Feverfew, which is derived from a flowering plant, has long been thought to be a remedy for headaches. It might offer an alternative to standard migraine medications, which are costly, have side effects and don't always work, according the new report.
Migraine's cost on economy
About 12% of Americans get migraines, and the problem has been estimated to cost the US some $20 billion annually in lost productivity and medical care.
In the new study, researchers funded by PuraMed Bioscience, which makes the feverfew/ginger treatment, randomly assigned patients to take a preparation containing miniscule amounts of the two plants or a dummy treatment.
The patients were asked to treat themselves - by putting a little sachet with the preparations under their tongue - as soon as they recognised the signs of an approaching migraine. Forty five people took the homeopathic treatment and 15 took the placebo.
About a third of those who took feverfew and ginger were pain-free after two hours, compared to only half as many in the placebo group.
Strong positive results
Overall, 63% of those taking the homeopathic preparation saw some pain relief, while 39% did so among those taking the fake treatment.
Because the study was small, it's possible that those randomly assigned to take the placebo simply experienced more severe migraines to begin with.
But study researcher Dr Roger Cady said that was unlikely.
"I don't think that accounts for the differences in efficacy here," Cady, who directs the Headache Care Centre in Springfield, Missouri, US, told Reuters Health.
Unclear about how treatment works
While he thinks the findings are real, it's still unclear how exactly the treatment would work, he added.
The homeopathic preparation, called LipiGesic, sells for $29.95 for several doses.
Cady says people who experience migraines slowly, and therefore have the ability to treat them early and before they become severe, would be the best candidates to try the feverfew therapy.
Only preliminary results
"The results are really intriguing, but definitely preliminary," said Dr Rebecca Erwin Wells, an instructor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre.
Wells said the study had some flaws and noted that one of the authors is also the CEO and chairman of PuraMed Bioscience. Still, she said, it's important to have studies on complementary or alternative therapies, particularly for people who suffer migraines.
A recent study by Wells and her colleagues, published along with the new results in the journal Headache, found that people who deal with migraines or severe headaches are more likely than others to seek out complementary or alternative remedies, such as meditation, yoga and herbal treatments.
"We found that 50% of adults with migraine or severe headaches, which is 13.5 million Americans, used complementary and alternative medicine in the previous year," Wells told Reuters Health.
Among people who don't have migraines or severe headaches, 35% used complementary or alternative approaches to wellness or diseases.
"We need more research to understand the mechanisms, benefits, side effects and risks of complementary and alternative therapies," concluded Wells. - (Kerry Grens/Reuters Health, June 2011)