25 Aug Getting Ahead of Headaches: Natural Remedies and Preventative Measures
Headaches are a common condition that many people deal with on a daily basis. Ranging from uncomfortable to downright unbearable, they can disrupt your day-to-day life.
Several types of headaches exist, with tension headaches being the most common. Cluster headaches are painful and happen in groups or “clusters,” while migraines are a moderate-to-severe type of headache.
Although many medications are targeted at relieving headache symptoms, a number of effective, natural treatments also exist.
Inadequate hydration may lead you to develop a headache, and chronic dehydration is a common cause of tension headaches and migraines.
Being dehydrated can impair concentration and cause irritability, making headache symptoms seem even worse. To help avoid dehydration headaches, focus on drinking enough water throughout the day and eating water-rich foods.
Thankfully, drinking water has been shown to relieve headache symptoms in most dehydrated individuals within 30 minutes to three hours.
Take Some Magnesium
Magnesium is an important mineral necessary for countless functions in the body, including blood sugar control and nerve transmission. Magnesium 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.
Protip: Taking magnesium supplements can cause digestive side effects like diarrhea in some people, so it’s best to start with a smaller dose when treating headache symptoms.
Limit Alcohol Intake
While having an alcoholic drink may not cause a headache in most people, studies have shown that alcohol can trigger migraines in about one-third of those who experience frequent headaches.
Alcohol has also been shown to cause tension and cluster headaches in many people.
It’s a vasodilator, meaning it widens blood vessels and allows blood to flow more freely.
Vasodilation may cause headaches in some people. In fact, headaches are a common side effect of vasodilators like blood pressure medications.
Additionally, alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing the body to lose fluid and electrolytes through frequent urination. This fluid loss can lead to dehydration, which can cause or worsen headaches.
Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to your health in many ways, and may even cause headaches in some people.
For example, one study compared headache frequency and severity in those who got less than six hours of sleep per night and those who slept longer. It found that those who got less sleep had more frequent and severe headaches.
However, getting too much sleep has also been shown to trigger headaches, making getting the right amount of rest important for those looking for natural headache prevention.
For maximum benefits, aim for the “sweet spot” of seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Avoid Foods High in Histamine
Histamine is a chemical found naturally in the body that plays a role in the immune, digestive and nervous systems.
It’s also found in certain foods like aged cheeses, fermented food, beer, wine, smoked fish and cured meats.
Studies suggest consuming histamine may cause migraines in those who are sensitive to it.
Some people are not able to excrete histamine properly because they have impaired function of the enzymes responsible for breaking it down.
Cutting histamine-rich foods from the diet may be a useful strategy for people who get frequent headaches.
Use Essential Oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids that contain aromatic compounds from a variety of plants.
They have many therapeutic benefits and are most often used topically, though some can be ingested.
Peppermint and lavender essential oils are especially helpful when you have a headache.
Applying peppermint essential oil to the temples has been shown to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches.
Meanwhile, lavender oil is highly effective at reducing migraine pain and associated symptoms when applied to the upper lip and inhaled.
Try a B-Complex Vitamin
B vitamins are a group of water-soluble micronutrients that play many important roles in the body. For example, they contribute to neurotransmitter synthesis and help turn food into energy.
Some B vitamins may have a protective effect against headaches.
Several studies have shown that the B vitamin supplements riboflavin (B2), folate, B12 and pyridoxine (B6) may reduce headache symptoms.
B-complex vitamins contain all eight of the B vitamins and are a safe, cost-effective way to naturally treat headache symptoms.
B vitamins are considered safe to take on a regular basis, as they are water soluble and any excess will be flushed out through the urine.
Soothe Pain with a Cold Compress
Using a cold compress may help reduce your headache symptoms.
Applying cold or frozen compresses to the neck or head area decreases inflammation, slows nerve conduction and constricts blood vessels, all of which help reduce headache pain.
In one study in 28 women, applying a cold gel pack to the head significantly reduced migraine pain.
To make a cold compress, fill a waterproof bag with ice and wrap it in a soft towel. Apply the compress to the back of the neck, head or temples for headache relief.
Try an Elimination Diet
Studies suggest that food intolerances can trigger headaches in some people.
To discover if a certain food is causing frequent headaches, try an elimination diet that removes the foods most related to your headache symptoms.
Aged cheese, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits and coffee are among the most commonly reported food triggers in people with migraines.
In one small study, a 12-week elimination diet decreased the number of migraine headaches people experienced. These effects started at the four-week mark.
Drink Caffeinated Tea or Coffee
Sipping on beverages that contain caffeine, such as tea or coffee, may provide relief when you are experiencing a headache.
Caffeine improves mood, increases alertness and constricts blood vessels, all of which can have a positive effect on headache symptoms.
It also helps increase the effectiveness of common medications used to treat headaches, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
However, caffeine withdrawal has also been shown to cause headaches if a person regularly consumes large amounts of caffeine and suddenly stops.
Therefore, people who get frequent headaches should be mindful of their caffeine intake.
Relax with Yoga
Practicing yoga is an excellent way to relieve stress, increase flexibility, decrease pain and improve your overall quality of life.
Taking up yoga may even help reduce the intensity and frequency of your headaches.
One study investigated the effects of yoga therapy on 60 people with chronic migraines. Headache frequency and intensity were reduced more in those receiving both yoga therapy and conventional care, compared to those receiving conventional care alone.
Another study found that people who practiced yoga for three months had a significant reduction in headache frequency, severity and associated symptoms, compared to those who did not practice yoga.
Avoid Strong Smells
Strong odors like those from perfumes and cleaning products can cause certain individuals to develop headaches.
A study that involved 400 people who experienced either migraine or tension headaches found that strong odors, especially perfumes, often triggered headaches.
This hypersensitivity to odors is called osmophobia and common in those with chronic migraines.
If you think you may be sensitive to smells, avoiding perfumes, cigarette smoke and strongly scented foods may help decrease your chance of getting a migraine.
Avoid Nitrates and Nitrites
Nitrates and nitrites are common food preservatives added to items like hot dogs, sausages and bacon to keep them fresh by preventing bacterial growth.
Foods containing them have been shown to trigger headaches in some people.
Nitrites may trigger headaches by causing the expansion of blood vessels.
In order to minimize your exposure to nitrites, limit the amount of processed meats in your diet and choose nitrate-free products whenever possible.
Sip Some Ginger Tea
Ginger root contains many beneficial compounds, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances.
One study in 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.
What’s more, ginger helps reduce nausea and vomiting, common symptoms associated with severe headaches.
You can take ginger powder in capsule form or make a powerful tea with fresh ginger root.
Get Some Exercise
One of the simplest ways to reduce headache frequency and severity is to engage in physical activity.
For example, one study in 91 people found 40 minutes of indoor cycling three times per week was more effective than relaxation techniques at reducing headache frequency.
Another large study including more than 92,000 people showed that a low level of physical activity was clearly associated with an increased risk of headaches.
There are many ways to increase your activity level, but one of the easiest methods is to simply increase the amount of steps you take throughout the day.
The Bottom Line
Many people are negatively impacted by frequent headaches, making it important to find natural and effective treatment options.
Yoga, supplements, essential oils and dietary modifications are all natural, safe and effective ways to reduce headache symptoms.
While traditional methods like medications are often necessary, there are many natural and effective ways to prevent and treat headaches if you’re looking for a more holistic approach.