Here’s how to naturally and effectively prevent and treat headaches
If you suffer from headaches, it’s likely you’ve had to rely on pain killers on numerous occasions. Very occasional use of acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) to treat a bad headache will likely have no lasting consequences. However, there are some important concerns to be aware of with these medications, even with typical use. The side-effects can range from gastrointestinal bleeding (even in healthy individuals) to inhibition of ovulation, which is required for healthy progesterone levels, regular periods, and fertility.
So, when it comes to headaches the best way to treat them, is to stop them from happening in the first place. And the first thing to do is to find the triggers. Common triggers include:
- Food sensitivities
- Timing of meals/poor blood sugar management
- Sub-optimal sleep
- Poor posture
- Inappropriate pillow height – can strain neck muscles and shoulders
- TMJ or clenching the jaw
- Muscle tension
I recommend keeping a headache diary to track your headaches so that you can start understanding any correlations with your daily habits. You may even want to start with some trial and error, like an elimination diet. This is where you remove certain foods from the diet and then re-introduce them to see which foods you react to. Some of the most likely triggers include:
- Non-celiac gluten intolerance
- Preservatives / additives / aspartame
- Sulfites / tannins
- Monosodium glutamate
- Aged cheeses
- Cold foods
- Peanuts / other nuts
- Organ meats / Cured meats / Nitrites
- Smoked fish
- Sourdough bread
- Cultured dairy products
If you think an elimination diet may be too challenging for you, you can also consider a food sensitivity test. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about this! I also strongly encourage you to prioritize sleep and stress reduction strategies to see if thy help in reducing your headaches too. Worst case scenario: you have tons more energy and less stress in your life! While you determine the root cause of your headaches, there are many natural options that can be used to prevent headaches.
Natural ways to PREVENT headaches:
- Magnesium: In one study, when people with migraines were given 600mg magnesium citrate for 12 weeks they experienced 40% less migraine attacks and the severity and duration of migraines were also reduced. Those taking the magnesium also required less pain killers. In another study, magnesium was compared to some heavy hitting drugs used to prevent migraines, and magnesium was found to be just as effective. Beware: this is a relatively high dose of magnesium, and can cause loose stools!
- Butterbur: This is an herb, also known as Petasites hybridus, that has been used prophylactically for migraines. This study found that 50mg twice daily, over 12 weeks, reduced the frequency of migraines by 60%. The best part is, there were no side-effects noted.
- Vitamin B2: This vitamin, at doses of around 400mg, has been shown to reduce headache frequency and the use of painkillers, again with very few adverse effects.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is not just used for sleep anymore. It has been shown to be effective in pain syndromes, fertility, depression and many other conditions. It has also been shown to reduce migraines. This is a safe and effective treatment option that may help to reduce frequency of migraines, and also impact deep sleep. This can benefit so many other health concerns.
- Chaste Tree: If your migraines only come premenstrually, or the week before your period, 20mg of chaste tree daily for 3 cycles, has been shown to decrease headaches and other PMS symptoms, so it’s a win-win for those suffering with PMS.
- Acupuncture: if you’re interested in giving acupuncture a go, you need to know that one treatment won’t cut it. But research shows that regular acupuncture, once weekly for 2 months and then once monthly for 4 months can reduce the amount of headaches you get. It may even be more effective than meds!
Natural ways to TREAT a headache:
- Peppermint oil: If you don’t mind smelling like peppermint, this is an easy, inexpensive and effective treatment to reduce pain during a tension-type headache. When applied to the forehead and temples at the onset of a headache, and repeated 15 and 30 minutes later, it can significantly reduce the intensity of a headache.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a wonderful nutrient. It is used for both prevention and treatment of headaches. It has been useful in the acute treatment of migraines, tension type headaches and cluster headaches, reducing the intensity and duration of an attack.
- Ginger: Taking ginger capsules at the onset of a headache can be quite effective. In one study, ginger capsules had a similar effect to sumatriptan, one of the prescription medications used during a migraine attack. But! Ginger also posed a better side-effect profile and was safer to take.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture can also be used during a headache to reduce the pain. Studies have even shown that it reduces the need for pain killers.
- Meditation: Learning how to be mindful and to relax during a headache can help to reduce pain scores. Whether you prefer stretching, yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or journalling, learning how to stay calm during a headache can have profound benefits.
To natural ways of treating headaches,
For more stress management, learn about adaptogens here.