Headaches are a Pain
Natural Ways to get Relief
Headaches are one of the most common health problems, afflicting everyone at some point. The sharp pain, throbbing or pounding sensations may appear gradually or suddenly. Headaches can last several hours or for the unlucky ones, several days. Many take the closest painkilling pharmaceutical and pray for relief. Unfortunately, these drugs are harsh and repeated use can cause severe problems. Below are some supplement and lifestyle suggestions that may help prevent and relieve headache pain.
There are two main types of headaches; primary and secondary. Primary headaches are benign, chronic, not life threatening and are not associated with a disease or other medical condition. They fall into three main types: stress or tension-type, migraine and cluster headaches, and account for more than 90% of all headaches. These headaches are often triggered by lifestyle choices.
Sleeping too much or not enough
Excessive drinking (particularly red wine)
Neck or back strain caused by poor posture.
Eye strain, often caused by staring at digital screens.
Headaches can also be triggered by certain environmental factors such as:
Exposure to certain allergens
Secondary headaches are caused by underlying medical or neurological conditions such as infections of the head and neck, including pharyngitis, sinusitis, and meningitis, rebound headaches (caused by overuse of pain medication) or headaches that occur because of a head injury, trauma, or serious conditions such as a tumour.
Other causes of secondary headaches also include:
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Several factors contribute to headaches, including family history and age. Headaches are often caused by muscle tension, vascular problems, or both. Women tend to have more headaches than men due to hormonal fluctuations during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Higher estrogen levels during youth may help reduce headaches, while lower estrogen levels after menopause may make it worse. Estrogen levels have a strong impact on the frequency and severity of headaches.
Most headaches can be relieved at least in part with pharmaceutical pain medications. However, they have many side effects and their effectiveness is reduced through repeated use. In essence, your body becomes used to them, they become less effective and the risk of harm from side effects increases.
Essential oil and headache: 4 topical oils that are worth a try!!
Peppermint essential oil generates a lasting cooling effect on the skin and helps reduce muscle contractions and stimulates blood circulation when applied topically.
Lavender essential oil promotes relaxation and relieves tension and stress. Research has shown that the use of lavender oil is a safe and effective treatment for migraine headaches.
Rosemary oil has powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Studies found that this oil can relieve pain and improve circulation, which would help in the management of headaches.
If headaches are caused by sinus problems, eucalyptus oil can become your new best friend. This oil can open nasal passages, clear sinuses, and may help relieve the sinus tension that causes the headaches.
The simple way to use essential oils for migraines and headaches is to massage it directly into your temples or the area that hurts. I recommend mixing 4 drops of essential oil with 1 tablespoon of carrier oil. You should massage for around 5 minutes.
This simple herb comes from the daisy family. Multiple studies on feverfew found some degree of benefit in the prevention of headaches and migraines. A recent, well-designed trial with 170 patients lasted for 16 weeks. Those taking feverfew had significantly fewer migraines. It is usually taken daily to prevent, rather than treat, migraines. If you take feverfew long-term, know that there have been some reports of rebound headaches upon discontinuing. To avoid this, slowly reduce the dose over time. Ensure that if you are allergic to daisies that you avoid feverfew.
Also a member of the daisy family, butterbur has traditionally been used to treat spasms in the respiratory and digestive tract. The leaves and root crowns contain a smooth muscle relaxant that may prevent swelling and relieve pressure on blood vessels. Three clinical trials (including one in children and teens) have shown when taken as a preventative, butterbur safely and effectively reduces the number of migraines after 4 weeks.
Your body produces 5-Hydroxytryptophan from the amino acid tryptophan. It is used to make the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin. 5-HTP may prevent and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. In multiple studies, people were given 5-HTP or pharmaceutical drugs. After four and six months, 5-HTP was found to be as effective in reducing migraine severity and duration. Try taking a minimum of 600mg each day in divided doses.
Research shows that medically-supervised treatment with intravenous magnesium helps break migraine and cluster headaches (rare, severe and primarily afflicting men), particularly in those with low levels of this essential mineral. Other trials also have shown that oral magnesium may help reduce the severity of and in some cases prevent headaches. Magnesium deficiency is particularly common in women with menstrual migraines. Try taking a minimum of 600mg a day, making sure you use well-absorbed and bioavailable forms such as a combination of magnesium ascorbate and magnesium citrate.
The research on riboflavin (vitamin B2) is quite promising. Preliminary trials found 400mg a day for six months cut migraine headache frequency in half and significantly decreased medication use. Another study showed that three months’ use led to a 50% improvement in over half of participants. Riboflavin is water soluble, which means it is not stored in the body. You must replenish the vitamin every day to maintain optimal levels.
Several studies have found that acupuncture can offer an alternative treatment to help patients who suffer from tension and migraine headache.
Hands-on approach. Massage, chiropractic, physical therapy, and the application of hot and cold compresses are very helpful in the management of primary headache.
Headaches can often be relieved with simple lifestyle modifications such as:
Reducing stress: True, stress is a fact of life. The trick is finding ways to manage it, because if left unmanaged, it causes serious health problems, including insomnia. Management tools include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Massage and gentle neck stretches
Exercise: Increasing exercise daily increases blood flow and helps prevent headaches, decreases stress levels and helps improve sleep. Yoga is a wonderful exercise. It improves flexibility and balance enabling you to get in touch with your body and mind.
Healthier eating and drinking: Pay attention to what you eat and drink and try to reduce the amount of coffee, chocolate, alcohol, processed foods, and refined sugar that you ingest. Also, try to drink plain water throughout the day so you avoid dehydration.
Headaches are a pain. While we may not be able to eliminate them or stress from our lives, we can hopefully minimize their frequency and severity without painkillers. Keeping it natural prevents the potentially nasty digestive, cardiovascular and neurological side effects.
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.