Natural Approaches for Headaches and Migraines

Published on May 15, 2016 by Dr. Colin O'Brien

Everyone has experienced the discomfort of a headache but for some people this discomfort is a regular occurrence. Sure you can pop an aspirin or a Tylenol, but is this really solving the problem? I’ve never heard of headache that is caused by a lack of Advil… Not to mention, these types of over-the-counter medications may come with significant cardiovascular risks and gastrointestinal risks (ie. ulcers) when taken for an extended period of time and in higher doses.

The good news is that there are many natural alternatives and solutions to alleviate regular headaches and migraines. Here are some basic suggestions and considerations that may help to decrease the frequency and severity of headaches.

  1. Start with the basics: dehydration can cause or aggravate headaches. Sugar imbalances can do the same. It’s amazing how often headaches are eliminated or reduced by increasing the intake of real foods (ie fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, lean animal meats), eliminating simple sugars (ie ju-jubes, milk chocolate, white breads), eliminating processed foods (ie frozen dinners, boxed and canned foods) and increasing water intake.
  2. Chemical/Food Sensitivities: If you’ve made the basic changes above and still haven’t seen an improvement in headache or migraine frequency, you may be extra sensitive to certain foods or chemicals. Aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) have been identified as triggers for migraine. Moreover, some of the most common food sensitivities found to trigger migraines include wheat, orange, egg, tea, coffee, milk and chocolate.
  3. Acupuncture: If your headaches are related to muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, properly applied acupuncture can work wonders for releasing those tight muscles that have developed over time. Speak with a qualified practitioner in order to safely and effectively utilize acupuncture as a therapeutic tool.
  4. Magnesium: Magnesium is a well-known mineral used for relaxing tissues such as the muscles, nerves and blood vessels! The combination of these effects can help in those suffering from tension-type headaches or stress-related headaches, both preventatively and as a treatment. In migraine sufferers, magnesium has been shown to reduce the frequency or likelihood of migraines occurring. For example, one study showed that regular magnesium supplementation (600mg/day) led to a 42% decrease in migraine attacks at 9-12 weeks.
  5. Petasites hybridus: This herb, also known as “Butterbur”, is quite specific for migraine-type headaches and it has some fantastic research to support its benefit. Butterbur has been found to reduce migraines by up to 60%, decreasing their duration and intensity. In one particular study that examined adolescents with chronic headaches, 91% of participants reported some improvement after 4 months of treatment, and 77% demonstrated a 50% reduction in migraine attacks.

In the end, the cause for a headache or migraine is specific to an individual and one treatment won’t necessarily work for everyone. These tips and tricks will hopefully get you started on the right track but if you continue to suffer from ongoing painful headaches or migraines, speak with a qualified healthcare practitioner and one that specializes in lifestyle and dietary treatments.

In the meantime, share some of your experiences and let us know what does and doesn’t work for your headache or migraine attacks!

Image by ©  kieferpix via Adobe Stock

Select references:

Grant ECG. Food allergies and migraine. Lancet 1979; 1:966-969

Peikart A et al. Prophylaxis of migraine with oral magnesium: results from a prospective, multi-centre, placebo controlled and double-blind randomized study. Cephalalgia. 1996; 16:257-263

Lipton RB et al. Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine. Neurology 2004;63(12):2240-4.