Those who suffer from migraines commonly experience intense throbbing accompanied by nausea, vomiting and tenderness in the neck and scalp. Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from these severe headaches, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. While conventional treatment often uses painkillers that redirect blood flow to treat the problem, practitioners of alternative medicine claim that cayenne pepper can also offer relief. Consult your physician, however, before self-treating.
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One of the world's most debilitating medical conditions, migraines often go undiagnosed and untreated. Besides severe pain and nausea, symptoms typically include visual disturbances; tingling in the face, lips and hands; motor disturbances; and sensitivity to noise and light. While the exact cause of migraines remains unclear, genetics, stress, changes in the environment, spasms of blood vessels supplying the brain and seizure disorders may be risk factors.
Cayenne is a perennial shrub that reaches heights of 3 feet and bears bright red fruits with white seeds. Indigenous to Central America, cayenne pepper has a lengthy history of therapeutic use, offering benefits as a digestive aid, a toothache treatment and as a remedy for heat stress and chills. According to Steven Foster, author of the book "National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine," capsaicin, an active plant chemical in cayenne, accounts for the herb's effective pain-relief abilities and healing powers.
Capsaicin works to desensitize nerve endings by releasing the pain-inducing chemical called substance P, a neurotransmitter that sends pain messages to your brain. When taken by mouth, the capsaicin in cayenne pepper overwhelms your nerves and depletes them of substance P, so that pain transmission stops. According to Phyllis A. Balch, certified nutritional consultant and author of the book "Prescription for Herbal Healing," capsaicin also reduces platelet aggregation factor, or PAF, which contributes to the onset of migraine headaches by constricting blood circulation in your head.
For internal use to treat migraines, take cayenne powder mixed with a starchy food. When taken regularly, cayenne can interfere with the activity of a liver enzyme called CYP1A2. Your body needs this enzyme to eliminate certain medications, so avoid cayenne when taking aspirin, blood-thinning medications and theophylline, a drug for asthma. Cayenne can also cause abdominal irritation, with excessive amounts leading to stomach pain, liver problems and kidney damage. Children, pregnant and nursing women and people with ulcers or heartburn should avoid the herb.