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Originally published Sunday, December 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM

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The People's Pharmacy

Melatonin a migraine mender?

Q: Since the age of 23 I have had frequent migraine headaches. I was told the headaches would disappear at menopause, but instead they got worse. For the past 10 years I have awakened...

Syndicated columnists

Q: Since the age of 23 I have had frequent migraine headaches. I was told the headaches would disappear at menopause, but instead they got worse. For the past 10 years I have awakened three or four times a week between 2 and 4 a.m. with a migraine.

I read about people taking melatonin for jet lag and wondered if my headaches were from a body-clock problem. The article didn't mention migraines, but I tried an experiment. I started taking one 3-mg melatonin tablet each evening, and I stopped waking up with a headache in the wee hours.

For years I have been avoiding foods that might be triggers. The success with melatonin made me brave, and I ate some of them. No headache, when I take melatonin.

A: Scientists have also looked at the role of melatonin in treating migraine, and found these headaches might indeed be related to biorhythm disturbances. One study is titled: "Melatonin, 3 mg, is effective for migraine prevention" (Neurology, Aug. 24, 2004).

Q: I've heard red wine is good for the heart, but I don't drink alcohol. Would grape juice work?

A: Grape juice does seem to have intriguing benefits. Jane Freedman, M.D., of Boston University School of Medicine, recently reported that Concord grape juice raised good HDL cholesterol and reduced inflammation when compared with a placebo beverage.

Q: Astragalus has been recommended to me as an immune-system support to help prevent flu and colds. I've found lots of information promoting astragalus but not much on risks or side effects.

A: Astragalus is a traditional Chinese medicine. Compounds in the root seem to boost immune-system function. It is usually given in a tea or added to soup.

Astragalus should be avoided before surgery and may interact with Coumadin or other blood thinners. Side effects are rare, but digestive upset has been reported.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them at pharmacy@mindspring.com or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org

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