Lavender for Migraine Headaches

Lavender for Migraine Headaches
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A placebo-controlled clinical trial of lavender essential oil aromatherapy shows it to be an effective migraine therapy.

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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.

“Lavender…has been studied recently for several purposes including treatment of mood and anxiety disorders,” as well as a number of other things. Its “analgesic effect,” however—its painkiller effect—is one of its most “widely studied properties.”

Surprising, then, that there hasn’t been a single “documented clinical trial to study lavender for the treatment of migraine” headaches, that affect tens of millions of Americans every year—until now: “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.”

Migraine sufferers “were asked to, at the early signs of a headache—rub 2-3 drops of the lavender essential oil onto their upper lip and inhale its vapor for a 15-min period” of time, and score the severity of their headache for the next two hours. In the control group, they did the same thing, except they used drops of basically unscented liquid wax. And neither group was allowed to use any painkillers. In the lavender group, 74% of patients had an improvement in their symptoms—significantly better than placebo.

Though in the study lavender wasn’t directly compared to more conventional treatments, lavender appears to stack up pretty well, compared to typical drugs. Lavender helped about three-quarters of the time; high-dose Tylenol only works about half the time; and ibuprofen, 57% of the time. The #1 prescribed drug, generic imitrex—effective 59% of the time. And then, the hardcore treatment they use in emergency rooms, where they inject you under the skin: 70%.

And all these work better than the original migraine therapy, known as trepanning, where doctors drill a hole in your head to let the evil spirits escape.

“Conclusion: The present study suggests that inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to r.nial.bradshaw via flickr

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.

“Lavender…has been studied recently for several purposes including treatment of mood and anxiety disorders,” as well as a number of other things. Its “analgesic effect,” however—its painkiller effect—is one of its most “widely studied properties.”

Surprising, then, that there hasn’t been a single “documented clinical trial to study lavender for the treatment of migraine” headaches, that affect tens of millions of Americans every year—until now: “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.”

Migraine sufferers “were asked to, at the early signs of a headache—rub 2-3 drops of the lavender essential oil onto their upper lip and inhale its vapor for a 15-min period” of time, and score the severity of their headache for the next two hours. In the control group, they did the same thing, except they used drops of basically unscented liquid wax. And neither group was allowed to use any painkillers. In the lavender group, 74% of patients had an improvement in their symptoms—significantly better than placebo.

Though in the study lavender wasn’t directly compared to more conventional treatments, lavender appears to stack up pretty well, compared to typical drugs. Lavender helped about three-quarters of the time; high-dose Tylenol only works about half the time; and ibuprofen, 57% of the time. The #1 prescribed drug, generic imitrex—effective 59% of the time. And then, the hardcore treatment they use in emergency rooms, where they inject you under the skin: 70%.

And all these work better than the original migraine therapy, known as trepanning, where doctors drill a hole in your head to let the evil spirits escape.

“Conclusion: The present study suggests that inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to r.nial.bradshaw via flickr

Doctor's Note

Taken internally, lavender may even work as well as powerful drugs for the relief of anxiety (see Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder).

Migraine sufferers may also want to experiment with avoiding potential triggers such as aspartame (see Diet Soda & Preterm Birth). Saffron may also help with headaches (see Saffron for the Treatment of PMS), as well as avoiding certain parasites (see Pork Tapeworms on the Brain and Avoiding Epilepsy through Diet). A note of caution, though: pregnant migraine sufferers seeking natural remedies should be wary of advice they may get (see Dangerous Advice from Health Food Store Employees).

Those eating healthy diets are less likely to be on pain medications in general (see Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants). See, for example:

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49 responses to “Lavender for Migraine Headaches

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  1. Yes, but lavender seemed only to help with some of the symptoms of migraine, but the one it did not help was the pain…which is the most significant symptom….I am a big believer in alternative meds, but sadly never have found anything to help me other than imitrex and advil..

    1. Try acupressure (buy book and inform yourself) or acupuncture. Or buy a book on help with gemstones (color and stone itself works) Google otherwise but do not kvetch (complain) there is nothing in altern. med.

      1. Im not complaining, but stating a simple fact in my quest for alternative forms of relief for relieving pain and frequency of Migraines. Unless you are a chronic migraine sufferer and have found relief other than mainsteam meds, you cannot speak on this subject…migraines are more complex than you seem to be aware of…even seasoned acupuncturist admit they are very difficult to treat.

      1. I’ve suffered from severe, debiliatating headaches/migraines since puberty. Lasting 3 to 4 days with nausea, severe vomiting, constant uncontrollable dry heaves, pain so severe I roll around on the floor and wish to die. My parents didn’t believe/couldn’t afford doctors. I got married and cried the day I found out that other people do not have headaches on a daily basis. I was in my mid-20’s then. I finally went to a Dr and was put on every migraine treatment avail. I do not drink alcohol, do not smoke, do not wear perfume, avoid all loud conversations, places, chemical smells, etc. I go get neck massages to relieve tension at my expense to reduce/relieve migraines.

        I never took a preventative and would end up at the urgent care or ER for a demerol/phenergan shot. Thanks to all the drug addicts out there, they have discontinued that treatment. Since I went for years sick and out of work for days w/o going to a dr everytime i had a scratch, they say I have no HISTORY of migraines. That means you have to go be a wus and go to the dr everytime you have a cramp.

        I had went to the ER 1x in 2 yrs and my BP had gotten so high they thought I was having a stroke. they treat me like a drug seeker. Who are these people? and why does everyone have to pay for their stupidity? My husband refuses to take me any longer. A neuro told me NOT to wait til I was that bad off to take my meds. He wrote me Fioricet and it is the only thing that works. My now dr won’t write me a Rx for it. I pay a fortune to have insurance and then the dr visit, time off work to go all for nothing.
        I don’t think rubbing lavender oil on my head is really going to do anything. I actually have it and sprinkle a few drops on my pillow at night for relaxation. This was advised by the massage therapist.

        1. It used to be the only thing that worked for me was a shot of Toradol at the ER. Then an ER nurse mentioned Toradol comes in a generic pill now. Now that I have that, no more trips to the ER. You just can’t take them for more than 5 days in a row.

        2. I feel your pain! I’m still suffering with headaches so bad that I lay on the floor and cry, wishing to die. I have tried every traditional medical treatment out there, with 100% failure! Not to even mention the side effects that are just as bad as the treatment.

          It finally gets bad enough that I go to the emergency room and the emergency room doctor does treat me like I’m seeking drugs. I’ve been in the emergency room twice in 2 years. It’s absolately ridiculous. Yet tne doctor attempting to find a solution! I just get passed from one doctor to another.

          So I’ll try lavender. Least it is better than the latest drug that isn’t going to wanyway or if it might work, the side effects are just as bad as the migraine to begin with.

        3. Please look at medical massage with boris prilutsky (googe it), massage 2 times a week and self treatment in between for a period of 15-20 treatments has been clinically proven to help restore mechanical receptors related to stress, anxiety, muscle tension and fascia tension. please you have to try this before it becomes a life threatening issue. this is not something new but something thats been ignored in our society of quick fixes and pills.

        4. Your name seems to imply you drink Sprite Zero? If this is true, try staying away from ANYTHING containing aspartame. I.e. Diet sodas and gum.

    2. One teaspoon of Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) in water, at first symptom, should stop it in it’s tracks. An external lotion, “Migraine Buster” by “Florida’s Best”, along with 2 Naproxen is a 2nd best solution. Imitrex side effects include rapid heart beat.

  2. Can the wax really be called a placebo? No one is going to put lavender essential oil under their nose and not realize it, and likewise no one in the wax group is going to wonder if they’re getting the lavender. I just thought the point of using a placebo meant that the subjects wouldn’t know what group they were in. Otherwise… could the success of the lavender itself be a “placebo effect”?

    That said I’m not doubting the results; if I had migraines I’d give it a try.

  3. I found some lavender scents at the store, but no lavender tea or edible oil. Lots of stuff on the Net though. I’m anxious to try something.

  4. Thanks for info on Lavender. I’m always interested in migraine therapies. Many readers may like to know the Journal of Neurology published in 2012 a comprehensive assessment of 284 clinical studies of migraine prevention between 1999 and 2009. http://www.neurology.org/content/78/1/1346.full.html I quote here some of what the authors published: “RECOMMENDATIONS: Level A. The following therapy is established as effective and should be offered for migraine prevention: Petasites (butterbur). Level B. The following therapies are probably effective and should be considered for migraine prevention: i.) NSAIDS: fenoprofen, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen, naproxen sodium; ii.) Herbal therapies, vitamins, and minerals: riboflavin, magnesium, MIG-99 (feverfew); iii.) Histamines: histamine SC.”

  5. I stopped eating gluten and my constant migraines went away. :) I still get them very occasionally, though, and will try the lavender next time.

  6. After purchasing oil of lavender I noticed that the label said to avoid contact with skin, eyes, mucous membranes, lips and tongue. How can I reconcile this with the video recommendations?

    1. Not all essential oils are created equal. Many are distilled with chemicals and should be avoided at all costs. Some are filled with carrier oils but are still labeled as pure, as the essential oil industry is unregulated. I personally trust only Young Living, but have heardsome encouraging things about doTerra. I’ve tried other brands and can tell the current, once with harmful results.

      After years of migraines, fortunately, treatable with imitrex, I began utilizing essential oils. For my migraines, I’ve found specific methods of using peppermint eo, lavender eo, frankincense eo, plus the blends of ProgessencePlus and M-grain, to ease away 90% of the pain and symptoms. A nap in the dark and quiet soothes what remains.

  7. I want to mention the book “Heal Your Headache” by Dr. David Buchholz.
    The recommendations that he has in his book and his 30+ years working
    with migraine sufferers is exceptional. Here is the link
    http://www.amazon.com/Heal-Your-Headache-David-Buchholz/dp/0761125663/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372358375&sr=1-3&keywords=migraine+relief.
    You will see reviews from others as well. If you follow his steps to a
    tea, you will definitely see results. I also use a supplement called
    Butterbur Extra and a Homeopathic supplement, Migratox liquid. Between
    the recommendations in the book and these two supplements my migraines
    have reduced significantly. I am a health professional and am in the
    process of trying to put together a program that will help others. It is
    such a blessing!

    1. Food or therapeutic grade?

      We have been testing and selling Pure essential oil of Lavender and many others for 32 years.

      A Lavender oil is either a pure distillation of Lavender or it is not.

      Therapeutic-grade is nonsense created by marketers. Even if an essential oil supplier waxes lyrically the truth my be not be there. Most essential oil suppliers purchase believing what they are buying. The general public will not know the reality by just smelling a product.

      An Essential oil, Hydrolat or Vegetable/ nut oil is real or not real. Meaning it was steam or hydro-distilled or cold pressed from a plant or it wasn’t. If Essential oil, Hydrolat or Vegetable/nut oil is from real plants and processed as Kobashi products are then they are the best the can be.

      Even though our oils are pure and natural and the best we believe they can be: we don’t sell for consumption due to many factors .

      1. People read things on the web that are not true.
      2. We have many oils and some must never be taken internally, no matter what anyone says. i.e. Oils with large amounts of Camphor like light Yarrow or Cineole like Eucalyptus, Nutmeg, but there are many others.
      3. The amounts of dilution vary and most likely should not be more than 0.01%.
      4. We don’t want to be responsible for people using misinformation with our oils.
      5. There are crazy things said on the web.

      I’d rather not have an oil in stock than push beyond our demand, as thorough research must be the motive, not the sale.

      I encourage not to buy our oils, as I have to test and provide quality, which is an endless circle towards extinction.

      The circle of supply is demanding and we should not circumvent process for money alone.

      Quality in natural products is a life process.

      Patience gives us sustained life.

      best kind regards,

      Scott Ballard

  8. I’ve been inspired to explore the effects of lavender scent. Not because I have headaches or pain though. The soothing aspect is interesting and I think it may have a relaxing affect on me.
    –I bought lavender flowers at a flower store and set them out a week. It made my sister’s nose itch a bit. I liked the smell.
    –My mom and I pulled the flowers off the stems and put them in oil. I’ve been trying the oil on my upper lip and on my temples, and even on a burn.
    –I received in the mail today some lavender oil (NOW) ($6) (1 oz.) that I got off Amazon.com. Nice smell. Seems to have an alcohol edge to it though. Not sure I would ingest it. It is supposed to be 100% lavender oil though.
    –I am inspired to try other scented oils also, like peppermint and tea tree, and possibly others.

  9. I don’t get them anymore…it was from my environment and stress, as
    is the case for most I suspect. All these so called remedies are in
    my opinion really band aid fixes for the real solution which is a
    change of venue and/or reduction in stress.

  10. After 40 years of almost daily migraines, I have gotten tremendous relief with cranio-sacral therapy. Days go by with no pain now and, the headaches that I do get are usually much less intense.

  11. I used to be plagued with migraines. Then I stopped eating meat and had no attacks for five years. They did return but the frequency and severity of them has diminished greatly.

  12. No more bad headaches (not migraine though) since I discovered that a green smoothie that includes 4 cups or more of spinach/arugula/kale/swiss chard – mix of any of those – heads them off at the first twinge. Or if I’ve had chocolate (very sensitive to caffeine) I’ll have a smoothie some hours later and one the next day. Really it’s easier to just have the smoothie on a daily basis but I’m too lazy. Hope this info helps someone.

  13. As an ex Healthfood Store employee, I NEVER told a pregnant woman she could use anything other than eating crystallized ginger for nausea!

  14. I have been suffering from migraine headaches most of my life. They are now so severe that I am unable to function on any level. They are even to the point that I have had instances of blindness. I’m allergic to any of the vast number of medications that have been prescribed. In addition, emergency room treatment only makes the problem worse, as I have had allergic reaction to all those treatments now. All I know is that nothing is working anymore yet I’m still suffering.

    Lavender is something I have also tried, as well as just about everything I read about!

    Nothing works!

    It STILL comes down to not being able to function about 10 days per month and being depressed because I cannot control when those instances occur and get any relief!

    Specifically, what diet do I need to follow that may help with these headaches? Is there a supplement that might be beneficial?

    1. Have you considered starting a food diary? It is possible that there is something unique to your system that causes this.

        1. I meant something like eating just a few things that are enough to sustain your life and you don’t have headaches from. Write down date, time, food in a notebook. Then if you don’t have headaches for a few days, then add one food back in at a time until you get headaches again.

          I am not a doctor, but I would assume that headaches like you describe would be triggered by something in the air, something in the water, or something in the food, but the first two are probably the same on headache days and non-headache days.

  15. I just recently started having migraine headaches. I tried the lavender and peppermint oils and the headaches went away, but came back in full force about two hours later. My trips to the ER were successful when they gave me magnesium by IV and a steroid. Demerol and Phenergan made me drunk and woozy, but did not take the pain away.

  16. Lavender was reported to help 74% of test subjects, not all. I help my wife’s migraine headaches with acupressure in the headache point in the thumb webspace; the pressure must be firm, bordering on uncomfortable and sustained 5 minutes. Migraine headaches usually localize to the same side( If not they are most likely not migraine and diagnosis should be sought.) and I apply pressure on the affected side. Any migraine intervention works best early especially in the aura phase(vessel constriction) if it occurs. Quiet, reduced light, and rest are also very important non pharmacological interventions, but in some cases medications are needed. Tylenol migraine may work as well as any other more expensive medications, but different interventions are needed for different people. Overuse of migraine medications is a common trigger for worsening migraine headaches. Meditation, acupuncture, relaxation, vacations, proper rest are often very helpful. Also learn triggers, besides stress, such as certain odours, chocolate, etc.

  17. I have periodic headaches and the only natural remedy I have found that is effective is peppermint oil. I tried the lavender oil today with no effect. I spread the peppermint oil on my temples, across my forehead, and on my upper gums. It is effective within minutes. However, I do not believe I have migraine headaches but instead tension headaches. Is there any research backing up peppermint as a headache remedy and if so what is the mechanism of action? I also wonder if this gives any indication of the reason why I have to headaches. I would like to make changes so I do not get them in the first place. Thanks for all your hard word Dr Greger!

  18. Do you think just having a lavender plant nearby would also work? I see small lavender plants are in season now and was thinking about buying several for bedside, desk at work and kitchen.

  19. I would like to know if there is a connection between dietary fat intake and migraines. Personally I feel more susceptible to attacks when I am eating foods higher in fat or prepared in oil.

  20. I recently watched “The Marshall Plan Documentary” and noticed that one of the women intereviewed mentioned that switching to a WFPB diet eliminated her migraines. I hadn’t heard that claim before. Is there medical evidence that migraines can be caused by the Standard American Diet? That the tendency for migraines can be relieved by WFPB diet?

  21. Hi there. I’m a volunteer moderator with NF. Thanks for your great question. If you have concerns about migraines, you might enjoy these videos:
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/ginger-for-migraines/
    I didn’t find anything else Dr. Greger has done on migraines unfortunately. He recommends we try pubmed.gov to look at the current research. I did find one study you might find helpful.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25339342

    Best of luck,
    NurseKelly
    Moderator

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  23. I know that diffusing essential oils has become very popular and trendy lately…. even before that I had read a lot about lavender relieving stress and peppermint helping people to be more alert, say, when they take tests. I’d like to learn more about how much of essential oil claims (by companies) is true and how much is myth, hype, or sales tactics. But anyway, recently I read that cats cannot process essential oils so diffusing them into the air can be toxic to them. I personally have pets (both a cat and a dog), and I was very glad to have read this information. I just wanted to warn people who have pets, not to diffuse oils into the air. But I would imagine that putting a bit of oil on yourself isn’t going to affect the pet… so I’m sure that’s fine.

  24. I use lavender, but most often doTerra peppermint oil. I rub it on the back of my neck and wrists, and then I inhale. Sometimes I put it on the bottoms of my feet. It cuts the headache down to size, and even the blazing ones, it diminishes.

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