By Dr. Alyssa Burnham
Naturopathic Doctor at Wise Woman Wellness
Headaches are a common condition that most people will experience at some point in their lives. Often they make it difficult to go to work or school and non steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID), such as Ibuprofen or Advil, are used to relieve symptoms. However, these medications do not address the root cause and can have adverse health effects.
Headaches are our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong – perhaps that you have a hormone imbalance, need to get more sleep, drink more water or you are sensitive to a food or additive. Rather than masking these signals, there are natural ways to relieve headaches and get to the root cause.
Headaches occur when nerve endings called nociceptors respond to headache triggers. These nerves send pain messages to the brain, beginning with a headache.
Common triggers include:
- Lack of sleep
- Eyestrain, back strain, or neck pain
- Certain smells, such as tobacco or perfume in the environment
- Food sensitivities
- Alcohol consumption
- Nutrient deficiency
- Caffeine overconsumption or withdrawal
- Weather changes
- Hormone imbalances
- Poor air quality, smoke
Severe or chronic headaches can be indicative of a more serious underlying health condition. It is important to seek evaluation with your healthcare provider.
One of the most common causes of headaches is dehydration. Research shows that increased water intake reduces the frequency and severity of headaches. Increase dietary consumption of water rich foods such as fruit and vegetables. Add electrolytes and trace minerals to your water and drink throughout the day.
Commonly reported food triggers include alcohol, chocolate, biogenic amines (for example – aged cheeses, processed meats, fermented foods), nitrites/nitrates (found in cured meats) food preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners (in particular aspartame), and gluten. Headaches are also very commonly associated with caffeine overconsumption or acute withdrawal. Consider keeping a food journal to monitor symptoms.
3 – Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that supports numerous neurochemical processes in the body. Low magnesium levels are associated with more frequent and severe headaches. Studies have shown that supplementation of 200-600 mg a day can be beneficial for headaches and migraines.
CoQ10 is an antioxidant that has been shown to prevent and treat both headaches and migraines.
Studies have shown that B vitamin supplements that include riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12) can be useful in reducing headache symptoms.
Cold compresses can be a cost-effective and quick treatment to help relieve pain associated with headaches. You can also apply essential oils to a compress, such as peppermint, eucalyptus or lavender.
Many of us stay in a stagnant position, whether sitting at our desks or hunched over our laptops, for much of the day. Take regular breaks throughout your day to stretch or go for a short walk and alleviate tension.
Evidence suggests that the medicinal herb feverfew can reduce the frequency of headaches.
9 – Acupuncture
A 2016 Cochrane review suggests that acupuncture decreases the frequency of headaches and was at least as effective as prophylactic medication.
You may be wondering how to prevent headaches from occurring long-term. Try focusing on these four areas to reduce your likelihood of future headaches:
- Hydration. Staying hydrated throughout the day is the best way to reduce the risk of headaches.
- Proper Nutrition. Under-eating can not only make you feel tired and grumpy, but it can also lead to headaches. It is important to eat enough at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the day. As often as possible, try to eat nutrient-dense foods, especially those rich in magnesium and B vitamins.
- Adequate Sleep. Both too little and too much sleep have been associated with headaches. While the right amount varies from person to person, you should aim for 7-9 hours per night.
- Stress Reduction. We all have some degree of stress in our lives, but we must work to manage it to avoid headaches and other negative effects on our overall health. Implement stress-reducing practices – from yoga to light exercise to meditation – find something that works for you.
Headaches can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Thankfully, there are ways you can reduce their frequency and severity naturally. Remember, persistent headaches can sometimes be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition and it is important to speak to a practitioner as additional testing may be necessary. Please reach out to us if you want to review headache prevention strategies.
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