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Q
Skullcap for Headache Relief?

I have used a tincture of skullcap occasionally to relieve stress headaches after a tough day at work. I recently heard that skullcap might be bad for the liver. Is this true?

A
Answer (Published 8/25/2005)

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) has a long tradition of use as a medicinal agent, especially as a sedative, relaxant, and anti-anxiety agent, but it hasn't been well researched clinically. It may help to reduce menstrual cramping, and some people find it useful for tension headaches. Tierarona Low Dog, M.D., director of Botanical Medicine here at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, tells me that while skullcap itself appears to be relatively safe, it has a history of adulteration/substitution with germander (Teucrium spp), a known liver toxin. For that reason, she advises purchasing skullcap only from a reputable company.

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Tension headaches due to stress usually begin in the afternoon or early evening and produce steady pain that comes up the neck and back of the head. The muscles of the neck and shoulders may be sore and will feel tight to a trained body worker. My recommendation is to try to prevent them by practicing relaxation techniques, including my breathing exercises.

Biofeedback training aimed at reducing muscle tension in the shoulders, neck and scalp can also help, and massage can be a godsend. I recommend shiatsu and Trager work, especially, but even a garden-variety neck and shoulder rub can do wonders to ease the tension that promotes headaches. Because caffeine increases muscle tension and anxiety, eliminating it from your diet may prevent headaches or, at least, reduce their frequency or intensity. Regular exercise and simple stretches can also help prevent headaches by reducing stress.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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