Feverfew for preventing migraine

Migraine is a common, disabling headache disorder. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.) is a herbal remedy used for the prevention of migraine attacks. For this update of a previous Cochrane review, we reviewed the available evidence up to January 2015 for or against feverfew in the prevention of migraine and found six studies including 561 participants. Generally the studies were heterogeneous and their results were mixed. The previous version of this review showed no clear benefit of feverfew compared with placebo. We added a new study, which is larger and was carried out to high standards, to this review. It showed that feverfew reduced migraine frequency by a little more than half a migraine (0.6) per month compared to placebo. There was no difference in how severe the pain was, or how long it lasted. These results come from a single study of moderate size, therefore they must be viewed with caution until they are confirmed in other rigorous studies. No major adverse effects were associated with feverfew in the included studies.

Authors' conclusions: 

Since the last version of this review, one larger rigorous study has been included, reporting a difference in effect between feverfew and placebo of 0.6 attacks per month. This adds some positive evidence to the mixed and inconclusive findings of the previous review. However, this constitutes low quality evidence, which needs to be confirmed in larger rigorous trials with stable feverfew extracts and clearly defined migraine populations before firm conclusions can be drawn. It appears from the data reviewed that feverfew is not associated with any major safety concerns.

Read the full abstract...

This review is an update of a previously published review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on 'Feverfew for preventing migraine' (2004, Issue 1). Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.) extract is a herbal remedy, which has been used for preventing attacks of migraine.


To systematically review the evidence from double-blind randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the clinical efficacy and safety of feverfew monopreparations versus placebo for preventing migraine.

Search strategy: 

For this updated version of the review we searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE and AMED to January 2015. We contacted manufacturers of feverfew and checked the bibliographies of identified articles for further trials.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials assessing the efficacy of feverfew monopreparations for preventing migraine in patients of any age. We included trials using clinical outcome measures, while we excluded trials focusing exclusively on physiological parameters. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication.

Data collection and analysis: 

We systematically extracted data on patients, interventions, methods, outcome measures, results and adverse events. We assessed risk of bias using the Cochrane 'Risk of bias' tool and evaluated methodological quality using the Oxford Quality Scale developed by Jadad and colleagues. Two review authors (BW and MHP for this update, MHP and EE for the original version) independently selected studies, assessed methodological quality and extracted data. We resolved disagreements concerning evaluation of individual trials through discussion.

Main results: 

We identified one new study for this update, resulting in six trials (561 patients) meeting the inclusion criteria. Five of the six trials reported on the main outcome, migraine frequency. Although five of the trials were generally of good methodological quality, all studies were either of unclear or high risk of bias with regards to sample size. Pooled analysis of the results was not possible due to the lack of common outcome measures and heterogeneity between studies in terms of participants, interventions and designs.

The most recent trial added to this version of the review is rigorous and larger (n = 218), using a stable feverfew extract at a dose determined by a previous dose-finding trial. It reports that feverfew reduced migraine frequency by 1.9 attacks from 4.8 to 2.9 and placebo by 1.3 from to 4.8 to 3.5 per month, resulting in a difference in effect between feverfew and placebo of 0.6 attacks per month. For the secondary outcome measures intensity and duration of migraine attacks, incidence and severity of nausea and vomiting, and global assessment no statistically significant differences were reported. Results of previous trials are not convincing: three trials reporting positive effects of feverfew are all of small sample size (17 to 60 participants), while two rigorous trials (n = 50, 147) did not find significant differences between feverfew and placebo. Only mild and transient adverse events, most commonly gastrointestinal complaints and mouth ulcers, were reported in the included trials.