8 Natural Headache Remedies
How to Stop Headaches Without Taking Medicine
If you’re suffering from migraines, which internist Dr. Andrea Ruman describes as “severe, recurring, intense, throbbing pain on one side of the head that can be very debilitating” and last 4 to 72 hours, it’s best to consult with your primary care physician. However, common headaches are a great candidate for natural remedies.
These headaches range from a dull, aching sensation to a sharp, throbbing pain, located on either side or radiating to both sides of the head. They’re often caused by stress, sleep deprivation (or oversleeping), caffeine withdrawal, alcohol, poor posture, dehydration, skipping meals, and dietary influences. More so than headaches caused by preexisting health conditions or migraines, common headaches are more easily managed through natural remedies, such as these.
“Some food additives, nitrates and food colorings are common headache triggers,” explains registered nutritionist and health coach Princess Carey. “Additives often increase blood flow to the brain causing headaches.”
She recommends avoiding substitute or artificial sweeteners, canned, processed or smoked foods--especially processed meats, sodium packed foods and foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG). Also steer clear of foods such as chocolate and cheese, which contain headache trigger phenylethylamine, and tyramine found in some nuts, meats and cheeses. Instead, opt for magnesium-rich choices like spinach and sweet potatoes, and foods contained essential fatty acids such as olives, beans, fish and flaxseed oil, and look into adding supplements containing vitamin B2 and CoQ10 to your vitamin routine and making sure you get your daily intake of vitamin D (2000 mg/day).
Dehydration is one of the most common headache causes that often gets overlooked. If you’re not thirsty, it doesn’t mean dehydration isn’t causing your pounding head--oftentimes thirst isn’t even a primary symptom of being low on your H2O needs. If you think that dehydration may be causing your headache, alternate glasses of water with an electrolyte-rich sports drink such as Gatorade until you feel an improvement; then make sure you’re getting around 64 to 72 oz. of water a day to ward off any future water-related aches.
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory, meaning sipping on a cup of ginger tea will reduce the inflammation that is leading to your headache. Even better? It’s fast acting. Add crushed fresh ginger root to boiling water for a few minutes and then sip like you would regular tea. Ginger tea is also a great remedy for hangovers.
Possessing similar benefits as ginger, feverfew is an herb made from drying the leaves of a small flowering feverfew plant. The herb is used commonly in supplements for its anti-inflammatory benefits. The best way to take feverfew if you feel a headache coming in is in an over-the-counter supplement that also contains ginger. The good thing is that there are very few side effects to feverfew; however, if you are pregnant you should not take this supplement as it may cause uterine contractions.
Hot & Cold Compresses
If you’re in a pinch, apply a warm compress to the back of your neck toward the base of your head to help with headaches brought on by poor posture. Go for a cold compress at the temples, however, if you are experiencing a throbbing headache. The cold will help to lower inflammation by reducing the temperature of the blood that is being pumped through the lining of the brain, meaning a bit of the throbbing will be reduced.
Take a Breather
If you are in a position where you can, take a break from whatever you are doing and try to rest for 20 minutes. You don’t have to nap, just quieting your mind and relaxing the muscles in your body can be a huge step toward reducing headache tension and pain. Taking the moment to simply relax will help to interrupt the pain cycle and likely relieve or at least lessen the headache.
Unfortunately, most of the time headaches attack in environments that aren’t exactly conducive to adult naptime. Instead, try to take a few moments to perform breathing exercises like those found here to help get you centered and hopefully alleviate some of the tension in your head and body.
Reduce Caffeine Intake
If your go-to headache relief is to pop ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen, be sure not to double up on the caffeine afterward. Most pain relief medications already have caffeine in them as a way to speed up their metabolism and get them working faster in your blood. So why not drink more caffeine after taking a pain-killer to speed it up? It seems logical, but unfortunately that’s not how the body responds to caffeine. If you take in too much your body is going to respond with an even more intense headache than you were initially trying to treat.
Even if you’re not taking pain medication, be mindful of how much caffeine you’re drinking daily as simply drinking too much can bring on pounding headaches and light sensitivity.
Find Your Headache Triggers
The best way to treat your headache effectively is to figure out what is actually causing it. Clinical pharmacist Stacey McCoy recommends keeping what she calls “A Headache Diary,” and jotting down the answers to the following questions:
1. Usual time of onset
2. What you were doing when it started?
3. How long the headache lasted?
4. Time of onset until the headache peaked
5. How often you're having headaches?
6. Where the headache is located?
7. Is there nausea or vomiting associated with the headache?
8. Are there any food triggers?
9. How many hours of sleep are you getting?
10. Which medications you're using to treat your headache and the amount of medication you're using
Answering these questions will help you establish a pattern of behavior in relation to the headache. Are you getting the same dull headache an hour after indulging in your favorite Thai food or after a late night out? Chances are those lifestyle choices are bringing on the headaches, and at least this way you’ll be able to track down the culprit, whatever it may be.
References: mayoclinic.com/health/headache/MY00407; nccam.nih.gov/health/feverfew; mayoclinic.com/health/dehydration/DS00561/DSECTION=symptoms
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