Are people always giving you advice on how to manage your migraine attacks? Does any of this advice include old wives’ tale remedies for migraine? A wide variety of old wives’ tales exist about how to relieve or even cure migraine. Many of us are desperate enough to try almost any treatment – no matter how strange or terrible – just to get relief from the pain and other symptoms!
When a migraine attack starts, it’s important that you use the treatments in your migraine toolbox appropriately. This includes taking your medication quickly and as directed by your doctor. Waiting for a “home remedy” to kick in before you take medication may result in a more painful attack that takes more than a medical device and/or more medication, as well as taking longer to get under control. Although most of these recommendations are harmless, unfortunately they probably won’t work. And, some may actually trigger or worsen migraine attack symptoms, in addition to perpetuating the myth that migraine is easily treated or cured.
Examples of Old Wives Tales
1. Banana Peels on Your Forehead
There are many myths about bananas preventing and stopping migraine. One is to place a banana peel on your forehead and place an ice pack on top of the banana peel. It is believed that the ice helps your head absorb the potassium from the banana which will stop your migraine pain.
Another myth is to eat a banana every day because the magnesium in the banana will prevent migraine. However, people with migraine have self-reported that eating ripe or overripe bananas can actually trigger a migraine attack. They are high in tyramine, a substance found naturally in many foods, and a known migraine trigger (also found in avocados). Tyramine increases as the bananas continue to ripen. In addition, there is not nearly enough magnesium in a banana to prevent or stop a migraine attack! A better approach would be to talk to your doctor about magnesium supplementation.
2. Change Your Diet
Diets to help or even “cure” chronic conditions like migraine are everywhere. Some recommend avoiding gluten. Others say go vegan or Keto. The thing is, we all respond to food differently. For instance, chocolate may trigger a migraine in one person, and help resolve it in another. Caffeine also can be a migraine trigger for some, and yet for others it has no impact and may even help medications work better to stop an attack. The reality is that no diet will cure migraine, however identifying and avoiding any foods that trigger your attacks can help IF you have food triggers. And of course, eating healthy can help your general feeling of wellness even if it doesn’t help your migraine.
3. Just Relax, Reduce Stress, and Think Positive
How many times have people suggested all you have to do to stop migraine attacks is relax. They think if we can just stop being so anxious about migraine the attacks will stop. Some believe that if we think more positive thoughts we can think our way into being pain-free. Likewise, we are often told that recognizing a trigger or early symptoms of an attack is “thinking our way into a migraine.” Unfortunately, migraine is not just “all in our heads” – it’s a real, neurological condition that is incredibly complex and highly genetic. In short, relaxing is good, as is learning to manage stress well, but this won’t cure your migraine.
4. Soaking Your Feet in Hot Water
This old wives’ tale suggests submerging your feet in a bucket of hot water to draw the blood from your head to your feet, easing the pain of a migraine attack. In addition, while soaking your feet, apparently you should also place an ice pack on the back of your neck to ease the blood vessels in your head. There is no scientific evidence this works, but as long as the water is not uncomfortably hot and you don’t need to lie down during an attack (which many of us do) this shouldn’t hurt you. Placing ice packs on your neck or head, or using ice hats may help reduce pain and symptoms, just as using a heat wrap for your neck or taking a warm bath may relax you. However neither are cures for migraine nor are they guaranteed to stop an attack.
5. Stop Wearing Your Hair in a Ponytail
Has anyone suggested that you stop wearing a ponytail or bun, or that you should cut your hair short? Some people believe that pulling your hair back into these styles can cause migraine, but there’s no scientific proof of this. Wear your hair the way that is most comfortable for you and if a healthcare professional suggests that you stop wearing a ponytail or cut your hair it is likely time for you to find a new headache doctor.
6. Cream of Tartar, Juice, and Almonds
An often circulated myth on social media states that when you have a migraine, putting some cream of tartar under your tongue will make the pain go away naturally – instantly! The Old Farmer’s Almanac also suggests drinking tart cherry juice to “feel better” during a headache. Consuming pineapple (the fruit or juice) to prevent migraine is also an old wives tale, but pineapple also contains tyramine and may trigger attacks. Another belief is that eating 100g of almonds every day will release endorphins and prevent attacks. Again, these myths minimize or try to negate that migraine is a complex neurological disease, and they perpetuate migraine stigma.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar, Chamomile Tea, and Cinnamon Paste
It seems that apple cider vinegar is the “cure all” these days. Two tablespoons with a teaspoon of honey 3 – 4 times allegedly can help. Don’t like drinking vinegar? Some say cups of chamomile tea 3 -4 times a day will relax you enough to prevent or avoid attacks. Making a paste with cinnamon and water that you apply to your forehead for 30 minutes is another old wives’ tale that also won’t help. Thinking about it – there seems to be a common trait of putting something on your forehead!
We would be remiss if we didn’t note that the internet is abounding in “reviews” by people claiming that these old wives’ tales remedies have helped them, even the stranger ones such as putting a banana peel on your forehead. However, there is no scientific evidence that they actually do work, with the exception of ice hats and warm wraps for the neck and shoulders which may help provide relief for some people. Resharing these myths on social media and verbally increases the stigma that people with migraine continue to face. In addition, during attacks people may even delay following doctor-recommended treatments in favor of these “remedies,” sometimes resulting in emergency room visits which could have been avoided and a higher risk of the disease progressing.
Let Us Know
Have you tried any of these old wives’ tale remedies? Have they helped, or made your migraine attack worse? Have you tried other remedies that we missed?
 Ruifang Yuan, Dingkun Zhang, Jinhui Yang, Zhenfeng Wu, Chuanhong Luo, Li Han, Fangli Yang, Junzhi Lin, Ming Yang, Review of aromatherapy essential oils and their mechanism of action against migraines, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 265, 2021, 113326, ISSN 0378-8741, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2020.113326. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874120332086