Wondering how to treat headaches without drugs? Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are fine in emergencies, but they can damage healthy gut bacteria and lead to chronic inflammation in the long run.
Natural headache remedies, on the other hand, can kick throbbing head pain to the curb without producing harsh side effects.
Here are seven of the top natural headache remedies:
For some people, headaches are so common that they become a “normal” part of life, but that doesn’t have to be your fate.
Before we cover the top natural treatments, let’s take a closer look at the different types of headaches, including common migraine triggers, then we’ll wrap up with how to prevent headaches altogether by eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
Let’s dive in!
Is that a tension headache or a migraine? Tension headaches are the most common, while migraines are notorious for their long duration. Technically, there are over 150 different types of headaches, but for simplicity’s sake, here are the four most common:
But what causes headaches in some people while others get to waltz around headache-free?
Headaches can be caused by lifestyle factors like stress, nutritional deficiencies, or exposure to irritants.
Here are some of the things that can trigger headaches:
When you have a headache, it’s your body telling you that something’s wrong—you either need more nutrients or fewer toxins. Maybe you should be drinking water, or having fewer cups of coffee? Whatever the case, everything you put in your body plays a role in treating headaches.
Are you low on essential brain food? Or maybe the tension in your head is a product of the stress in your mind? Then again, relieving headaches may be as simple as getting a good stretch.
Here are the top seven natural remedies for headaches:
Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are essential for cellular energy production and waste removal. Without them, you can experience stress, fatigue, and muscle cramps. But worst of all, you can get brain-splitting headaches. (2)
Magnesium is one of the most effective natural headache remedies, especially for migraines. As it turns out, magnesium deficiency is common among migraine sufferers, and several studies suggest that magnesium supplements may reduce the frequency of severe headaches. (3)
With that said, magnesium and potassium must be present in the right ratios. So, if you’re supplementing with magnesium make sure to also take a well-balanced electrolyte mix. (4)
Foods that are high in electrolytes include celery, broccoli, cucumber, and leafy greens.
A natural headache remedy you can smell? Yes!
Essential oils are some of the best home remedies for treating headaches. By rubbing them into the forehead, temples, and the back of the neck, you can ease tensions and thwart migraine attacks.
Lavender essential oil is best known for its anti-anxiety effects, but this is only one of its many benefits. A 2012 study found that inhaling lavender for just 15 minutes can reduce headache symptoms 73.2 percent of the time. (5)
Peppermint oil has a cooling effect, and when rubbed into the skin it can increase blood flow. One study found that topical application of peppermint, eucalyptus oil, and ethanol to the forehead and temples can significantly reduce headaches. (6)
CBD (cannabidiol) is one of the main active compounds in hemp and cannabis plants, and it has a long list of potential health benefits. CBD has no psychoactive effects and cannot get you “high.” However, it may be able to decrease pain, calm anxiety, and reduce headaches thanks to its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.
According to a 2018 report published in the medical journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, researchers found higher rates of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency in migraine patients.
Emerging research indicates that“Cannabinoids–due to their anticonvulsive, analgesic, antiemetic, and anti-inflammatory effects–present a promising class of compounds for both acute and prophylactic treatment of migraine pain.”
B vitamins are a group of eight water-soluble vitamins that are critical to immunity, brain health, and cardiovascular function. They include biotin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, folate, thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin. Unfortunately, millions of Americans are low on B vitamins, and deficiencies can lead to fatigue, depression, and headaches.
Studies show that riboflavin may reduce the occurrence and severity of migraines. (8)
On a similar note, niacin is shown to expand the blood vessels, treat vascular headaches, and prevent migraine attacks. (9)
Two herbs, butterbur and feverfew, may be effective treatments for migraine headaches, according to recent studies.
Butterbur has anti-inflammatory properties and inhibits the chemical that triggers headaches. It’s most effective with migraines. (10)
Feverfew is another herb that can reduce the frequency of migraines as well as treat associated symptoms like nausea, vomiting, pain, and sensitivity to light and noise. (11)
Sometimes built-up tension in the neck, back, and shoulders is the real cause of headaches. Sitting hunched over in front of a computer all day can take its toll, and the solution may be as simple as stretching and moving.
Yoga stretches the body and oxygenates the cells. At the same time, inverted poses like Downward Dog increase blood flow to the brain and decompress the spine. A 2014 study found that yoga can be an effective adjunct therapy to reduce migraines. (12)
To top it all off, a recent study found that a 60-minute yoga session can boost GABA levels in the brain by 27 percent to reduce anxiety and promote feelings of well-being. (13)
Reflexology, acupuncture, and Tai Chi are Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices that go back thousands of years. Recent research demonstrates that they may be effective treatments for a variety of conditions, including headaches.
Reflexology is a form of massage that uses pressure points to achieve certain effects in the body. A 2017 study found that reflexology and segmental massage are safe alternatives to pharmacological drugs for patients suffering a migraine attack. (14)
Acupuncture is a 2,500-year-old practice that may treat a variety of diseases. During therapy, long, thin needles are inserted into specific parts of the patient’s body. One recent study found that roughly 50 percent of patients suffering from chronic headaches experienced a significant reduction in symptoms. (15)
Tai Chi is a traditional low-impact, meditative exercise. In a recent randomized control study, researchers found that a 15-week intervention program was effective at reducing headache impact and perceived pain. (16)
The following nutrient-dense foods can hydrate the cells, support the microbiome, reduce inflammation, and prevent headaches:
The following foods can make headaches worse by promoting inflammation:
By eating right, exercising, improving your posture, and using these natural remedies, you can treat chronic headaches without the intestinal distress of pharmacological drugs. Your gut health will thank you for it, and with enough consistency you may even be able to prevent migraines altogether.
Reference 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2708042
Reference 2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4836999/
Reference 4: https://www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.31.1_supplement.1027.1
Reference 5: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22517298
Reference 6: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23196150
Reference 7: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928495/
Reference 8: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15257686
Reference 9: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12934790
Reference 10: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15623680
Reference 11: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11276299
Reference 12: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097897/
Reference 13: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17532734
Reference 14: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29960294
Reference 15: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16643558
Reference 16: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1810369/