Updated: 11 Aug 2019
Disclaimer: This article is not medical advice: this is my experience only. The items listed here should not be used to diagnose, treat, or manage any condition. If you are on medication, you should not stop it without your physician’s knowledge and approval. Do not take any of these vitamins or supplements if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.
It began with a migraine and a strange feeling in one of my teeth. Actually, it was more like a strangely noticeable lack of feeling in the tooth: when I tapped it, it was almost as if the tooth weren’t in my mouth any longer. A migraine came and went, as usual, but the odd sensation in the tooth remained. A few days later, I had another migraine, which also came and went in a pattern I was accustomed to. The next week, despite having passed its annual inspection, my car’s radiator cracked and blew the engine, leaving me stranded at the side of the road and, worse, without any vehicle in an area where there is no public transportation. The stress of having to suddenly and unexpectedly find another (used) vehicle triggered another migraine. When I went to my doctor a few days later, he asked what had caused the increase in the migraine attacks, and I dutifully related my recent woes. “Reduce your stress,” he said before adding nonchalantly, “Oh, by the way, did I tell you I’m retiring at the end of the month?”
By the I got back home, I had another migraine. When I called for a refill on my pain pills, I was told it would be the last one the doctor could refill: he’d decided to retire at the end of the week instead of at the end of the month. Now I had only one bottle of 30 pain pills (Tylenol 3), had just lost the doctor I’d been seeing for thirteen years, and couldn’t get in to see a new doctor for at least 6 months. Despite my learning later that the odd-feeling tooth was infected and despite my having the tooth extracted, the migraine attacks did not relent. They were not only increasing in frequency but in duration. Instead of lasting 3-5 days as they usually did, each attack was lasting about two weeks. Then 3 weeks. A month. Six weeks. Early in 2018, I had a migraine that, to date, has lasted almost 15 months. The migraine had become chronic, intractable, refractory, status migrainosus, and any other benign-sounding words invented for this type of constant, debilitating pain.
After staying in bed the first three months of this migraine in 2018, I knew I had to find alternative ways to handle the situation. I wasn’t willing to be in bed the rest of my life, nor could I keep taking opioids every day. Saving the pain pills to use only during a hemiplegic migraine attack (whose pain is literally unbearable), I switched to aspirin for the refractory migraine, which is a migraine without aura. Aspirin is legal without a prescription and, for me, as effective as Tylenol 3 on that particular type of migraine, which means the aspirin takes the fiercest edge off the pain off but does not eliminate it. Since I wasn’t sure what was triggering this incessant migraine and feared it might be ingredients like dyes or preservatives, I began taking GeriCare aspirin, which includes only aspirin and cornstarch. I began using a sound wave device to help reduce the migraine pain, and it helped enough that I began to believe that the abscessed tooth, extracted in 2017, had damaged the middle branch of the trigeminal nerve and was triggering the refractory migraine. I had enough success to begin to get out of bed for a couple hours each day though I still had the unending migraine (I was wearing the sound wave device in a headband-sleeve during the day and sleeping with it under my pillow at night).
Six months later, when I was diagnosed with atypical trigeminal neuralgia (also called neuropathic facial pain) and put on Gabapentin, the constant facial pain and pressure were slightly reduced, but the excruciating lightning-bolt pain was not changed at all. Gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication used for hemiplegic migraine, did not affect the refractory migraine in any noticeable way. I began to be convinced that the months-long intractable migraine, whose pain is in the uppermost branch of the trigeminal nerve, was being triggered by the damage in the middle branch of the trigeminal nerve, damage which had originated with that odd-feeling tooth the previous year. Traditional medicine had not yet eliminated my pain, so I sought alternative, natural approaches to encourage my body to heal itself. After extensive investigation and several months of experimentation, I found quite a few supplements and vitamins that consistently reduce the pain of both the migraine and the neuropathic facial pain (atypical trigeminal neuralgia).
Although I thoroughly researched everything I wanted to try for pain relief, I never took more than one new supplement or vitamin at a time, and I discontinued any that triggered a hemiplegic migraine, aggravated the refractory migraine or neuropathic facial pain, or did not noticeably reduce either pain. I also started with the minimum amount of any one item to make sure I didn’t have any allergic reactions. Because so many supplements and vitamins have natural sweeteners (such as honey or stevia), artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose or maltodextrin), or preservatives, all of which trigger hemiplegic migraine attacks in me, I have included only those versions of the supplements with the fewest ingredients. Please note that I also made my doctor aware of all the vitamins and supplements I was taking to help reduce the chronic pain.
for Pain Relief
Natural Vitality Calm (Magnesium)
Magnesium supplements are often recommended for people diagnosed with migraine, and I started taking Natural Vitality Calm magnesium after the refractory migraine began its second month. Since too much magnesium too quickly can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, I started with a ½ teaspoon each night and slowly worked my way up to the recommended dosage of 2 teaspoons a day. I tried splitting the dose into 1 teaspoon each morning and night, but as it didn’t make the migraine go away and as I sleep better with the Calm at night, I now take the entire dose at night about an hour before bed. (I dissolve it in about ¼ cup of hot water and drink it when it’s cool.) If I miss the Calm for a few days, as I did when I had the flu, both the pain of the refractory migraine and of the trigeminal neuralgia increase. The Calm alone does not entirely eliminate the pain, but in conjunction with the other items, it does help lower the pain level.
Natural Vitality (unflavored, plain) Calm ingredients are Ionic magnesium citrate, made from a proprietary blend of citric acid and magnesium carbonate. Calm is also available in individual packets, for when you are away from home.
Calm is available in several flavors, and each flavor comes in different sizes: lemon (8-oz or 16-oz plastic bottles), raspberry-lemon (8-oz or 16-oz), cherry (8-oz or 16-oz), or orange (8-oz or16-oz). Since the flavored versions contain stevia, which triggers migraine attacks if I consume it, I have only tried the plain flavor.
I buy the unflavored Calm in the larger 16-oz size, which is more cost-effective( less packaging), and it’s cheaper to buy the pack of two 16-oz bottles (my guy uses the other bottle, and the magnesium eliminates his nightly leg cramps). Taking the recommended dosage of 2 teaspoons/day, one 16-oz bottle of Calm lasts me a year.
Lemon and Raspberry-Lemon are also available in two-pack of 16-oz bottles for significant savings, as is Cherry. Natural Vitality Calm is available as capsules in bottles of (120 or 180) or as gummies in bottles of (120 or 240); reviewers note that both capsules and gummies are as effective as the powder formula at reducing anxiety and insomnia, so there is reason to believe that the capsules and gummies would also both help with pain relief. (As soon as I try the capsules and gummies, I’ll update this post.)
I am plagued with insomnia before and during a migraine. The insomnia worsened with the neuropathic facial pain. Initially, I thought the extensive facial pain was due to the refractory migraine and not, as I now believe, vice versa. After the migraine lasted three months, I wondered if the accompanying insomnia was, in fact, extending or perhaps re-triggering the migraine. In addition to recommending the Natural Vitality Calm magnesium supplement, my medical massage therapist takes Deep Sleep, and she let me have a few pills to try them. I didn’t fall asleep, but within thirty minutes of taking one softgel, I noticed that the migraine pain was slightly less.
At least three of Deep Sleep’s herbal ingredients — California poppy, valerian, and oat seed in milky form — are also noted for pain relief. I began taking the Deep Sleep every day, for pain, not just to combat insomnia, and it helps lower the pain. I’ve tried Deep Sleep in liquid form (with alcohol in 2-oz or 4-oz bottles, and without alcohol in a 2-oz bottle) and in soft gel form. All three versions of Deep Sleep reduced the pain, though I thought the liquid form with alcohol worked slightly better on the pain than did the version without alcohol. (All three forms of Deep Sleep helped with insomnia.) I now take one softgel tablet 3 times a day for convenience (total = 600mg/day); using the softgel tablets allows me to put the Deep Sleep in a small bottle with all my other medications and supplements for the day.
The Deep Sleep softgel ingredients are alcohol-free organic concentrated extracts of California poppy, valerian, passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, oat (seed in milky stage), and orange peel; and the proprietary blend is equal to 200 mg per softgel. Deep Sleep softgels come in bottles of 60 or 120 softgel capsules, and the larger bottle saves considerable money. Deep Sleep noticeably reduces migraine pain and neuropathic facial pain.
Because California poppy is the first ingredient listed in Deep Sleep, I bought a bottle of that as well when I realized that the Deep Sleep was reducing the refractory migraine pain. When one manufacturer ran out and didn’t know when the item would be in stock again, I didn’t bother to find more of it: the pain increased. After I began taking it again, the pain returned to its lower level. Adding California poppy to the Deep Sleep helped reduce the pain, and I take one tablet 3 times a day (total = 1500mg/day).
Secrets of the Tribe California Poppy only has one active ingredient: 500 mg of organic California poppy, dried herb and flower, in a pure gelatin capsule. Secrets of the Tribe California Poppy comes in bottles of 90 or 230 capsules; as with other products, the larger size is more cost-effective.
Valerian is an herbal supplement that has been used to alleviate insomnia and anxiety. Valerian also seems to reduce pain. When I began taking some valerian during the day during this atrociously long migraine attack, I immediately noticed that the pain level was lowered. I use NOW Valerian because they don’t include any preservatives, colors, flavorings, or other unnecessary ingredients in any of their products.
NOW Valerian ingredients is 500 mg valerian root in a cellulose capsule. NOW Valerian comes in bottles of 100 and 250 capsules, and the larger bottle, because it contains less packaging, is noticeably cheaper to purchase. In addition to taking valerian for the chronic pain, I take 1-3 more valerian at night before bed to help me sleep better.
I tried turmeric capsules when this migraine first started, and then tried supplements that combined turmeric and ginger since both have reputations as anti-inflammatories. Each time I’ve tried anything with turmeric, however, it’s triggered a hemiplegic migraine. Since I eat crystallized ginger and use it in my tea all the time (it’s provides natural nausea relief during a migraine attack, but I also happen to love ginger), I decided to try ginger in a capsule form to get a higher concentration. I prefer NOW Ginger for the same reason that I use its other products: because NOW doesn’t contain so many of the nasty things that trigger migraine attacks for me. At first, I didn’t think the ginger was having any effect. When I ran out, and the pain level spiked upward, I got more ginger capsules right away. I take one 550 mg capsule 3 times a day, and, with everything else, the ginger keeps the pain level lower.
NOW Ginger ingredients are 550 mg ginger root in a gelatin capsule, magnesium stearate from a vegetable source, and silica. NOW ginger comes in 100-capsule bottles, and also in a 2 pack of 100 capsules, but it’s cheaper to purchase multiple bottles of the 100-capsules than to buy the more expensive 2-pack version.
Methylcobalamin Vitamin B-12
Researchers discovered that people who have dental or other surgical procedures on their head or face and who develop neuropathic facial pain (formerly called trigeminal neuralgia) may be deficient in vitamin B-12. “Nutritional experts suggest that the most effective form [of B-12] is methylcobalamin,” not the cheaper, more readily available cyanocobalamin version of B-12, which must, in any event, be converted by the body into the methylcobalamin form of B-12 to be used for effective pain relief. Injections of B12 have helped some facial pain patients, but not all of us can afford the injections. Though the Facial Pain Association recommends sublingual methylcobalamin B-12, I have thus far been unable to find any versions that do not contain maltodextrin or stevia, both of which are migraine triggers for me. Fortunately, the PURE capsule version significantly reduces the neuropathic facial pain and the refractory migraine pain that seems to have been triggered by the atypical trigeminal neuralgia which started in 2017.
PURE Encapsulations methylcobalamin B-12 has only one ingredient: 1,000 mcg B-12 as methylcobalamin, in hypoallergenic plant fiber (cellulose) vegetarian capsules (cellulose, water). PURE methylcobalamin vitamin B-12 comes in bottles of 60 or 180 capsules. PURE methylcobalamin vitamin B-12 also comes in a liquid form (30 ml bottle), but it contains stevia as well as the preservative potassium sorbate, so I cannot take it (if those two ingredients do not trigger migraine or neuropathic facial pain for you, please do let me know how the liquid version works).
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
In a “multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial” with diabetes patients experiencing neuropathic pain, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) reduced their pain, suggesting that ALA plays a “broader role than just simply being an antioxidant.” Although many foods contain ALA, including beets, brussels sprouts, carrots, and potatoes, higher doses of ALA may be needed to repair any damage to the trigeminal nerve.
Research with diabetics taking ALA supplements revealed that it can lower blood sugar. Since I have hypoglycemia (diagnosed over thirty years ago after several episodes in which I lost consciousness from very low blood sugar levels), this ALA-lowered blood sugar was initially a problem for me, and caused some hypoglycemia-related dizziness and cold sweats. I started the ALA at a low dosage and, with my physician’s supervision, slowly increased it. ALA has also been shown to interact with some medications, so do not take it without checking first with your medical provider.
Since taking ALA, the neuropathic facial pain and the migraine pain have both been noticeably lowered. Further, along with the methylcobalamin B-12, the ALA significantly reduces both the constant neuropathic facial pain and slightly reduces the severity of the lancinating pain triggered by things like coughing, sneezing, lying on my pillow, or touching my face.
One of the bestselling ALA supplements is Nutricost ALA, but it doesn’t make it clear whether its ALA is the natural (R) or synthetic (S) version, so I can only assume it’s the synthetic version. (Update: I tried a bottle of Nutricost ALA, and it triggered 2 hemiplegic migraine attacks in 10 days, so one of the ingredients used to make the capsules is something I cannot tolerate.) I take Simply Nature’s Pure ALA, which contains 300 mg each the R-ALA (natural form) and the S-ALA (synthetic form) version. Simply Nature’s Pure also offers a money-back guarantee if you do not find that their ALA helps with your pain, which influenced my choice of their product.
The pain of the constant and refractory migraine (without aura), even if caused by damage to the middle branch of the trigeminal nerve from the originally abscessed tooth, has also been reduced by the ALA. The more severe pain of hemiplegic migraine or of migraine with aura is also improved by my taking ALA. No matter the type of migraine attack I may be having — refractory/constant (without aura), with aura, or hemiplegic — the ALA significantly reduces pain. I now take 3 capsules a day (total 900 mg of R-ALA and 900 mg S-ALA) of Simply Nature’s Pure Alpha Lipoic Acid.
Simply Nature’s Pure Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) ingredients are 300 mg R-ALA (natural) and 300 mg S-ALA (synthetic), vegetable capsule. Simply Nature’s Pure ALA comes in a bottle of 120 capsules, and if you find that the ALA works for your migraine attacks or trigeminal neuralgia or both, it is significantly cheaper to buy the 2-pack or 3-pack of ALA 120 capsules.
Supplements and vitamins to reduce migraine and neuropathic facial pain
• Natural Vitality Calm magnesium
• Deep Sleep
• California poppy
• valerian root
• ginger root
• Methylcobalamin vitamin B-12
• Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
All of these natural supplements and vitamins make a noticeable difference in lowering the pain level of this neuropathic facial pain (atypical trigeminal neuralgia) and the refractory migraine. Is any one of them more responsible for the pain relief than the others? In reality, I believe that it is the synergistic effect of them all that is finally significantly reducing the pain, but if I were forced to choose only one or two of these supplements, I’d start with the ALA and the methylcobalamin B-12. Since I am beginning to have a few pain-free hours each day, I am optimistic that eventually, as the nerve damaged by the originally abscessed tooth continues to heal, I will one day be mostly free of the atypical trigeminal neuralgia as well as of the refractory migraine, which I think is being triggered by the neuropathic facial pain. At the very least, I’ve found a combination of natural supplements and vitamins that have helped me reduce the severe pain of both these conditions and allowed me to regain control of my life.
For more of my articles on migraine or chronic pain,
see my Migraine & Chronic Pain page.
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