Although the common headache may not be symptomatic of an underlying disease, that dull or pounding pain can certainly ruin your day. Headaches can drain your energy, cause irritability, and may even make you nauseous or light sensitive.
Prescription and over-the-counter remedies, most notably non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), should be taken with caution because acetaminophen and ibuprofen can build up in the liver and kidneys, causing damage to the organs that filter waste from the body. The following remedies, on the other hand, are a gentle alternative that can work to reduce acute inflammation and restore long-term balance and harmony.
Here are 10 little-known solutions for the common headache:
Inhaling essential oils can reduce headache symptoms. In a 2012 study, 47 migraine sufferers experienced far greater relief than the control group when they inhaled lavender oil.Eucalyptus and saro oils are high in 1,8 cineole, a compound that has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Diffused in the air, these aromas can help to reduce tension headaches.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine finds that acupuncture may reduce the number of tension and migraine headaches from which people suffer. A primary treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture uses the insertion of thin needles at key points along the body’s meridian pathways to resolve an imbalance between the yin and yang forces. Rather than giving one drug or medical treatment to all headache sufferers across the board, the TCM physician focuses on individual diagnosis and uses acupuncture to restore each person’s unique systemic balance.
In addition to experimenting to see if certain foods may be triggering your headaches, you should consider the role diet plays in curbing the inflammation caused by stress hormones like cortisol. Inflammation is associated with a number of serious health problems, including headaches, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants can reduce inflammation and decrease the frequency and severity of headaches. What’s on the short list?
- Extra virgin olive oil
On the other hand, some foods and additives are known to aggravate headaches, such as:
- Aged cheeses and other foods containing tyramine
- Nitrates and nitrites
- Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
Feverfew and butterbur are two herbs that are scientifically proven to be effective in treating headaches. Butterbur’s active compound, petasin, has active anti-inflammatory and muscle spasm soothing properties. Feverfew contains parthenolide, a compound that inhibits the inflammatory signaling process. Both reduce migraine symptoms and may be effective against tension headaches as well.
Caffeine is both a headache trigger and a headache remedy, depending on how you use it. In fact, one of the main components of headache medications such as Excedrin and Midol is caffeine. Regular coffee drinkers may find that stopping their daily use of caffeine will reduce the number of migraine headaches they get—which is why many health practitioners advise their patients to avoid coffee, tea, and even chocolate. But here’s the paradox: if you don’t ingest caffeine on a regular basis, a cup of coffee can actually help to cure your headache.
One cause of headaches is tightness in the muscles of the neck and base of the skull. In particular, the suboccipital group, which works to keep your head balanced on top of your spine, can become strained. Releasing the tension in these muscles through massage is a pleasurable way to sooth a tension headache.
Heat and Cold
Applying ice or heat is a quick remedy for reducing headache symptoms—but how do you know which one to use? The answer isn’t clear cut, according to the National Headache Foundation’s magazine Headwise. The article points out that while studies have proven the benefits of ice to reduce inflammation, others swear by the moist heat of a hot facecloth. If you suffer from migraines or tension headaches, the best thing to do is test out both remedies for yourself.
Moderate aerobic exercise has been proven effective in reducing migraine headaches despite the fact that exercise can be a trigger for some people. The key to unlocking the health benefits of aerobic exercise is to follow a regular program. Regular exercise balances your hormones and brain chemistry, whereas “binge” exercising can lead to overexertion, muscle tension, and headaches. For tension headache sufferers, a weight-training regime may do the trick. A recent Swedish study found that working out with handheld weights was more effective than relaxation or time-management in reducing headache symptoms.
This ancient spiritual practice has at least two elements that benefit headache sufferers. First, breath work, or pranayama, is a relaxation technique that is proven to reduce stress, which can in turn reduce headache symptoms. Another benefit of yoga is its emphasis on stretching poses. Yoga focuses on bringing the spine into proper alignment, which will relieve tension in the suboccipital muscles and reduce tension.
Mindful meditation works to alter perception and bodily function by focusing the mind. In this way, it is a relaxation technique similar to breath work, but mindful meditation adds another element. When practiced correctly, a person observes what is happening in the moment and accepts events without judgment. This process of simply being, not doing, allows you to let go of the desire to control your external environment and promotes a sense of calm.
Taking proper care of your entire body—from stretching to reducing stress to eating a diet of whole foods—is the best approach to living a healthy life. It is also, not coincidentally, a solid approach to headache management.
The articles on this website are not to be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.