I read this blog post on the NYT site and really wanted to post a comment, but comments are closed. So I thought I'd come here and make a post that I probably should have done awhile ago.
After suffering migraines for several years, I stumbled into l-tryptophan (yes, the stuff in turkey) this year. It was banned from the U.S. market for many years, so it hadn't even been available when I first started getting migraines during graduate school. I took Imitrex on the advice of my very smart P.A., who diagnosed the migraines in the first place, and it was generally successful, but only if I took it right as I felt the migraines coming on. Well, that sounds simple enough, right? Why wouldn't I just take the meds as soon as I felt the slightest twinge of migraine? Well, the side effects are not so great. It caused a strange, almost burning sensation along my scalp, and I felt screwed up neurologically for several hours. It became difficult to do things like type.
So if I missed the narrow Imitrex window, which I sometimes did, or if the headache was really severe, I was stuck with a migraine that lasted anywhere from several days to an entire month. Mine aren't classic migraines -- the lock-yourself-in-a-room-with-a-towel-on-your-head kind, with the aura and everything -- they're more like a sharp stabbing headache on one side of my head, so that isn't quite as bad as it sounds. But walking around with a constant headache for weeks still sucks.
Anyway, as I said, I stumbled in to l-tryptophan this year. It's an amino acid that you're supposed to get through your diet through foods like milk and turkey, but many of us don't get enough. It converts to serotonin, melatonin, and niacin in your body (low serotonin levels are linked to migraines).
Now that it's available in the U.S., I stopped at Vitamin World one day and picked some up. The first few days were kind of difficult — I felt really tired and I got these really bad tension headaches. But that's how I knew I was on to something — I rarely, if ever, got tension headaches after I started getting the migraines (one cause of tension headaches can be when the blood vessels are opened too wide, which is why caffeine helps...migraines are the opposite, where the blood vessels are constricted, which is why caffeine is a disaster).
So I kept taking the tryptophan, and the initial symptoms stopped. So did my migraines. I would start to feel a migraine coming on, but instead of developing into the full painful headache, I felt a tingling sensation down the "path" the pain usually traveled. Eventually (sometimes it took a good night's sleep), the tingling and the pain went away, and there was no headache left.
Speaking of a good night's sleep, it's rare that I don't get one now. I'm assuming that's because I've given my body more of what it needs to make melotonin. Another, slightly more odd thing — I don't crave carbs like I used to. It used to be I couldn't make it through the morning without a bagel. I have read about a carb-serotonin connection, so maybe it's not quite as crazy as it sounds.
I take the recommended dosage, which is about the same amount one should get in one's diet every day. If I'm having a stressful day, I'll take an extra pill (the dosage is three). I don't claim to be a medical professional, or that tryptophan is a good idea or will work for everyone. All I can post about is personal experience, and mine has been very good.