Most practitioners recommend a host of non-medical therapeutic options to their patients with migraine. The best studied and safest, most effective supplements remain magnesium, riboflavin/B 2, and CoQ10. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a supplement with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that has showed positive protective effects in a number of medical conditions, including diabetes and episodes of oxidative stress. One migraine study 1 evaluated serum ALA levels and found over 90% of people with migraine to deficient. This study sought to observe the potential benefit of supplementation with ALA in patients with episodic migraine.
This was a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial over the course of 3 months. In this study, 92 female subjects with episodic migraine (defined as experiencing >2 but <15 days of headache per month) were recruited and randomized to receiving 300 mg ALA twice daily or placebo. Patients with chronic migraine, in menopause, pregnant, or lactating were excluded, as were patients with the presence of other chronic medical issues, or patients who had taken antioxidant supplements in the previous 4 months.
The primary outcomes of migraine severity, frequency, and Headache Impact Test (HIT-6) score were found to be significantly improved in the intervention group; duration of headache was not significantly different. Biochemical analysis of the two groups did show a difference in the lactate level of the intervention group, and this was considered a secondary outcome. Relevant side effects were primarily gastrointestinal, including stomach pain (higher in the placebo group), increased appetite, and constipation.
There is a great interest in finding effective non-medical treatments for migraine. These are frequently used as an adjunct to other preventive medications, or potentially as a stand-alone treatment for low frequency migraine. Many patients prefer non-medical options as well, and unfortunately many of the treatments they read about online or in less scientific spaces are unproven or unsafe. Supplementation remains an important part of migraine treatment for many practitioners and patients.
This study argues that ALA can be considered a safe and effective treatment for episodic migraine. When patients ask about non-medical options, ALA can be an additional treatment worth considering. Many patients are already taking multiple supplements before seeing their specialist, and this article informs us that there may be some treatment benefit for this supplement as well. We may not be recommending this supplement alone as a preventive treatment for migraine, but we can add a new non-medical option to consider to our mix.
Using preventive medication in pediatrics is now more controversial than it had been previously. The well known The Childhood and Adolescent Migraine Prevention (CHAMP) trial 2 surprised many in the field by revealing that were no significant differences in headache frequency or disability when comparing children with migraine who received preventive medications or placebo. The CHAMP trial spotlighted the effect of non-medical therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback) and education. Many pediatric specialists have altered their practice paradigm in response to these results and have been more reticent to prescribe preventive medications for children with migraine. This is due to concern for potential side effects in light of the absence of direct benefit.
In an observational study of pediatric migraine, 3 the investigators followed 186 children with migraine over a 3-year period to determine if the use of a number of preventive medications addresses disability (measured by Pediatric Migraine Disability Assessment [PedMIDAS]) as well as frequency, severity and duration of migraine. Other bothersome features of migraine were followed including the presence of nausea, vomiting, photophobia, analgesic use, and the side effects of the preventive medication.
The preventive medications used were cyproheptadine, flunarazine, propranolol, and topiramate—all at weight based doses. It is important to note that amitriptyline was not used in the study and there was no placebo group. This was a Turkish population, the median age was 14, and 63% were female, all of which are appropriate for a pediatric migraine study. Treatment efficacy was defined as a 50% reduction of symptoms. This was achieved in 90% of subjects in the topiramate group, 75% in the propranolol group, and 52-53% in the flunarazine and cyproheptadine groups.
Medication side effects were divided into minor or significant side effects. The only significant side effect noted was 3% of patient with palpitations; minor side effects were changes in appetite and drowsiness. More than half (57%) of patients taking topiramate experienced some side effect, 51% of the cyproheptadine group did as well, and the propranolol and flunarazine groups were noted to have side effects in 22% and 13%, respectively. Overall, 31.7% of patients had some side effect.
PedMIDAS scores improved significantly with the use of preventive medications; migraine frequency improved significantly as well, especially in the topiramate group. This study argues for the use of preventive medications in pediatric migraine. One of the most commonly used medications for migraine prevention was not investigated unfortunately. Amitriptyline is widely considered a safe and effective migraine prophylactic medication, especially at low doses. One important takeaway is the frequency of side effects at all, and especially with topiramate. It is unclear how many patients stopped their preventive medications due to a side effect. In light of this study, propranolol, which is often overlooked, might be considered a better choice for children with migraine.
Most of the patients with migraine we see are in their most productive years. Migraine disability can be a major difficulty for our patients, especially as it relates to work. The American Migraine Foundation and American Headache Society have both recently taken on initiatives that relate to migraine in the workplace. Migraine epidemiologic studies have shown that people with migraine are more likely to experience a negative impact on their careers, and migraine disability scores weigh time absent from work as well as lower function at work. Many people with migraine are concerned that having migraine may hold them back from being hired or achieving promotion.
Autio et al performed a retrospective analysis of occupationally active patients treated at a single provider (the Finnish health clinic Terveystalo). 4 The authors first looked for erenumab responders, who they defined as patients who received two prescriptions for erenumab and no other calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) monoclonal antibody (mAb) medication. These patients were followed for 12 months, and their data was compared to the 12-month period prior to initiating erenumab. The authors evaluated headache-related sick days, all-cause sick days, healthcare visits, and prescriptions for all medications based on a registry. This registry also provided an age- and sex-matched control group of patients with migraine not taking any CGRP mAb medication.
A total of 162 patients were included, 82 in the erenumab responder group. Headache-related sick days decreased by 74%, and headache-related healthcare visits decreased by 44%. Triptan prescription use decreased by 31.5%; all-cause sick days and healthcare visits differences were not statistically significant.
Prevention remains key in improving our patients’ quality of life and a large factor in this is their work life. This study shows that intervention with erenumab significantly decreases migraine-related absenteeism. It could be argued that the other CGRP mAb medications may have the same effect, as can many other preventive therapies. It can also be argued that even with this data we can only assume that patients function better at work with preventive therapies. Further studies will also look at the degree that “presenteeism” plays in the workplace—people who show up to work but are functioning at a lesser extent due to migraine. That said, this is an important step towards recognizing the burden migraine disability has on our patients’ work life, and the extent that prevention can improve their quality of life.
- Kelishadi MR et al . The beneficial effect of Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation as a potential adjunct treatment in episodic migraines. Sci Rep. 2022;12:271 (Jan 7).
- Powers SW et al. Trial of amitriptyline, topiramate, and placebo for pediatric migraine. N Engl J Med. 2017;376(2):115-124. Doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1610384.
- Tekin H, Edem P . Effects and side effects of migraine prophylaxis in children. Pediatr Int. 2021 (Dec 14).
- Autio H et al. Erenumab decreases headache-related sick leave days and health care visits: a retrospective real-world study in working patients with migraine. Neurol Ther. 2021 (Dec 10).