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If you have a headache, I’m sorry to hear. Headaches certainly can be annoying and unpleasant. If you want a break from or alternative to medication, you can try some of these natural headache remedies to hopefully find the relief you crave.
I get headaches pretty regularly, whether from neck and shoulder tension or not getting enough sleep some days. So, I often employ various natural headache remedies to deal with them. Which remedy works best on any given headache varies, so I alternate or combine techniques accordingly.
Typically, I try to avoid over-the-counter painkillers whenever possible to avoid any possible side effects. On the rare occasions where my headache was severe enough to induce me to try a painkiller, it unfortunately didn’t work. Thus, I usually have little desire to try them again.
Because of the above, I stick to natural headache remedies whenever possible. Most times, they sufficiently alleviate or lessen my headache pain to allow me to continue on with my day or to sleep at night.
If you have similar experiences with headaches and your preference for alternative treatments, then you should try this list of natural headache remedies to see which work best for you.
Different Kinds of Headaches
Per certain medical classifications, headaches are either of the primary or secondary type. Secondary headaches are headaches that are symptoms of a primary medical condition (e.g. a brain tumor or injury), whereas primary headaches are the actual or main condition.
Specialists have identified over a hundred types of headaches. The headache types that sources usually identify as the most common among people are migraine, tension-type, and cluster headaches.
Migraine headaches can be hereditary, meaning children of migraine sufferers are more likely to also experience migraines.
This type of headache is characterized by intense, throbbing head pain. Migraine sufferers can experience sensitivity to light, sounds, and activity. Thus, nausea or vomiting can accompany migraines.
Unfortunately, researchers still don’t know the exact cause of migraines, but theorize that the brain activates certain nerves that report pain back to the brain.
Specialists believe tension-type headaches stem from muscle tenderness or tension around the face, neck, or scalp. Stress may also cause this tension.
Most people describe a tension-type headache as feeling like “a tight band” is around their head. That is, feeling intense tightness or pressure around the front, back, and/or sides of the head.
Researches have not identified an exact cause of tension-type headaches yet.
These headaches are usually characterized by intense pain behind one eye. Other symptoms can include sweating, eyes tearing up, a droopy eyelid, and runny nose.
Like the other headache types, specialists don’t know the exact cause of cluster headaches, but believe a sudden release of histamine or serotonin in the body may be to blame. The body can release these substances in response to triggers like smoking, alcohol, bright light, or exercise.
Sinus headaches are frequently listed by certain sources as a common type of headaches, but specialists consider “true” sinus headaches to be quite rare.
The International Classification of Headache Disorders has deemed the term “sinus headache” outmoded and has instead classified these types of headaches as ones caused by nasal disorders or sinuses. What’s normally attributed to “sinus headaches” is usually rhinosinusitis, which is a bacterial or viral infection of the sinuses.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, most people diagnosed as having “sinus headaches” are actually misdiagnosed. Instead, they actually suffer from migraine headaches. Thus, even though people have headaches from rhinosinusitis or another bacterial infection in their sinuses, the headache they are experiencing is likely a migraine.
6 Practical, Natural Headache Remedies to Try
1. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil is one of the most popular natural headache remedies. Researchers believe menthol, a substance in peppermint, is primarily responsible for peppermint’s effects against headaches and pain.
This study showed that a 10% menthol solution applied topically to the forehead and temples effectively treated participants with migraine headaches, along with associated symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity.
Another study showed that a 10% peppermint oil solution was equally effective as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) in alleviating tension-type headaches. In this study, peppermint oil was also applied to the forehead and temples. Participants then experienced significantly less headache pain after 15 minutes, which only continued to decrease over the next hour.
Indeed, whenever I have a headache, I apply peppermint oil from a roll-on applicator like this one to my temples, inner wrists, and neck. The peppermint oil helps with nausea as well.
2. Cold Therapy
Cold therapy is also popular among natural headache remedies.
This study showed that half of the participants who wore a chilled gel cap like this one around their head reported significantly less headache pain. Thus, researchers concluded cold therapy could be effective with some migraine sufferers.
Another study showed that migraine sufferers experienced significantly less headache pain if they wrapped a cold compress around their neck like this one, particularly targeting the carotid arteries. When the neck wraps were applied at the start of a migraine, maximum pain relief usually peaked about 30 minutes later.
Thus, you keep cold compresses in your arsenal of natural headache remedies.
I sometimes try headache-specific yoga routines like this one for an active headache. Unless my headache is severe, the breathing and stretching exercises often lesson or eliminate my headache discomfort.
If you suffer headaches frequently, however, you may want to try regular yoga. This study found that regular migraine sufferers who practiced daily yoga for three months reported a drastic reduction in the intensity and frequency of their migraines, along with the need for medication.
Another study produced similar results, where regular migraine sufferers practiced daily yoga for six weeks in conjunction with regular therapy, and reported less frequent and less intense migraines afterwards.
Also, this study showed positive effects of yoga in treating tension-type headaches.
Although research is lacking on the ability of yoga to alleviate an active headache, due to the lack of studies, many yogis (and even a psychotherapist) tout yoga’s ability to calm and balance the brain and nervous system during a headache. This calming effect is done through breathing techniques like Nadi Sodhana.
Researchers have long recognized curcumin, a substance in turmeric, for its medicinal properties, including the ability to fight inflammation.
One study showed that at least in rats, curcumin was able to effectively reduce oxidative stress and pain sensitivity that researchers correlated with migraines.
Another study revealed that a combination of curcumin and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) significantly reduced the frequency, severity, and duration of migraines in migraine sufferers over an eight-week period. Researchers recognized curcumin and CoQ10 as having neuroprotective effects to modulate inflammation and stress.
However, it is important to note that researchers found the human body does not absorb curcumin very well when ingested alone. Rather, ingesting curcumin with other substances like black pepper is necessary to significantly increase curcumin’s absorption and bioavailability. Most studies used black pepper to increase bioavailability, so no research provides a clear list of other substances to take with turmeric.
Regardless, the main point is to consume turmeric with other substances (like in Indian food!) if you want to maximize medicinal benefits.
Although magnesium is in this list of natural headache remedies, more people should take magnesium supplements generally. An estimated 75% of Americans fail to meet the daily recommended requirement for magnesium, and researchers believe the amount of magnesium in food sources is declining.
(Side note touting magnesium: it’s also good for reducing muscle cramps and promoting better sleep.)
Magnesium is one of the natural headache remedies that a lot of research supports, including its ability to effectively treat migraine, tension-type, and cluster headaches in certain individuals.
Also, of note, researchers speculate that migraine sufferers tend to be deficient in magnesium. One study revealed that participants who either received magnesium intravenously or orally showed a significant reduction in the intensity and frequency of migraines. Intravenous magnesium was able to relieve an acute migraine in as little as 15-45 minutes after administration.
If you’re shopping for magnesium supplements, research shows that magnesium chloride, magnesium lactate, and magnesium aspartate have much greater bioavailability than magnesium oxide. Although magnesium oxide is often cheaper, your body’s ability to absorb it is very poor, so best to spend a little more to get actual benefits.
Some researchers even concluded that magnesium citrate has the highest bioavailability amongst other magnesium preparations tested. We often get this kind of magnesium citrate if you’re interested in the same.
I’ve included water among the list of natural headache remedies, because people often overlook its relation to headaches.
In fact, one study even labelled “water-deprivation headache” as a new type of headache, acknowledging how common it is, even if medical literature doesn’t formally recognize the headache type.
A different study supported that water deprivation can be a trigger for migraine attacks, even though some medical professionals apparently don’t list it as a trigger.
To show importance of water consumption, a small study found that increasing water intake reduced the frequency and intensity of headaches in migraine or tension-type headache sufferers.
Headaches aside, getting enough water should be everyone’s daily goal. One recommendation is that that women should drink at least 2.7 liters of water a day, while men should drink at least 3.7 liters a day.
What natural headache remedies work for you? Share your ideas or feedback by commenting below, so that we can know.