced. Perhaps they think that they are different, that what worked for many others wouldn’t work for them. But of course, they don’t know, because they’ve never tried.

      Others don’t want to change. Maybe they’re waiting for drugs.

    1. I dunno how I feel about all that hair on Dr. G’s face. :-( Actually, I DO know how I feel, but there are times when one should keep one’s big mouth shut…..and this is one of those times.

      As Mark Twain once said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

  6. B12 too?

    I get jagged yellow lines in my vision that doctors say is a migraine – but with no pain. I find taking 1mg of B12 stops it. I was drinking Brooklyn Crafted stevia sweetened ginger ale (w/ground ginger) and lowered the amount of B12. But then I ran out of the ginger ale and had to increase the B12.

    1. Sydney, are you familiar with the term ocular migraines? They don’t necessarily include migraine pain.

      From: https://www.healthline.com/health/causes-of-ocular-migraines

      “During an ocular migraine, or migraine with aura, you may see flashing or shimmering lights, zigzagging lines, or stars. Some people describe psychedelic images. It may also cause blind spots in your field of vision.”

      And from another link (can’t find it now):

      “Ocular migraines will typically go away on their own within 30 minutes. You should rest and avoid triggers such as bright lights until the vision disturbances are gone.”

      1. YR:

        Thank you.

        Actually my ocular migraines are caused by the pharmacological doses of Folic Acid I have to take because of a biochemical anomaly.

  7. Speaking of roots has Dr.Greger ever spoken of Rhodiola rosea (aka golden root, rose root, roseroot, Aaron’s rod, Arctic root, king’s crown, lignum rhodium, orpin rose) as a whole food (but usually sold as a dried powder) or extract in supplements for fatigue,depression,stress, exercise & job burnout? and the use of black pepper to increase its effectiveness.Maybe in a live Q&A?

  8. If the whole is better than the sum of its parts (most of the time) then how can one calculate doses equivalent to supplements? Is there some kind of general formula for calculating this(not just for ginger), especially when some items are expensive & have no benefit over a certain amount.Other factors like drying,freeze drying,heat,oxidation (storage/processing) can change the beneficial substances which makes it harder to calculate. So how can this be done practically? thanks!

    1. wondering, That’s an excellent question. A similar question was asked by an audience member in a TED talk by Dr William Li (or maybe Dr Joel Fuhrman, forgot which). His answer was that the body seems to know how to handle mixtures of many different chemicals/nutrients and takes what it needs, and discards the rest. This assumes, of course, that one is not “overdosing” on a single ingredient. That is why he recommends eating specifically whole foods, which humans evolved eating. And also, small amounts of many different whole foods to make sure all needed nutrients are presented to the body.

      1. Thanks for your reply Darwin .I was wondering though if the whole food in powder form is better then how do we calculate the same dose as a supplement? Some foods one can eat a lot without “side effects” , others are better in smaller portions.For example too much ginger or vinegar gives an unpleasant burning sensation . Eating a cup of sliced ginger a day would not be a good idea but one cup of vegetables no problem .Do you know what year or title the TED talk has? It is tricky to know what is a good dose especially when it is part of a food not commonly used in ones daily diet…I also have no idea how the supplements are made and if they extract without it being dried if that makes a difference…

        1. Wondering,

          There is only a close dose relationship between the fresh vs the powdered products. ” 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger for every tablespoon of fresh ginger that your recipe calls for” (https://www.thespruceeats.com/ground-ginger-substitute-1388884)

          Some powders are sold with a specific gingerol percentage (https://www.amazon.com/NuSci-Extract-Standardized-Gingerols-Digestive/dp/B006WVQC44). Interesting there are studies using the standardized products in humans, including: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2849670/ that addresses H.Pylori

          To get the correct dose, for your needs, will be a matter of trial and error.

          Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.Centerofhealth.com

        1. Wondering,

          A spice powder is a regulated food substance under the direction of the FDA (https://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/industry/ucm322302.htm).

          Consider if the product is an organic ginger powder, its freshness, odor , etc. before using. As a note there is a recent (2017) study regarding the toxic elements found in the top 5 major ingredients in herbal medicines, which included ginger. http://ijpsr.com/bft-article/determination-of-heavy-metals-in-five-major-ingredients-of-herbal-medicines/?view=fulltext Ginger was not found to be a major concern. (per WHO levels)

          Another consideration is that ginger’s chemistry is different when your not using the fresh juice. https://www.compoundchem.com/2014/11/27/ginger/

          Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.Centerofhealth.com

          1. Thank you for your interesting and thorough reply.I was using ginger as an example (but the Ci website is great!) .My main question was about Rhodiola rosea root. In the EU there has been food fraud where dried oregano was only roughly 50% oregano the rest was a cheaper herb.I don’t think Rhodiola Rosea Root gets classed as a food,like ginger powder in supermarkets.

            It can be hard to know what products are regulated especially online as we saw in the sad amygdalin video.( it has “experienced a renaissance” thanks to the internet.“Amygdalin (Laetrile) is a toxic drug that is not effective as a cancer treatment.”) https://nutritionfacts.org/video/does-laetrile-amygdalin-or-vitamin-b-17-work-as-an-alternative-cancer-cure/

            I was wondering about the effects of drying & heat on Rhodiola rosea root.How the (pharmacy regulated) supplements compare to the powdered whole root one can buy online/at health food stores…

            I have also noticed many pharmacies (owned by different companies) seem to have certain products that can only be bought online,which makes me wonder if there are different regulations for online vs a physical store,

      1. I was just watching it and the 64% decrease in the rate of heart attack by doing modest dietary changes, plus not smoking and only drinking 1 or 2 alcohol drinks per day was fascinating.

        That is such a good example to give to my relatives.

        My sister-in-law is on her way to the ER right this second. She is having heart attack symptoms. Not saying that she is having one, but the symptoms were strong enough for her to go in.

        I am wondering if she would watch that.

  9. Wow Deb! I am so sorry to hear about your sister in law feeling poorly! In women, heart attack symptoms can be very different than the typical ones we hear about. All the very best wishes for her, and glad she went to get checked out.
    While I watched that talk, I thought of so many people from this forum who might feel encouraged by looking at things from Dr Lederman’s perspective… I know I was happy to hear what he had to say…. especially about not beating ourselves up for any detours on the path.

    1. Barb,

      Yes, the amount of good which can come without having to be perfect is such a big deal.

      My brother of that wife started drinking beer when he met his wife and the concept that if he could limit it to one when he drinks it, he could still be within the 64% less chance of heart attack. More, if he was mildly active for 40 minutes per day.

      The concept that just adding 3 to 4 servings of vegetables, 1.5 servings of fruit, and just a tiny bit of whole grains plus a few other things could change the rates so dramatically astounds me.

      The Purdue University dog study where 1.4 cup of raw vegetables 3 days per week lowered the cancer rate by 90% makes me wonder how much of it is that people don’t eat vegetables at all.

      The broccoli study for autism would be another example.

      The Paleo doctor who healed her own MS has a vegan and vegetarian version of Paleo now and it was when she started eating big doses of vegetables that things changed for her.

      Plant Science London has a video about it on YouTube.

  10. I have found something even better for migraine prevention. I had suffered with migraines from early childhood due to a lesion in my brain. I finally had it surgically removed but the migraines continued. Recently, when I went to my neurologist with vague symptoms, I was informed that those symptoms were the prodrome and aura stages of migraine. (The other two stages are headache and postdrome.)

    My neurologist informed me that new research has shown migraine to be a mitochondrial disorder in which the mitochondria are not being supported. This is due to deficiencies in Magnesium, B2, and CoQ10. He told me that these deficiencies are difficult to test for because the blood levels show adequate levels but the problem lies in the inefficient way the body processes them. He said that people with migraines and some other problems from these deficiencies require larger intake to get these nutrients into the mitochondria.

    Since I have been taking supplements to boost my intake of these three nutrients, I have not had a single migraine and I also no longer burn muscle or get weaker when I exercise.

    Matilda

  11. Hi Dr. Greger, I met you today at Veg Fest in Novi, MI. I loved your talk and you convinced me that a plant based diet is a wonderful way to enjoy good health and longevity. I am changing to eat a plant based diet- I can’t wait to see the results.
    My question is regarding Hyper-Baric Oxygen Therapy for treating peripheral Neuropathy in feet (due to medication NOT diabetes) and stroke recovery (suffered 10 weeks ago). You always say that you will do the heavy reading of medical studies so that we don’t have to. Do you think HBOT is a valid treatment for my two conditions?

    $6,000 out of pocket, I think it is worth trying but my wife is very skeptical. I greatly appreciate if you would help me figure this out!

    1. Michael,

      Welcome to the family!

      Lucky you that you were able to see Dr. Greger in person and meet him! That is so special!

      Diet alone may reverse the neuropathy. They are reversing even chemotherapy-caused neuropathy with drugs.

      https://www.fiercebiotech.com/research/peripheral-neuropathy-could-be-reversed-by-fda-approved-class-drugs

      The fact that the same drugs reverse both types of neuropathy, diet might do the same thing.

      Look under topics and there is a fabulous study about neuropathy being reversed very quickly.

      I believe it was with a Whole Food Plant Based – no salt, no sugar, no oil diet. (There is a little wiggle room within the Plant-Based community and some doctors do a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar, but most tell people to stay away from it. Dr. Greger has videos with the logic of his positions.)

      As far as hyperbaric oxygen goes, it does things like bring down inflammation and increase microcirculation, both of which a Plant-Based diet also do.

      There are a few risks with it.

      https://uihc.org/health-topics/medical-risks-hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy

      I use a PEMF device MicroPulse ICES and a Vie Light knock off sold as a sinus device from Amazon and an infrared therapy bulb in a Brooder lamp also sold on Amazon and I have a Low-Level Laser device – all to increase microcirculation and to aid as an anti-inflammatory.

      Hyperbaric oxygen therapy might work, but Infrared might also work or PEMF or Low Level Light Therapy.

      You could get all of mine and not reach $2000. And Plant-Based with enough vegetables might work on its own.

      Are you doing Brain Plasticity concepts for your stroke recovery.

      The ICES PEMF or electric foot massager or Low Level Light Therapy or Ultrasound (which I also have) or acupuncture might help with recovery from that, too. Yes, hyperbaric oxygen might help with it, too, I just don’t like the risk to the eyes and ears.

      1. Bob Dennis, who made the Micropulse ICES had a stroke and he wrote a book called, “Stroke of Luck” which you can get for free if you have unlimited Kindle. I think it is $6.00 if you use regular kindle.

        There are a lot of TED Talks on stroke recovery.

        One, I think is called, “Stroke with no limits” and that one is where a woman who works with stroke people who are decades after their strokes is still able to get them to have functionality using TMS and she shows the new neuronal pathways.

        The Brain That Changes Itself is a documentary on YouTube about Brain Plasticity in adults.

        1. Let me clarify something, Bob did use the Micropulse ICES with his stroke recovery, but he felt that the plasticity concepts were way more important than his device.

          I am the one pointing to the devices, based on stroke research.

          1. Michael,

            How much disability do you have currently?

            I feel like that is what I would weigh risks/benefits/costs against.

            If you have lost independence or function then you really might want to supercharge your rehab process.

            If you are paralyzed then risking cataracts hardening might be worth it, especially since you can go through surgery for that and there might be eye drops coming soon. They already have tested cataract dissolving eye drops on rabbits and dogs. Human studies are coming soon.

            The thing is, I can tell you that they did studies on TMS and LLLT and electric foot massagers and electric acupuncture and hyperbaric oxygen and ultrasound and intermittent fasting (which increases plasticity, but which might have risks if you wait too many hours. 13 hours between dinner and breakfast is good.

            Aerobic exercise increases plasticity. Stimulating the nerves to the brain helps get neurons assigned to the new function. Visualization increases the plasticity and so does getting 8 hours sleep at night.

            If you are highly disabled, there are devices which stimulate all of the nerves up and down your spine and there are places you can go that put you in a thing like space camp and forces your brain to keep readjusting. My friend who works with kids says that helps them recover function better. I think the Mayo Clinic and a chiropractor down in Florida have that, but he will charge you lots of money to use it. If you aren’t happy with your recovery a year from now, try that.

            But you can get an electric foot massager for $100 or something and an infrared bulb for $25 for therapy grade bulb and the nasal light for $25 and the ICES for $650 and the low level laser I got for my dog was less than $1000, my relative used one when her brother got in a motorcycle accident and when she broke lots of bones in a horse riding accident. You can go to a chiropractor or an acupuncturist or buy an electric foot massager. You could buy rehab gadgets from Flint Rehab or other sites on the internet.

            You can do antigravity treadmill sessions, which also increase plasticity and you can do that even if you can’t walk.

            Yes, I have people around me who have had strokes.

            Flint Rehab has a lot of cool information.

            1. No matter what eat your antioxidants and brain vegetables.

              Blueberries and broccoli sprouts and kale and eat your leafy greens and very dark chocolate. Turmeric and ginger and rosemary. Matcha tea.

              There are videos on all of the topics.

  12. Matilda, I read with a lot of interest your description of your solution to migraines because I have had them for many decades on and off and I would like to try it. What type of or salt of Magnesium and what dosages of it and C0Q10 and B2 did you take?

  13. I cannot stand when adults use the word tummy….. It is a word for children like poopoo or peepee. Stomach, gut, or even belly (barely better) are respectable adult words. I feel like only children, parents of children, or pediatrics should use the word tummy around children, and even then, lets educate them to a higher extent than using the word tummy. Soapbox moment, but everybody has that word that makes them cringe.

  14. I have a friend who’s daughter is suffering from migraines to the point where she can no longer attend high school. She is 15 yrs old. This past week she actually spent an entire week at Mayo Clinic and walked away with no answers. Please help!

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