You’ve had quite a day, stress and then some! Suddenly, you feel that old familiar and so unwelcomed headache or migraine pain coming on that won’t give you a break. You reach for the pain relievers to try and get rid of the throbbing head pain but wait; there are a few natural remedies/therapies that can offer some measure of relief. Just a word to the wise, always see a doctor if you’re experiencing frequent headaches accompanied by a few red flags (see below).
- Make sure to fuel your body every single day. Fasting, eating high-sugar foods, extreme dieting, and skipping/delaying meals can all trigger headaches or migraines. If you skip or delay a meal, nosh on healthy snacks like raisins, raw almonds, or raw veggies like broccoli and carrot sticks.
- Drink water! You must stay hydrated during the course of the day. Not drinking enough water, especially in hot weather, can cause you to become dehydrated and headachy. Water is the best hydration for your body. Steer clear of sugary beverages that contain artificial sweeteners because they can aggravate headaches in many folks.
- Consider an elimination diet. This is form of dieting is like a science experiment, where you try different foods to determine how each will impact you. Try going for a period of time without eating dairy products to see if your headache situation improves. If getting rid of dairy does not make your headaches stop, incorporate it back into your diet and then eliminate another food. If after eliminating a certain food makes your headaches go away, then you have pinpointed a possible trigger. Try to work with your doctor or nutritionist on an elimination diet.
- Work it out! Hitting the gym when your head hurts might sound crazy, but exercise actually releases the body’s feel-good endorphins (hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system) which are natural pain killers. Try to clock at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week–walking, biking, running, dancing–activities that get the heart pumping.
- Whittle down the stress in your life. Mindfulness exercises promote the internal relaxation of the nervous system that fosters healing and helps protect the body from a migraine attack. Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are mindfulness practices proven to be effective for reducing stress, as well as the frequency and intensity of migraines.
- Try getting a massage. Tension headache sufferers will oftentimes have increased muscle tension. Massage can increase blood flow in areas that might be ischemic (lacking blood flow) and therefore help relieve pain. Massage can help loosen chronically tight muscles and taut bands of tissue. This helps with muscle balance and neck alignment. Loosening the muscles that attach to the base of the skull can also relieve the tension headaches that travel up the back of the head and into the eye, and ‘vice-like’ constricting headaches. As far as migraines, the research is unclear as to why massage therapy can help sufferers. However, in multiple studies, massage therapy was shown to decrease the frequency and the duration of migraines.
- Take a screen break. Step away from all screens for a spell–computer, television, tablet, cell phones. If you must screen it, try a simple exercise to relieve digital eye strain which can trigger a headache as per the American Optometric Association. The 20-20-20 rule will take away the strain–Take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.
- Consider taking a B2 supplement. According to a few studies, folks taking high doses of vitamin B2 have decreased migraines. Taking 400 mg per day of the nutrient — also called riboflavin — had a positive effect on adult migraine patients, according to a 2017 review in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics. Speak with your doctor before taking any supplement.
- Get adequate sleep. Snoozing too much or not enough can bring on headaches or migraines, however, sticking to a regular sleep pattern will help keep them away. Don’t sleep in on weekends or on vacays (oh man!), instead, stick to a consistent bedtime and wake time.
- Check out magnesium. This supplement has also been shown to be a safe, effective remedy for headaches. Studies have shown that treatment with 600 mg of oral magnesium citrate per day helped reduce both the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. Word to the wise, magnesium can cause digestive issues in some folks, so discuss this therapy with your doctor.
- Steer clear of high histamine foods. Histamine is a chemical that our bodies produce naturally, and it’s also found in certain foods (wine, beer, cured meats, dried fruits, citrus fruits, aged cheeses, nuts, smoked fish and veggies like spinach, eggplant, avocados, and tomatoes). In situations involving “true” allergies, your body releases histamine, and that histamine, in turn, provokes the response we think of as an allergic reaction. An elimination diet can help determine whether histamine is to blame for migraine woes.
- Try ginger tea. Ginger root has compounds including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. One study involving 100 people with chronic migraines found that 250 mg. of ginger powder was as effective as the conventional headache medication sumatriptan at reducing migraine pain.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, there are certain red flag headaches that need to be evaluated by a doctor and these include:
- Thunderclap Headache: very severe headache that reaches its maximum severity immediately (within a couple of minutes). Thunderclap headaches require emergent medical evaluation.
2. New Headaches: especially if older than 50 years of age, or if there are medical conditions that make worrisome headaches more likely (e.g. cancer, blood clotting disorder).
3. Substantial Change in Headache Pattern: significant increase in headache frequency or significant change in headache characteristics
4. Constant Headache Always in the Same Location of the Head
5. Headache that never goes away
6. Systemic symptoms: including fever, chills, weight loss, night sweats
7. Headaches Initiated by Exertion: headache starting while coughing, sneezing, and/or straining.
8. Positional Headache: headache that substantially changes in intensity in association with changes in position – e.g. standing from lying or vice-versa.