Melatonin Relieves Stabbing Headaches
Melatonin supplementation led to complete relief of frequent stabbing headaches in three cases reported recently in Neurology (2004;16:865–6).
Stabbing headaches, also known as “jab and jolts” or “ice-pick headaches,” are stabs of sharp and severe pain in any part of the head, usually lasting one second or less. Each stabbing pain can be severe enough to cause momentary disability. Stabbing headaches can occur up to 50 times in a day, with episodes as infrequent as once or twice in a year or as frequent as every day. Although the duration of individual stabbing pains makes them too short to treat, people who suffer frequent episodes require preventive treatment. Indomethacin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, is the only treatment known to prevent stabbing headaches; however, it can cause serious adverse side effects, and people with kidney disease or using blood-thinning medications are not able to take indomethacin.
Melatonin is a hormone and a chemical messenger in the nervous system (neurotransmitter) produced in the pineal gland of the brain. In addition to regulating sleep rhythms and other biorhythms associated with light and dark cycles, it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Melatonin is used to treat sleep disorders, and studies have suggested that it is helpful in treating some cancers, cluster headaches, and headaches associated with sleep disorders. Because of their similar chemical structure, it has been proposed that melatonin might be helpful in conditions that usually respond well to indomethacin.
The current report details three cases of people treated with melatonin for frequent, debilitating stabbing headaches. Two of these people were unable to take therapeutic doses of indomethacin. The first case involved a woman experiencing stabbing head pains eight to ten times per day on average before treatment. Her head pains were completely relieved with 12 mg of melatonin per day at bedtime, and, while continuing to take melatonin, she remained pain-free at a two-month follow-up. In the second case, a woman had a reduction in the frequency of stabbing head pains from two per day to none within 24 hours of starting treatment with 9 mg of melatonin per day. Continuing to take melatonin, she remained pain-free at a four-month follow-up. The final case was a woman who had experienced a reduction in head pains from several per day to none with indomethacin, and who did equally well using 3 mg of melatonin per day at bedtime. She remained pain-free after two months of continued treatment with melatonin.
These case reports suggest that melatonin might be an effective treatment for frequent stabbing headaches, which could make it an attractive alternative to indomethacin because it has few interactions, contraindications, and adverse side effects. Taking melatonin at bedtime eliminates the concern about drowsiness, a relatively common side effect of melatonin. Controlled trials are needed to confirm these findings and to determine melatonin’s effectiveness for other pain conditions that are generally responsive to indomethacin.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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