The Health Benefits of Feverfew

What Science Says About This Natural Remedy for Migraines, Arthritis

Feverfew flowers
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Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a plant belonging to the sunflower family. Also known as "featherfew" and "wild chamomile," It has long been used as an herbal remedy in European folk medicine.

Feverfew contains a compound called parthenolide, which may help to ease muscle spasms, reduce inflammation, and prevent the constriction of blood vessels in the brain.

Health Benefits

Feverfew leaves (either dried or fresh) and fever extracts are purported to have many health benefits. Not all of these benefits are supported by scientific evidence.

In alternative medicine, feverfew is typically used as a herbal remedy for the following conditions:

  • Psoriasis
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Asthma
  • Skin conditions
  • Stomachaches

There is not enough evidence to support the use of feverfew for these conditions.

Although research on feverfew's effects is limited, studies have at potential feverfew benefits to treat these conditions:

Migraine

In a 2005 study of 170 migraine patients, researchers found that those who took feverfew extract for 16 weeks experienced 1.9 fewer attacks per month than they had before the study started. Study members who took a placebo for the same amount of time experienced 1.3 fewer attacks per month.

In a 2004 review of five clinical trials, however, investigators found insufficient evidence to suggest that feverfew is more effective than placebo in preventing migraine.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Test-tube experiments have demonstrated that feverfew may help fight the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, although no human studies have proven feverfew to be more useful than placebo in the treatment of this disease.

Pancreatic Cancer

In a 2005 study, scientists discovered that parthenolide extracted from feverfew inhibited the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in the lab. While medical experts report that that feverfew seems to be well tolerated among cancer patients, it's too soon to tell whether feverfew may be useful in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Possible Side Effects

Feverfew is likely safe when taken for a short period of time in appropriate doses. However, certain side effects may occur. These side effects may include minor stomach upset (such as nausea, diarrhea, and flatulence), red itchy rash, and mouth ulcerations from chewing fresh feverfew leaves.

Patients who stop long-term use of feverfew may also experience muscle stiffness, moderate pain, and anxiety.

If you're allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemum, or marigold, you may be sensitive to feverfew.

Anyone taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication should consult their doctor before using feverfew.

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend feverfew as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using feverfew for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough evidence to determine an appropriate dose of feverfew. The right dose for you can depend on several factors including your age, gender, and medical history.

In research settings, various doses of feverfew have been studied. For example, in studies investigating feverfew's effect on migraines, study participants took 50-150 mg of feverfew powder daily for up to four months. In other studies, different doses of feverfew combined with other herbal remedies have been used.

Consult your health care provider for personalized advice about the proper dose and safety of feverfew.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

What to Look For

Feverfew is available in capsule, tablet, and liquid extract form, and is sold in most health food stores.

If you choose to buy a supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

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Article Sources

  • Feverfew. Natural Medicines Database. Professional Monograph. 8/15/2018

  • Diener HC, Pfaffenrath V, Schnitker J, Friede M, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH. "Efficacy and safety of 6.25 mg t.i.d. feverfew CO2-extract (MIG-99) in migraine prevention--a randomized, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled study." Cephalalgia. 2005 Nov;25(11):1031-41.
  • Pittler MH, Ernst E. "Feverfew for preventing migraine." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD002286.
  • Setty AR, Sigal LH. "Herbal medications commonly used in the practice of rheumatology: mechanisms of action, efficacy, and side effects." Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2005 34(6):773-84.
  • Yip-Schneider MT, Nakshatri H, Sweeney CJ, Marshall MS, Wiebke EA, Schmidt CM. "Parthenolide and sulindac cooperate to mediate growth suppression and inhibit the nuclear factor-kappa B pathway in pancreatic carcinoma cells." Mol Cancer Ther. 2005 4(4):587-94.