Treating Migraines With Lavender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treating Migraines With Lavender

Lavender has been studied recently for several purposes, including treatment of mood and anxiety disorders (see, for example, the video I profiled in my last post, Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder). Though it’s better known for its analgesic (pain-killing) properties, there hasn’t been a single documented clinical trial on lavender for the treatment of migraine headaches, which affect tens of millions of Americans every year. That is, until now: “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.”

Migraine sufferers were asked—at the early signs of headache—to rub two to three drops of lavender essential oil onto their upper lip and inhale its vapor for a 15-min period, then score the severity of their headache for the next two hours. In the control group they did the same thing, but with drops of unscented liquid wax instead. Neither group was allowed to use any painkillers. In the lavender group 74 percent of patients had an improvement in their symptoms—significantly better than placebo.

Although lavender wasn’t directly compared to more conventional treatments and outcome measures differed, as you can see in the associated video Lavender for Migraine Headaches, lavender appears to stack up pretty well against typical migraine drugs. Lavender helped about three quarters of the time; high dose Tylenol may only work about half the time; and Ibuprofen 57% of the time. The top prescription drug, generic Imitrex, is effective 59% of the time, and the hardcore treatment they use in emergency rooms where they inject you under the skin works 70% of the time. Fortunately all of these work better than the original migraine therapy, known as trepanning, where doctors drilled holes in our head to let the evil spirits escape!

The lavender researchers concluded that the results of the study suggest that inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches.

Migraine sufferers may also want to experiment with avoiding potential triggers such as aspartame (see my video Diet Soda and Preterm Birth). Saffron may also help with headaches (Saffron for the Treatment of PMS) as well may the avoidance of certain parasites (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 (Dangerous Advice From Health Food Store Employees).

What’s better than treating your pain with natural remedies? Not having pain in the first place! Those eating healthy diets are less likely to be on pain medications in general (Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants). See, for example:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Avenue G / Flickr

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How Probiotics Affect Mental Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 How Probiotics Affect Mental Health

Before Thorazine was invented in 1950, mental illness was often treated surgically. In fact, in 1949 the inventor of the lobotomy was awarded the Nobel Prize. Before tens of thousands were lobotomized, however, colectomy was all the rage. There was a theory that bad bacteria in the gut­ was the cause of mental illness. So the cure was to surgically remove the colon. Yes, the surgery killed about one in three–but when they didn’t die, surgeons claimed positive results. Some, for example, bragged that when they resected the colons of schoolchildren as a preventive measure there was a cessation of “abnormal sex practices” like masturbation (which was viewed at the time as a precursor for mental illness later in life). Reminds me of the mastectomies they used to perform for menstrual breast pain (Plant-Based Diets For Breast Pain).

Others, though, suggested a less drastic approach, proposing that one could instead treat this "intestinal putrefaction" by changing the intestinal flora. Indeed, over a century ago there were reports of successfully treating psychiatric illnesses like depression with a dietary regimen that included probiotics. Doctors perceived a connection between depression and “feces deficient in quantity and moisture and very offensive in odor.” Reportedly, after the probiotic regimen not only did people feel better psychologically, but they had their “feces increase in quantity, become softer, and of regular consistency, and the offensive smell diminish….” Concurrent with the probiotics, however, all patients were started on a vegetarian diet—so it may not have been the probiotics at all.

Why might the vegetarian diet alone have improved mood? Check out my videos Plant-Based Diet & Mood and the follow-up Improving Mood Through Diet as well as my serotonin series starting with Human Neurotransmitters in Plants.

This entire field of inquiry remained dormant for about a hundred years, but a new discipline has recently emerged known as enteric (meaning intestinal) neuroscience. Our enteric nervous system—the collection of nerves in our gut—has been referred to as a “second brain” given its size, complexity, and similarity. We have as many nerves in our gut as we do in our spinal cord! The size and complexity of our gut brain is not surprising when considering the challenges posed by the interface. We have a hundred times more contact with the outside world through our gut than through our skin. We also have to deal with our 100 trillion little friends down there. That takes a lot of processing power.

Anyone who’s had butterflies in their stomach knows that our mental state can affect our gut. Studies show that every day stresses can actually affect gut flora populations. An innovative study out of Australia looked at feces scraped from toilet paper used by undergrads during exam week. If you check out my 5-min video Gut Feelings: Probiotics and Mental Health, you can see how many bacteria the undergrads had in their feces before and after the exam. You’ll notice the effect lasted the whole week. Their findings show that our mental state can indeed affect our gut, but can our gut affect our mental state? We didn’t know until recently.

Many suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome complain of gut dysfunction, so researchers tried giving sufferers probiotics to see if their mental and emotional state could be improved and it did appear to help. You can learn more about treating chronic fatigue syndrome in:

What about for healthy people, though? A study entitled “Assessment of the Psychotropic Properties of Probiotics” marked a turning point in our thinking. Researchers found that one month of probiotics appeared to significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and hostility. Until that study was published, the idea that probiotic bacteria administered to the intestine could influence the brain seemed almost surreal–like science-fiction. Well, science yes, but maybe not fiction. 

Might people suffering from certain forms of mental health problems benefit from a fecal transplant from someone with more happy-go-lucky bacteria? We don’t know, but this apparent ability of probiotics to affect brain processes is one of the most exciting recent developments in probiotic research.

Gut Feelings: Probiotics and Mental Health closes out my 4-part video series on the latest in probiotic science. I started with the two most established indications for their use in Preventing and Treating Diarrhea with Probiotics, then moved onto a more speculative use in Preventing the Common Cold with Probiotics?, and then offered practical advice on how to best take probiotic supplements in Should Probiotics Be Taken Before, During, or After Meals?

What else might our good bacteria be doing for us? They may help with weight control (Fawning Over Flora and Gut Flora & Obesity) and serve up anti-cancer compounds! (Flax and Fecal Flora and Sometimes the Enzyme Myth Is True).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Ana_Cotta / Flickr

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