In this article we are going to cover some cool and interesting facts about tea and migraines with a distillation of the journals and published research into one straightforward blog!
- Migraines vs Headaches: What’s the difference?
- Tea as a natural remedy? Can tea help migraines?
- The power of antioxidants: migraines, tea and oxidative stress
- What specific teas are good for migraines?
Let’s dive in:
Migraines vs Headaches
One little known fact is that migraines and headaches are two different things, not one worse than the other of the same spectrum (Penn Medicine, 2022). Headaches can be a symptom of a migraine, or they can be their own entity. While headaches typically have an easily identifiable cause (you banged your head!), migraines can have common triggers but no singular cause.
The cause of headaches can range from tension, eyestrain, hunger, or blood-vessel dilation (due to histamines such due to an allergic reaction, or serotonin but more on that later).
Migraines on the other hand involve neurochemicals and neuronal pathways, designating them as a neurological disorder (Penn Medicine, 2022).
There is no absolute cure for migraines, as the pathophysiology continues to elude researchers (NIND, 2022). There are some drugs that can help stop or prevent them, but if you are looking for an alternative check out these herbs and teas for migraines and headaches - we have investigated the articles and journals to see if tea can help.
The interconnectedness of causes of headaches and migraines
Can Teas be Natural Remedies for Migraines?
How can tea help?
Well, happily, studies show that components of tea can improve symptoms of headache (AMF, 2022).
1) Tea’s caffeine content for instance is a large factor in easing headaches and migraines. The caveat is that caffeine’s benefits vary by consumption, tolerance, and individual.
Regular consumers of caffeine may see less of a benefit for headaches/migraines and overconsumption can exacerbate pain. Very interesting given it’s a counterintuitive, one would think that a stimulating drink would not be good for a headache!
2) Another wonderful property of tea - antioxidants - can also help! Teas high in antioxidants may also be effective against migraine due to the role of oxidative stress in the etiopathogenesis of migraine (Lipton, 2017). Etiopatho-WHAT? :-) oh that’s just the word for the cause and development of a disease or abnormal condition.
GABA receptors and certain amino acids are also related to the causing of migraines, through a possible energy deficiency in the brain (Goschorska, 2020). This has a cascading effect - things which trigger energy deficits and subsequent oxidative stress such as fasting, sleep deprivation, physical exertion, or photosensitivity…they impact energy metabolism and mitochondrial activity leading to migraines (i.e. impacting processes concerned with the production of energy in for the body for its use).
With this in mind, teas high in antioxidants may be helpful, which can act as nerve relaxants or nerve tonic (such as teas which impact GABA receptors). And teas with amino acid content such as glutamic and aspartic acid, such as moringa tea (Natsir, 2019).
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The debilitating pain of migraines needs to be experienced to be believed
Tea and Migraine Relief: Delving Deeper into the Science of Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress may play a role in the pathogenesis of migraines (Goschorska, 2020). In patients who present with migraines without the symptom of aura (a common precursor to migraine onset), total antioxidant status (TAS) was lower and total oxidant status (TOS) was markedly higher compared to control. In other words, they had higher levels of oxidation and lower levels of antioxidants!
Because migraines have multiple factors related to their onset, there is no singular effective treatment (Goschorska, 2020). For those who have frequent attacks, preventative methods are key. Sporadic attacks require quick and effective rescue interventions.
Nutraceuticals (i.e. foods with a functional purpose such as supplements) with antioxidative properties are used in lieu of conventional medications not only for their lack of adverse effects but also their effectiveness - as reported in one paper (Goschorska, 2020). They found antioxidative substances decrease the frequency of migraines and shorten migraine attacks that were already underway.
What Teas are Good for Migraines?
So, does tea help with migraines? From our research we would say yes, though benefits may vary by person and by the cause of the migraine. Because of the aforementioned study that found those who suffer from migraines tend to have lower antioxidant status, any tea that could help bolster those levels could offer a possible solution.
Green tea and migraines
There is a lack of formal, clinical research on the use of Green Tea in the treatment of migraines and headaches, though it does have a history of folk use for these conditions. Green tea has been reported as a treatment for migraine in traditional medicine systems from China and India according to the European Medicines Agency (2014).
Rooibos tea and migraines
Rooibos releases tension and stress, thereby relieving headaches and irritability (Herbst, 2015). Because Rooibos is caffeine-free, the action is attributed to stress reduction and normalization of sleeping habits. Interesting given the other studies of caffeine. Just shows how the body is a complex system and there can be multiple remedies that can assist.
Aspalathin, an antioxidant highly present in Green Rooibos, calms the central nervous system (Huang, 2006).
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Novel research suggests that aspalathin crosses the blood-brain barrier (Frank, 2022) and may have medical uses for treatment of neurological disorders such as pain, Parkinson’s Disorder, and dementias (Joubert, 2011). The anti-pain benefits, as they relate to neurologic causes, may have applications for migraines.
Because of the series of studies (referenced and discussed in Goschorska, 2020) links oxidative stress to migraine experience, an antioxidant which crosses the blood-brain barrier and directly benefits the brain, as aspalathin does, suggests that rooibos may have particular benefit.
Ginger tea and migraines
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory herb with pain-relieving effects. Moving beyond that, the anti-inflammatory benefits go so far as to reduce inflammation in the neurons of the brain too (due to the constituent 10-gingerol) (Ho, 2013).
Serotonin levels involved in migraine, though the exact mechanistic roles are not fully understood (Deen, 2016). Ginger increases serotonin by inhibiting receptors (Jin, 2014). The increase of serotonin and anti-inflammatory action from ginger helps alleviate migraine in the same way as triptans, a class of migraine medications (Healthline, 2019).
In a randomized, double-blind trial, patients were given either ginger capsules or the migraine medication sumatriptan (Maghbooli, 2013). Both interventions decreased severity of pain, and maintained patient-satisfaction. Researchers determined that the effectiveness of ginger was statistically comparable to sumatriptan and was associated with fewer side effects.
In another double-blind trial, patients who presented to the Emergency Department with migraine and had a history of episodic attack (1-6 migraines per month) were enrolled in the study (Martins, 2018). They were given either a ginger capsule, or a placebo and intravenous ketoprofen. At all times assessed for a period of two hours after treatment the ginger showed significantly better clinical responses, reduced pain, and improved functional status compared to the migraine pharmaceutical!
In another trial migraine patients took a sublingual combination of ginger and feverfew (an herb frequently used for headache), or they were given placebo. The ginger-feverfew combination demonstrated safety and effectiveness in pain reduction and alleviation.
A Note From The Herbalist...
This article raises some curiosity with herbal remedies - when properly studied such as the double blind studies on ginger. When it comes to alleviating and preventing migraine, the herbs used to address the condition can vary. Western medicine employs the strategy “This medicine treats this condition ,” and because that is what most people are familiar with they expect herbal medicine to do the same. While herbal medicines do have a number of remedies for specific conditions, their use and effectiveness is determined by more in-depth diagnostic evaluation. Taking into account external and internal environmental conditions the client is experiencing, and various individual-specific responses.
Out of interest, because whilst we reference journaled studies, the world of medication is as old as humanity itself: this is a strategy similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine, which generally implicates the liver in migraine conditions, and then evaluates for excesses or deficiencies of Qi in their belief system. When this information is determined the proper herb (or more typically, blend of herbs) is given.
In my experience, I have not found green tea to be a common migraine intervention, though I have seen it used in combination with other herbs. Because green tea is high in antioxidants and has neuroprotective properties which support the function of neurotransmitters and mitochondrial function, the folk use for migraines seems on point. Green tea has been suggested for those with Parkinson’s Disease - a neurodegenerative condition of the brain (Malar, 2020). More research should also be conducted on these biological actions in migraine conditions, as they appear to have some overlap.
All of this may seem confusing but put simply, there are many options for improving migraines. I would be interested in how the high levels of oxidants in those with migraines suggests that the antioxidant status of a high quality green or white tea would be promising as a migraine nutraceutical.
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on our IG @MatchaAlternatives
About the Author
Stephany Morgan (MSc Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is a herbalist, professor, and healthcare professional. After earning her BS in Psychology and Pre-Nursing from Rochester College with a minor in General Science she began her formal pursuit of natural medicine.
Stephany went on to earn her MSc in Complementary Alternative Medicine at the American College for Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), where she focused her studies on Herbal Medicine and Nutrition. Most recently, she completed her Graduate Certification in Nutrition from ACHS in 2020. She is currently a professor at White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC) in Minnesota as part of a pilot project with Lead for America.
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All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.
Tea & Migraines References & Further Reading
Penn Medicine, 2022. Migraine vs. Headache: How to Tell the Difference. [online] Pennmedicine.org. Retrieved January, 2022 from https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/november/migraines-vs-headaches
NINDS, 2022. Migraine Information Page | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Ninds.nih.gov. (2022). Retrieved 7 January 2022, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Migraine-Information-Page
Lipton, R. B., Diener, H. C., Robbins, M. S., Garas, S. Y., & Patel, K. (2017). Caffeine in the management of patients with headache. The journal of headache and pain, 18(1), 107. https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-017-0806-2 retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5655397/
AMF, 2022. Caffeine and Migraine | American Migraine Foundation. American Migraine Foundation. (2022). Retrieved 7 January 2022, from https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/caffeine-and-migraine/.
Herbst, M. C. (2015). Fact Sheet on Rooibos Tea. Cancer Association of South Africa. https://doi.org/10.13140/2.1.2544.9760 From:https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273090980_Fact_Sheet_on_Rooibos_Tea
Huang, M. (2006). Transport of aspalathin, a Rooibos tea flavonoid, across the skin and intestinal epithelium (Master in Pharmacy). University of the Witwatersrand. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/8478978/Transport_of_aspalathin_a_Rooibos_tea_flavonoid_across_the_skin_and_intestinal_epithelium
Frank, B., & Dimpfel, W. (2022). Aspalathin-like dihydrochalcone, extracts from unfermented rooibos and process for preparation. USA. Retrieved 27 December 2021, from: https://patents.google.com/patent/US20100222423A1/en
Goschorska, M., Gutowska, I., Baranowska-Bosiacka, I., Barczak, K., & Chlubek, D. (2020). The Use of Antioxidants in the Treatment of Migraine. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(2), 116. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox9020116 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7070237/
Natsir, H., Wahab, A., Budi, P., Dali, S., & Arif, A. (2019). Amino acid and mineral composition of moringa oleivera leaves extract and its bioactivity as antioxidant. Journal Of Physics: Conference Series, 1317(1), 012030. https://doi.org/10.1088/1742-6596/1317/1/012030 From: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/1317/1/012030
European Medicines Agency. (2014). Assessment report on Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze, non fermentatum folium. London. Retrieved from https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-report/final-assessment-report-camellia-sinensis-l-kuntze-non-fermentatum-folium_en.pdf
Joubert, D. de Beer, 2011, Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) beyond the farm gate: From herbal tea to potential phytopharmaceutical, South African Journal of Botany, Volume 77, Issue 4 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254629911001086#bb0100
Ho, S. C., Chang, K. S., & Lin, C. C. (2013). Anti-neuroinflammatory capacity of fresh ginger is attributed mainly to 10-gingerol. Food chemistry, 141(3), 3183–3191. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.06.010 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23871076/
Healthline, 2019. Can Ginger Help Relieve Headaches and Migraine? Accessed March, 2022. Last medically reviewed on April 30, 2019 https://www.healthline.com/health/ginger-for-headache#how-it-works
Deen, M., Christensen, C. E., Hougaard, A., Hansen, H. D., Knudsen, G. M., & Ashina, M. (2016). Serotonergic mechanisms in the migraine brain – a systematic review. In Cephalalgia (Vol. 37, Issue 3, pp. 251–264). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102416640501
Jin, Z., Lee, G., Kim, S., Park, C. S., Park, Y. S., & Jin, Y. H. (2014). Ginger and its pungent constituents non-competitively inhibit serotonin currents on visceral afferent neurons. The Korean journal of physiology & pharmacology : official journal of the Korean Physiological Society and the Korean Society of Pharmacology, 18(2), 149–153. https://doi.org/10.4196/kjpp.2014.18.2.149 From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24757377/
Maghbooli, M., Golipour, F., Moghimi Esfandabadi, A., & Yousefi, M. (2013). Comparison Between the Efficacy of Ginger and Sumatriptan in the Ablative Treatment of the Common Migraine. In Phytotherapy Research (Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp. 412–415). Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.4996 from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.4996
Martins, L. B., Rodrigues, A. M. dos S., Rodrigues, D. F., dos Santos, L. C., Teixeira, A. L., & Ferreira, A. V. M. (2018). Double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) addition in migraine acute treatment. In Cephalalgia (Vol. 39, Issue 1, pp. 68–76). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102418776016 from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0333102418776016
Cady, R. K., Goldstein, J., Nett, R., Mitchell, R., Beach, M. E., & Browning, R. (2011). A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study of Sublingual Feverfew and Ginger (LipiGesicTMM) in the Treatment of Migraine. In Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain (Vol. 51, Issue 7, pp. 1078–1086). Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2011.01910.x from https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2011.01910.x
Malar, D. S., Prasanth, M. I., Brimson, J. M., Sharika, R., Sivamaruthi, B. S., Chaiyasut, C., & Tencomnao, T. (2020). Neuroprotective Properties of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) in Parkinson’s Disease: A Review. In Molecules (Vol. 25, Issue 17, p. 3926). MDPI AG. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25173926 From https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/25/17/3926/htm