For well over a century, cream of tartar has been touted for its supposed medicinal properties. As far back as 1908, it was promoted as a remedy for sleeping sickness, and even today, the Internet continues to carry claims of its benefits to help with smoking cessation, decrease blood pressure, and relieve migraine.
How many of these claims are accurate? None. Cream of tartar has never been proven effective for any health uses. Let’s explore some facts about cream of tartar.
Cream of tartar — or potassium bitartrate, as it’s known chemically — is a common cooking and baking ingredient used to stabilize cream or whipped egg whites and as a leavening agent for some baked goods. Surprisingly, it can even be used as a cleaning agent when combined with an acidic liquid.
As its chemical name suggests, cream of tartar is composed of 20% potassium. It is often formed as a byproduct of winemaking, crystallizing and forming deposits at the base of wine casks during fermentation.
A number of social media posts — including one shared on Facebook nearly half a million times — claim that cream of tartar can lessen the symptoms of migraine. However, no scientific studies support this claim, and there is little anecdotal evidence for it either.
There are, in fact, many potential health risks in ingesting potassium bitartrate. While the FDA approves the use of a small amount for cooking, higher levels can be hazardous.
For adults, the FDA recommends about 4.7g of potassium daily — the equivalent of a single teaspoon — from all sources. Anything more may lead to a toxically high blood potassium level, spurring potentially life-threatening hyperkalemia with persistent vomiting, severe diarrhea, and muscle weakness.
And for people with kidney dysfunction, high potassium intake can create a build-up of potassium in the blood, a condition which can be dangerous to the heart. Potassium-rich cream of tartar is also a diuretic, and increased urine production may put additional stress on kidneys.
The Harvard Medical Center does not recommend supplementing your diet with potassium, advising instead that we obtain the daily recommended dosage from the potassium that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, and other foods.
When it comes to migraine remedies, cream of tartar is clearly best left as a cooking ingredient.
Many well-researched, proven-safe, easily accessible alternatives are available today for migraine pain relief. The Mable website provides in-depth information about migraine treatment. Here are some suggestions:
Dr. Bernstein of Harvard Medical School, a Mable Medical Board member, notes, "More than 80% of migraine attacks are associated with and exacerbated by light sensitivity.” In a recent study, the Harvard team found that green light is the least painful to migraine sufferers, while blue light is the most uncomfortable. They recommend glasses that allow green light and block blue light, potentially helpful in relieving migraine.
CGRP antagonists. Ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) and Rimegepant (Nurtec ODT) are oral CGRP antagonists recently approved for treating acute migraine with or without aura in adults. In trials, two hours after ingestion drugs in this class proved more effective than placebo in relieving pain and other migraine symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. CGRP antagonists are also the first FDA-approved drugs for prevention of migraine.
Triptans. Sumatriptan and Rizatriptane are prescription drugs that treat migraine by blocking pain pathways in the brain. They are available as pills, shots, or nasal sprays.
Questionable sources may tout "miracle cures" or novel treatments without any verifiable scientific evidence to support such claims. Cream of tartar is a prime example of an alternative treatment with no supporting scientific evidence that it works.
When seeking information about remedies for your migraine treatment, research carefully and ask questions to avoid treatments that may prove essentially useless or ineffective. Follow the Mable blog as a trustworthy source for up-to-date information on migraine and how to manage it.
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