headache

Natural Headache Remedies that Really Work

Forget Ibuprofen! Put an end to painful migraines and headaches by making small lifestyle changes more powerful than a pill

Headache relief is one of the top five reasons people seek help from their doctors-in fact, a full 25 percent of those seeking treatment report that their headaches are so debilitating they actually affect their quality of life, according to a new meta-study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. But there’s no miracle pill to cure them; even worse, there are so many different types (cluster, tension, migraine-just to name a few) and causes that there likely never will be a universal cure.

Luckily, there are proven ways to get real relief. And while your instinct might be to go to head straight for your doctor’s office for a maximum strength pain pill, hold up a second: “I think there’s a subconscious perception that more is better, and that fancier, more expensive tests are better and that equals better care,” explained John Mafi, M.D., lead author of the meta-study. Mafi’s team found that people who tried things like more exercise, a healthier diet, and meditation often saw immediate results with no negative side effects. So before you ask for a barrage of tests or a prescription, try one of these 12 research-backed lifestyle changes for immediate pain relief.

Hit the Gym

Exercise may be the best cure for tension headaches (the most common kind of pounding), according to a study from Sweden. Women who reported chronic headaches were taught either an exercise program, relaxation techniques, or simply told how to manage stress in their lives. After 12 weeks, the exercisers saw the biggest reduction in their pain and, even better, reported greater life satisfaction overall. The researchers think it’s the combination of stress relief and feel-good endorphins. And you don’t have to be a gym rat-the study found that walking or lifting weights two or three times a week was enough to nix the pain.

Drink Water

Inadequate hydration may lead you to develop a headache.

In fact, studies have demonstrated that chronic dehydration is a common cause of tension headaches and migraines.

Thankfully, drinking water has been shown to relieve headache symptoms in most dehydrated individuals within 30 minutes to three hours.

What’s more, being dehydrated can impair concentration and cause irritability, making your symptoms seem even worse.

To help avoid dehydration headaches, focus on drinking enough water throughout the day and eating water-rich foods.

Spit Out Your Gum

That minty fresh breath may come with a pounding head. According to a 2013 study from Tel Aviv, two-thirds of headache sufferers who chewed gum daily and were then asked to quit saw complete cessation of their pain. Even more compelling, when they started chewing again, all reported that the headaches returned. All that chewing is putting stress on your jaw, according to Nathan Watemberg, M.D., the lead author of the study. “Every doctor knows that overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches,” he reported in the study, published in Pediatric Neurology. “I believe this is what’s happening when [people] chew gum excessively.”

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.

Meditate

Thinking happy thoughts may work after all: New research published in the journal Headache found that when people used a type of positive meditation called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), they experienced fewer head crushers per month. Plus, the MBSR patients reported headaches that were shorter in duration and less disabling, increased mindfulness, and a sense of empowerment when it came to dealing with the pain, meaning that patients felt more in control of their illness and confident that they could deal with the headaches themselves.

Watch the Seasons

Spring showers may bring May flowers, but they also have an uglier side effect. According to research by the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City, people with chronic headaches see a spike during season changes. Reasons for the correlation aren’t known, but scientists guess that allergies, temperature fluxuations, and even changes in the amount of sunlight may play a role. Instead of cursing the calendar, use this info to plan ahead for seasonal equinoxes, wrote Brian Gosberg, M.D. and lead researcher, in the paper. Take steps to eliminate other headache triggers by reducing stress and alcohol intake and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.

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.

Tweet About It

Tweeting about your migraine won’t make it go away, but the social support you get from sharing your pain online will make it easier to deal with, according to a new study from the University of Michigan. People who used this “tweetment” felt less alone in their pain and more understood, a key tool in dealing with chronic pain. If Twitter isn’t your jam, reaching out to others in any way-whether that’s via Facebook, message boards, Instagram, or just picking up the phone-can provide similar relief.

Even Out Stress Levels

Reducing stress is often one of the first things doctors advise. But the real issue may not be how much pressure is in your life, but rather how balanced that chaos is, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Neurology. Researchers found that people were five times more likely to experience a headache in the six hours after a stressful event ended than during it. “It is important for people to be aware of rising stress levels and attempt to relax during periods of stress rather than allowing a major build up to occur,” said study co-author Dawn Buse, Ph.D., an associate professor of clinical neurology, in a press release.

Try Oxygen Therapy

Breathing is one of thosee basic bodily functions you probably never think about, but you should pay attention to your breath-especially during a headache. A meta-analysis found that nearly 80 percent of people reported relief from headaches from simply breathing in more oxygen, compared to just 20 percent in a placebo group. While the researchers aren’t yet sure exactly why this helps, the effect was significant enough that they recommend it to everyone-especially as there are no side effects. Increasing your oxygen levels can be as simple as practicing relaxation breathing techniques, exercising to increase air flow and circulation, or even hitting the local O2 bar (or your doctor’s office) for a breath of air infused with a higher percentage of oxgyen.

Use Mind Control

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of psychological therapy that focuses on problem solving and changing patterns of behavior, has long been known to help with mood disorders and other sources of psychological pain, but a new study shows it also helps physical pain. Researchers in Ohio found that nearly 90 percent of patients trained in CBT experienced 50 percent fewer headaches every month. These impressive results led the authors to conclude that CBT should be offered as a primary remedy for chronic headaches rather than an add-on to medication, as it is currently viewed. To learn how to use CBT for headache relief, seek out a therapist who specializes in CBT or check out this overview designed by headache researcher Natasha Dean, Ph.D.

Treat Allergies

Allergies are a pain in the neck and head, as many migraines are triggered by allergies, say researchers from the University of Cincinnati. Instead of trying to endure pesky environmental allergies, the docs say it’s important to treat them. In fact, when migraine patients were given allergy shots, they experienced 52 percent fewer migraines. And while some allergies may be related to seasonal changes, the link to headaches was found in all types of allergies, including pet, dust, mold, and foods, making it important to stay on top of your symptoms year round.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

You can now add headaches to the list of conditions obesity is linked to. According to a 2013 study published in Neurology, the more overweight someone was the more likely they were to experience migraines, chronic headaches, and intermittent headaches. While the researchers were careful to note the reason for the connection is unknown, one theory is that the headaches are caused by inflammatory proteins secreted by excess fat. This link was especially true for people under 50 years old. “As obesity is a risk factor that can potentially be modified, and since some medications for migraine can lead to weight gain or loss, this is important information for people with migraines and their doctors,” said lead author B. Lee Peterlin, in a press release.

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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.

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.

Try an Herbal Remedy

Science is now backing up what our great-grandmothers knew: that many herbal remedies work as well as-sometimes even better than-current prescription meds. Feverfew, peppermint oil, ginger, magnesium, riboflavin, fish and olive oils, and eucalyptus have all shown impressive results in the research. One natural cure to be careful of, however, is caffeine. A study in the Journal of Headache Pain looked at more than 50,000 people and found that while a small amount of caffeine (about one cup of coffee) provided moderate headache relief, chronic caffeine consumption is one of the most common causes of headaches, and even intermittent use can cause a “rebound” pain after the caffeine wears off.

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.

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