A headache can often be uncomfortable. In some cases, such as migraines, they can be painful and even debilitating. Whether it’s frequent and chronic headaches or an occasional bout of acute pain, it can interfere with your life, making it difficult to do the things you want to do. Although there are prescription medications and OTC options to help you deal with migraines, try some of these holistic remedies before you reach for the pharmaceuticals.
While there can be any number of reasons for a headache it’s important that you track them in order to be more aware of what your triggers are. Keeping a headache or migraine journal, in combination with the holistic strategies below, may help reduce you reduce the frequency and/or severity of your headaches.
Sometimes your headache may be due to specific foods or sensitivity to ingredients. It could even be due to a deficiency of certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. If any of these appear to be contributing to your headaches you’ll want to work with a doctor or nutrition professional who can help you identify some of these triggers and support you through the necessary changes to your diet. Beyond food-based changes, there are a number of other strategies that you can use to help you with your headaches:
Many people who experience headaches may be chronically dehydrated. According to the literature, water-deprivation headache was resolved in as little as 30 minutes by drinking an average of 2 cups of water. In addition to headaches, dehydration can cause a number of other symptoms such as dizziness, rapid heartbeat, dry skin, and fatigue. Proper hydration can help relieve these symptoms as well as boosting circulation in order to help with detoxification. In addition to drinking more water, choose hydrating foods for a healthy boost to your diet.
One very common cause of chronic headaches is stress. Whether your stress is caused by work, relationship issues, anxiety, or the habit of overanalyzing everything, stress can be a significant factor when it comes to headaches. Managing your stress means looking at those factors that are, well, giving you a headache, and finding ways to either avoid them or reduce their impact on your life. Some top tips for reducing your stress include:
- Spending time with friends and family
- Getting enough rest (sleep deprivation can be a significant factor in stress)
- Participate in some form of regular exercise
- Find a fun activity that you enjoy such as art, gardening, or music
Some studies found that meditation was helpful in reducing both pain and tension. The participants in the study were new to meditation and were only given one 20-minute guided session to learn from.
Massage is helpful for relaxing the muscles and can improve the circulation of both blood and lymphatic fluid. According to one study in the Journal of Headache Pain, massage and physiotherapy (which includes massage plus heat and exercise treatment) were effective options for treatment.
In combination with massage, it may be helpful to apply either hot or cold compresses to help further stimulate blood flow and reduce the headache. Cold compresses are generally applied to the forehead and temples while hot compresses are often applied to the back of the neck or head. People tend to respond differently to either hot or cold so you’ll need to experiment with both to see which works best for you.
Some people also find applying weight over the eyes or to the forehead can be helpful and like to use a rolled up towel or an eye-pillow similar to those used in yoga practice.
This ancient Chinese therapy uses small needles to stimulate certain points or meridians on the body and in doing so balance your Qi or energy. The use of acupuncture has been found to trigger the body so that it produces endorphins, brain chemicals which help reduce pain. One study, in particular, found acupuncture to be similar in effectiveness to preventative pharmacological therapies. Acupuncture can be beneficial for other pain issues as well.
In addition to acupuncture, there’s always the use of self-administered acupressure. Acupressure doesn’t use needles but still applies pressure to certain areas to help relieve the pain of a headache. There are three acupressure points that are most supportive. GB 20 is the pressure point at the base of the skull, LI 4 is the web in between the thumb and forefinger, and there are four points on the feet.
Herbal therapy can be very powerful and there are a number of herbs that are specifically beneficial for headaches. Most people tend to use herbal teas for their headaches. These can be made by adding 1 teaspoon of dry herb to 8 ounces of boiling water and letting it steep for 4-5 minutes. Strain and serve, if needed you can add a little honey or stevia as a sweetener.
Essential oils have been used for various health issues for thousands of years. Two, in particular, seem to be very helpful for dealing with headaches.
Lavender essential oil is often used for its calming effect. In one study participants used the lavender essential oil by inhaling it every 15 minutes for two hours. Results showed that a majority of the test subjects responded positively to inhaling the lavender. Another study looked at using lavender essential oil proactively as a preventative. In that study, both the number and the intensity of the migraines were reduced.
The other beneficial essential oil is peppermint. A cooling, soothing oil, it has been shown to help reduce the pain and sensitivity that often comes with headaches. Peppermint oil also appears to help improve blood flow to the forehead when applied there.
When using essential oils it’s important to note that they are so powerful that they should not be taken internally. Applying essential oils directly to the area, either neat or diluted, or inhaling them using a diffuser or inhaler is all you need. Because essential oils are so potent it may be necessary to dilute with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil, or jojoba oil.
Dilution Chart (based on 1 tsp. of carrier oil)
1% – 1 drop (best for children and the elderly)
2% – 2 drops
3 % – 3 drops (for specific issues, as directed)
10 % – 10 drops
- Blau, JN, et al. Water-deprivation headache: a new headache with two variants. Headache. 2004 Jan;44(1):79-83.
- Chaibi, A and Russel, MB. Manual therapies for primary chronic headaches: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Headache Pain. 2014 Oct 2;15:67.
- DaSilva, AN. Acupuncture for migraine prevention. Headache.2015 Mar;55(3):470-3.
- Göbel H, et al. Essential plant oils and headache mechanisms. Phytomedicine. 1995 Oct;2(2):93-102
- Rafie, S, et al. Effect of lavender essential oil as prophylactic therapy for migraine: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of Herbal Medicine. Volume 6, Issue 1. March 2016. Pages 18-23.
- Sasannejad P, et al.Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur Neurol. 2012;67(5):288-91
- Tonelli, ME and Wachholtz, AB. Meditation-based treatment yielding immediate relief for meditation-naïve migraineurs. Pain Manag Nurs. 2014 Mar;15(1):36-40.
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