Millions of people suffer from migraines, a condition characterized by moderate to severe headaches and other symptoms.
Although there are many effective migraine treatments that help ease symptoms, not everyone has a painkiller on hand when migraines strike. Others need to avoid certain painkillers for medical reasons or prefer not to take them because of side effects. This leaves those migraine sufferers looking for alternative solutions.
You might have cream of tartar in your spice cabinet. This cooking ingredient is thought to help with a number of conditions, including migraines.
In this article, we’ll explore the facts about this common cooking ingredient and its medicinal benefits.
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Cream of tartar is an FDA-approved food additive. It is an ingredient in several recipes.
The white powdery substance, also known as potassium bitartrate, is present in grapes. The version you buy in grocery stores is a side-effect of the fermentation process when wine is made.
Cream of tartar has several food uses. It is used mainly as a stabilizer or thickening agent in home kitchens.
There are several claimed medicinal properties of cream of tartar. Some are more credible than others.
The most credible medicinal property is cream of tartar’s laxative effects. Potassium bitartrate is an active ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) suppository laxatives. A 2003 study¹ also concluded cream of tartar was effective as a stool softener.
Tartaric acid, a stronger form of cream of tartar, is an alpha hydroxy acid. It belongs to a class of chemicals commonly used in anti-aging or anti-acne skin products. While evidence² suggests the stronger form is helpful in skincare, no data shows cream of tartar is as effective as tartaric acid when used in this way.
There are some documented cases³ of people using the cream of tartar as a cleanse due to its purgative, and laxative effects. However, this can cause serious side effects, including life-threatening hyperkalemia (a condition characterized by high potassium levels).
The same study also noted people use cream of tartar as a cystitis treatment and as an aid to help stop smoking, but no evidence shows cream of tartar can effectively treat these conditions.
While there are no studies on a cream of tartar itself, potassium is known to help treat hypertension (high blood pressure). Potassium helps the kidneys flush out more sodium in the urine. This is helpful, as sodium raises blood pressure.
There are a number of claims about how cream of tartar can help improve health. Some have truth to them, while others are simply false.
But can cream of tartar effectively treat migraines?
No evidence indicates cream of tartar can ease migraine symptoms. The myth can be traced to a Facebook post that got so much traction it was debunked by USA Today.
The mix-up seems to have come about when someone noticed tartaric acid was an ingredient in their migraine medication. They incorrectly assumed it was an active ingredient.
According to USA Today, the origins of the Facebook post go back further. The myth can be traced to a blog post claiming cream of tartar can reduce the symptoms of MSG poisoning.
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is another food additive. Many people have claimed to experience symptoms such as headaches after consuming the substance.
Studies⁴ have shown MSG is safe for human consumption in the amount typically present in food. However, some people experience symptoms, such as headache and nausea, when they take a 3,000mg dose without food.
However, this is an extremely uncommon use case. No evidence has been presented that a cream of tartar will alleviate these symptoms.
For most healthy people who consume the food additive in the way it was intended, cream of tartar is safe. However, consuming cream of tartar outside of normal usage may be harmful.
Although few well-documented cases suggest overconsumption causes toxicity, two cases³ serve as a warning against following unverified health advice.
When your body gets too much potassium, it’s referred to as hyperkalemia. Symptoms include:
Two otherwise healthy men reported developing these symptoms after consuming too much cream of tartar. They did this believing the substance would cleanse their body of toxins.
Both men took over six tablespoons of cream of tartar and entered a state of hyperkalemia within a few hours. Both men made a full recovery after receiving emergency medical treatment.
You can safely and effectively ease your migraine symptoms without putting your health at risk with unproven remedies that may not work.
Effective migraine treatments include:
Over-the-counter medicines like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol and others), ibuprofen (Advil and others), or naproxen (Aleve and others) may be effective against migraine. There are also combination medications, such as Excedrin Migraine (a combination of caffeine, acetaminophen, and aspirin).
Speak to your doctor to find out which pain reliever could work best for you. You may need to try different options to see which one is most effective.
Consult your doctor if OTC medicines don’t effectively ease your migraine symptoms.
Firstly, your doctor will rule out other health conditions. Secondly, they may prescribe you more effective medications that you cannot obtain over the counter.
Studies⁵ suggest certain forms of massage therapy may be an effective, drug-free treatment to alleviate migraine symptoms.
Bad medical advice is nothing new, but it now spreads faster with the internet. In many cases, trying an unproven remedy won’t help with your condition, but it won’t be harmful.
In some cases, taking a substance without medical advice can be life-threatening. The potential dangers are twofold: you could be at risk from the substance itself and from an untreated health condition.
Always check the safety and validity of any medical treatment you want to try, preferably by asking your doctor. Your doctor can run tests and check you to provide an accurate diagnosis. They can also recommend a personalized, safe treatment plan for your migraines.
Potassium acid tartrate | National Library of Medicine
Drug label information | DailyMed
How potassium can help control high blood pressure | Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms