Health Benefits of Feverfew
Tanacetum parthenium, most commonly known as Feverfew, is an herb that is part of the daisy family and used as an herbal supplement for a number of different reasons. However, it gets its name from its fever-reducing properties. In fact, “feverfew” is derived from the Latin word for fever reducer – febrifuge.
Feverfew is a perennial herb that has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Although the mechanism of action isn’t well understood, it is thought that feverfew acts as an anti-inflammatory and may alter serotonin levels in the brain which is why it is used to treat headaches, specifically migraines. It is not used to stop a migraine that has already been triggered. Instead, it’s used to prevent migraines in the first place. This is also the case with tension and cluster headaches.
There are several bioactive substances that give feverfew its medicinal properties. Parthenolide and tanetin are the two main active ingredients. Parthenolide is responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of feverfew with the highest concentration of parthenolide being found in the leaves and fruit of the plant.
How to Use Feverfew to Treat Headaches
Feverfew is typically taken orally in capsule form on a daily basis for the prevention of migraines, tension and cluster headaches. The most common dosage is somewhere between 50mg to 100mg a day. Unfortunately, feverfew needs to be taken on a regular basis for several weeks to months before its effects on headaches are noticed.
I took feverfew once a day for approximately 18 months in an effort to prevent my daily migraines. For 12 of those months I was migraine free. But it took six months for the feverfew to take effect. Unfortunately, after 12 months of no migraines, the headaches returned. Thinking I had developed a tolerance to the feverfew, I increased the dosage by taking one capsule two times a day.
Unfortunately, the increased dose had no effect. Although I wasn’t having as many migraines per week as I did prior to starting the feverfew, the frequency of the migraines was increasing as was the severity. I stopped taking the feverfew, and have not tried it again since.
Leaf of the Feverfew Plant
Other Uses for Feverfew
Because of the other bioactive ingredients in feverfew, it can also be used to treat other conditions including:
Feverfew can also be used topically as an antiseptic, insecticide and to treat toothaches. There is also evidence to suggest that feverfew is effective as a stimulant and against intestinal parasites.
Side Effects of Feverfew
Although taking feverfew is much safer than taking pharmaceuticals (especially the vasoconstrictors typically used to treat migraines), there are some side effects and interactions with other medications that you should be aware of prior to starting the herb. The general side effects of feverfew include:
- Upset stomach
More serious side effects might include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Joint stiffness
- Menstrual changes
- Rapid heart rate
- Weight gain
It should also be noted that pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take feverfew. The safety of feverfew during pregnancy and in breastfeeding women has not been studied.
People who are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies and other related plants should not take feverfew to avoid a possible allergic reaction.
Patients who may be undergoing surgery should also avoid taking feverfew. There is the possibility that the herb may slow the blood clotting process which may increase bleeding during and after surgery. Patients should discontinue feverfew approximately two weeks prior to their scheduled surgery date.
Possible Interactions of Feverfew
Feverfew may interact with some medications, especially those that are metabolized in the liver. The herb may increase the speed at which the medications are broken down in the liver. This can be dangerous because it can increase the efficacy (and side effects) of any medication taken with feverfew. Medications that may have interactions include:
- Amitriptyline (Elavil)
- Haloperidol (Haldol)
- Propranolol (Inderal)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Carisoprodol (Soma)
- Diclofenac (Voltaren)
- Meloxicam (Mobic)
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Glipizide (Glucotrol)
- Clopidogrel (Plavix)
If you plan on taking feverfew, and you are already taking prescription medication for your migraines or other headaches, you should discuss your decision with your doctor first. It is also recommended that you start with a small dose (about 50mg) and slowly increase to a higher dose.
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