Supplements for Migraine Treatment in Children

If you are working to manage your child's migraines, it's natural to be interested in all possible options, especially those that can help you minimize medication exposure and related side effects. Supplements for migraine prevention and treatment often garner interest. Unfortunately, research on efficacy and safety in children is scant.

Still, while supplements are generally not considered highly effective for migraines, they may work for some kids. But it's important to remember that they, too, can be harmful if taken in excessive amounts or if your child has medical contraindications.

Efficacy and Safety

There are a number of small research studies that have examined the effects of supplements on childhood migraines, and some supplements have been considered potential preventative or therapeutic options. You can learn more about them below.

Deciding which ones to use can be tricky, though, because the evidence regarding effectiveness and side effects is minimal, and little (if any) guidance regarding appropriate dosing exists.

For the most part, taking small amounts is generally safe because the body naturally eliminates excess vitamins and supplements (within reason). But if your child has liver or kidney disease, even moderate amounts of supplements may be dangerous because of their reduced ability to remove waste and toxins.

Overall, supplements are not studied as extensively as medications, and they are not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means that they can be marketed without the same regulations that are required of over-the-counter and prescription medications. The labeling and packaging of supplements is also not subject to the same standards as medications.

Before starting your child any of these options for migraine prevention or treatment (or any supplement for any reason, for that matter), it's best to talk to her pediatrician—especially since the quality of scientific evidence for many supplements is still emerging and dosing must be considered in relation to your child's health profile.

Ginger

A spice used in food, ginger in candied, raw, or tea form is often used for treatment of acute migraines. Ginger can take the edge off a migraine and may completely eliminate mild headaches. It is also known to help reduce nausea.

However, as with all substances, ginger is not completely harmless. It is a mild blood thinner, and excessive consumption can induce bleeding, especially if your child has a bleeding disorder or uses medications with a blood thinning effect (such as ibuprofen).

Riboflavin

Some experts prefer to use riboflavin (vitamin B2) as initial preventive therapy because it is well tolerated. A retrospective study of pediatric patients with migraine who took riboflavin (200 or 400 milligrams a day for three, four, or six months) found that the supplementation significantly reduced the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.

Riboflavin may work by improving imbalances in brain chemicals. Although it is among the most studied supplements used for the prevention of pediatric migraine, supporting evidence is still considered limited and inconclusive.

Riboflavin can cause bright yellow or yellow-orange discoloration of urine and occasional gastrointestinal upset if taken on an empty stomach.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain to help initiate sleep. It is released in response to darkness.

If lack of sleep or inability to fall asleep is the cause of your child's migraines, your child's pediatrician may recommend short term use of a melatonin supplement as a way to regulate sleep. These products can be synthetic (manmade) or natural (derived from animal glands).

Butterbur

Butterbur comes from Petasites hybridus, a perennial shrub found in Europe and certain areas of Asia. Traditionally, it has been used as therapy for pain, fever, spasms, and wound healing.

It is among the most common alternative therapies used for migraine prevention. In fact, the American Academy of Neurology designated the supplement butterbur as Level A "effective" for migraine prevention (though specifically in adults with episodic migraine). Butterbur may cause upset stomach.

However, concerns persist due to the lack of long-term safety data and the absence of a regulated product. In particular, certain formulations of butterbur have been linked to liver toxicity, so many doctors are hesitant to recommend it until formal recommendations are issued.

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency may contribute to migraines, and magnesium supplementation has gained favor as a migraine preventative. While it doesn't work for everyone, some people notice a decreased migraine frequency when using magnesium as a daily supplement.

Diarrhea is the most common side effect.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Supplements of coenzyme Q10, an enzyme that naturally occurs in the body, have been popularized for managing high blood pressure. The idea behind using them for migraine prevention lies in the possibility that regulating blood pressure may prevent migraines; it's also suggested that the enzyme may be neuroprotective.

As with some of the other supplements, the evidence is not clear regarding whether it works or not.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated as a cause of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). There is an association between migraines and these mood issues. However, vitamin D is a bit complicated. While dietary and supplemental sources can help alleviate a deficiency, everyone needs to get some vitamin D through sun exposure.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that excess vitamin D could be beneficial if your child does not have a deficiency, although such supplementation is considered safe for kids.

A Word From Verywell

When you're struggling to ease your child's migraines, it can be tempting to try anything you think might do the trick. While the above supplements may help, others you may hear about—riboflavin (vitamin B2), ginkoglide B, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (fish oil), for example—have been researched and are not at all supported for this purpose at this time.

It is reasonable to explore the use of supplements in your child's migraine management plan, but this should be done with approval from and monitoring by her doctor.

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