Does it work? Ginger works very well for some people as both a migraine preventative and abortive – but not everyone.
How do I use it? Doses of about 500mg at the earliest sign of a migraine episode are commonly used for pain relief. For prevention, drinking 1-3 cups of ginger tea daily may be beneficial.
Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a flowering plant whose root (or rhizome) has become one of the most widely-used supplements throughout the world. Ginger is related to cardamom and turmeric, and its medicinal use dates back over 5000 years!
Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger has been studied for its ability to reduce nausea, improve pain, and prevent and abort migraine episodes.
The Science: Ginger and Migraine
Ginger contains several bioactive compounds, meaning it contains natural chemicals that have an effect on your body. The most well-known of these are gingerols, but other compounds such as shogaols and curcumins are present as well and likely play a role it ginger’s therapeutic effects.
When being studied for use as a treatment for nausea, ginger seems to hang out for quite a while in the gut (your second brain!). While it hangs out in your gastrointestinal system, ginger seems like it may inhibit the uptake of serotonin by receptors. This could explain its ability to improve nausea as well as migraine pain, as low levels of serotonin are thought to be linked to migraine.
One of the reasons why ginger is so beneficial is due to its high concentration of antioxidants – in fact, pomegranate and some types of berries are the only foods that contain more antioxidants than ginger! Antioxidants help counteract oxidation, which is a natural result of energy production in our bodies that can have a destructive effect on your cells.
Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties, which is especially beneficial for migraineurs. The compounds in ginger appear to modulate (or control) inflammatory chemicals like prostaglandins and cytokines, which in turn helps reduce levels of pain and inflammation.
A number of studies have been done in ginger’s ability to reduce or eliminate migraine symptoms. One amazing 2013 study showed that ginger powder was able to reduce migraine severity just as well as the common abortive medication sumatriptan – with none of the unpleasant side effects.
In contrast, a 2019 study found that, when used as a preventative for three months, ginger had no greater effect on migraine symptoms than a placebo (sugar pill).
Ginger has been studied extensively for its ability to reduce pain in general, from migraine headaches to rheumatoid arthritis. From what I’ve seen, ginger preforms better when used as an abortive, but there is still compelling science indicating that it could be handy for some people as a preventative as well.
Ginger From Food
You can certainly choose to get your daily dose of ginger from food, just keep in mind that the active ingredients you’re looking for – like gingerols – will be less concentrated than they would be in supplements.
This is true for a few reasons. One, because supplements are made to contain specific amounts of the active ingredients we’re looking for. But another reason is that the ginger most often used in supplements and spices is harvested later, giving the gingerols and other compounds more time to build up within the root. The more you know!
That being said, adding ginger to your diet is still a good option and there’s just something magical about eating things in their natural form!
Ways you can use fresh ginger:
- add to smoothies and juices
- use to make a fresh ginger tea
- add to soups and stir fry’s for a zingy kick
- use in baked goods like muffins and cookies
- add to marinades, sauces, and dressings
- muddle and add to sparkling water (vodka optional =D)
And while we’re talking about drinks with ginger in them, let’s talk about ginger ale. Most ginger ales don’t contain actual ginger – instead, choose ginger beer! Ginger beer is non-alcoholic and contains actual ginger, making it a good to sip on during migraine days.
Tinctures: great choice
Tinctures – aka liquid ginger, ginger extract, or ginger drops – are my personal favorite way to supplement with ginger. This is because you can very easily adjust the dosage to fit your needs (and it’s one less pill you have to take every day!).
Ginger tincture will typically have the milligrams listed on the bottle and will often have a dropper with ml listed on it for easy dosing. Ginger tinctures will usually be made using alcohol, but the amount is so small that the likelihood of it triggering a migraine episode is almost non-existent.
Capsules: great choice
Capsules and tablets are the form most commonly used in clinical trials and tend to have good results.
One thing to keep in mind is that capsules and tablets will take longer to absorb than liquids and powders. Because of this, it might be a good idea to save pills for preventative use and choose other, more quickly absorbed forms like liquids and powders for abortive purposes.
Powders: great choice
Powders are another great choice when deciding on a ginger supplement, especially if you have difficulty swallowing pills. Note that this is not referring to the powdered or “ground” ginger you find in the spice aisle, but powdered ginger sold as a supplement.
Make sure to choose a product that lists the milligrams of active ingredient per serving so you know how much to take and can adjust your dosage as needed.
Packaged Teas: good choice
Packaged ginger tea bags are a good choice if you’re looking for a tasty, enjoyable way to consume ginger every day. If possible, choose a product that lists the milligrams of active ingredient per tea bag, and be sure to steep the tea as instructed on the box to get the full benefits.
And yes, you can absolutely make fresh ginger tea instead! The only downside is you won’t know how much gingerol you’re getting per cup. If this doesn’t matter all that much to you, then fresh is a good choice too!
Essential Oils: not the best choice
Ginger essential oil may good for a lot of things, but a migraine supplement is not one of them. This is because many of the essential oils you’ll find in stores are not food safe (aka you don’t want to put them in your body), and the ones that are don’t list how many milligrams of gingerol are within them. This makes it difficult (and potentially dangerous) to use therapeutically and will leave you wondering how much you’re actually ingesting.
Ginger essential oil can be good for other things though! You can inhale or diffuse it for nausea, or use as part of a massage oil for achy muscles or joints.
Some people suggest rubbing ginger essential oil into your temples or neck at the onset of a migraine episode, and while this hasn’t been proven to work, it certainly won’t hurt anything to try! Just be sure to dilute this and other essential oils with a carrier oil (like almond or grapeseed) before applying, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Chews: not the best choice
Ginger chews are a delicious fun treat, but they aren’t the best way to supplement for migraine. This is because most ginger chews do not list the milligrams of active ingredient within the product.
Ginger chews and candies can, however, be a good choice for dealing with nausea that can come with a migraine episode. Make sure to check the ingredients for any additives that may be a personal trigger for you.
There is more evidence supporting ginger as a migraine abortive, but this supplement can be used as a preventative as well with relatively low risk.
Most scientific studies have used doses between 250mg and 600mg with varying results. Many people find that taking about 500mg at the earliest sign of a migraine episode is a good place to start, and some have greater success when they take a second dose after an hour or so.
Many migraineurs who use ginger like to choose a more natural form (like ginger tea or fresh ginger) for daily use, and save tinctures and capsules for when they need to get rid of a migraine episode. Again, taking ginger at the very earliest sign of an episode will yield the best results, so act fast!
Side Effects and Warnings
Ginger is generally well-tolerated, and side-effects are not usually seen except for at very high doses.
Possible (but uncommon) side effects of ginger include:
- irritation of the mouth and/or throat
- stomach irritation
*Special warning: ginger has a natural blood-thinning effect, and should not be used by individuals with a bleeding disorder or those who are on blood thinning medications (unless instructed by a healthcare professional).
Will research is still needed, ginger shows great promise as a migraine abortive and is likely useful as a daily preventative. Doses of 500mg at the earliest sign of a migraine episode seem to be well-tolerated and may work as well as the prescription medication sumatriptan!