The claim: Cream of tartar relieves migraines.

A Facebook user’s post, which has been shared 15,000 times, shows a photo of a cream of tartar container and says: “If you have migraines just put a little bit under your tongue, within minutes you will feel your migraine easing up. Do you know someone that needs this info?”

Cream of tartar — or potassium bitartrate, a byproduct of making wine during the fermentation process — is a common baking ingredient that cooks use in small quantities to stabilize whipped egg whites when making meringues, for example, or as a leavening agent when combined with baking soda.

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But Sean O’Keefe, a Virginia Tech professor of food chemistry, said he sees nothing to support the claim cream of tartar relieves migraines.

Pumpkin spice snickerdoodle cookies on a rack.

Why cream of tartar?

O’Keefe said people might have turned to cream of tartar as a home remedy for migraines because dihydroergotamine, a treatment for migraines, has tartaric acid in its structure.

“Somebody at some point looked and said, ‘hey, tartaric acid. That must be the active component,’” O’Keefe said, “and it’s really not.

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“It’s just the acid form that makes the crystal of that particular compound,” he said. “There’s no mechanism for tartaric acid to prevent headaches of one type or another.”

Deema Fattal, a University of Iowa neurologist, said no medical research publication supports using cream of tartar as a migraine treatment.

And a 2013 Journal of Medical Toxicology case report said cream of tartar can be life threatening when consumed in large amounts. The report said cream of tartar “has long been used as a remedy for a number of ailments,” including as a laxative, and looked at two people who ingested “a large quantity of cream of tartar in an effort to ‘clean themselves out.’”

The report said the two received emergency treatment for hyperkalemia, or an abnormally high level of potassium, a condition that can lead to heart arrhythmia. However, they were treated to counteract the effects and recovered without complications.

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Cream of tartar’s alleged ties to MSG

The Snopes myth-busting website, in trying to pinpoint the origins of the idea that cream of tartar could be a migraine home remedy, pointed to a 2015 blog post from website “Hello Lovely Living,” which says cream of tartar “neutralizes the effects of MSG poisoning,” which it blamed for triggering migraines. Snopes says monosodium glutamate poisoning is “a largely unsubstantiated medical malady,” citing a Mayo Clinic online post.

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Mayo Clinic said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified MSG as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe,” but its use remains controversial. Consumers have reported adverse reactions to foods containing MSG, including headaches, flushing, sweating and nausea.

“However, researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms,” Mayo reported. “Researchers acknowledge, though, that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don’t require treatment. The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid foods containing MSG.”

O’Keefe said cream of tartar is best used in baking than as a migraine remedy, so keep it handy for snickerdoodles, not headaches.

Neither the Facebook user nor the Hello Lovely Living blogger responded to requests for comment.

Our ruling: False

While some people claim cream of tartar relieves their migraines, no research supports the claims of its effectiveness, and one study says consumption of large quantities can cause serious health issues.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Journal of Medical Toxicology, Aug. 28, 2012, “Life-Threatening Hyperkalemia from Cream of Tartar Ingestion”
  • Snopes, Oct. 15, 2018, “Is Cream of Tartar an Effective Treatment for Migraine Headaches”
  • Hello Lovely Living, Migraines | A Natural Remedy That Actually Works
  • Mayo Clinic, “What is MSG? Is it bad for you?”
  • Deema Fattal, University of Iowa
  • Sean O’Keefe, Virginia Tech

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at deller@coral-beachresortsharjah.com or 515-284-8457.

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