Headaches are a very common form of pain and can be a nuisance when someone has one. Rather than reaching for over-the-counter painkillers, there are many natural methods that people can try to help them get rid of a headache without medication.
In this article, we look at a range of home and natural remedies for headaches. People can try many of these remedies right away, and some of them might help to prevent headaches in the future.
Headaches have a number of causes, some of which are much more serious than others.
Research shows that certain dietary and lifestyle factors could increase the risk of experiencing headaches. Examples include:
1. lack of sleep
3. caffeine withdrawal
4. alcohol use
5. nutrient deficiency
However, serious injuries and underlying health issues can also cause headaches.
For example, headaches can result from potentially life threatening conditions, including tumors and blood clots, as well as from traumatic brain injury.
Medication overuse and infections of the central nervous system can cause headaches as well.
Additionally, some people are more likely to experience headaches than others.
People with obesity, those with sleep disorders, those who smoke, and those with high caffeine intake are more at risk of experiencing headaches. People with a family health history of headaches are more prone to headache disorders too.
1. Drink water
Drinking enough water may help prevent headaches or reduce their severity.
Dehydration can be an underlying cause of many simple headaches. It may also alter how a person feels, acts, or thinks.
As a study in the journal Antioxidants notes, even slight dehydration may alter how people think and function, making them feel worse, with or without a headache.
Water may help make someone in this situation feel better, although some studies are more cautious.
A critical reading of one study published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice noted that drinking water did not reduce how long people had their headaches, but it did make them subjectively feel better.
Staying hydrated may be as simple as carrying a water bottle around and sipping on it throughout the day. Eating foods high in liquid, such as fruits, smoothies, or soups, may also improve hydration.
2. Get adequate sleep
Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to your health in many ways and may even cause headaches in some people.
In fact, research shows that poor sleep quality and insomnia are associated with increased headache frequency and severity.
Sleep apnea, a health condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and then starts again during sleep, is associated with morning headaches, while insomnia is linked to increased headache severity in those with tension headaches.
However, getting too much sleep has also been shown to trigger headaches. Therefore, getting the right amount of rest important for those looking for natural headache prevention.
For maximum benefits, aim for the “sweet spot” of 7–9 hours of sleep per night.
3. Try essential oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids that contain aromatic compounds from a variety of plants.
They have many therapeutic benefits and are most often used topically, though some can be ingested.
Research suggests that peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus essential oils are especially helpful when you have a headache.
If you experience frequent headaches, try diffusing essential oils or rubbing a small amount of an essential oil, like peppermint or lavender oil, mixed with a carrier oil, like jojoba, onto your wrists or temples.
There are a number of high quality essential oils available, with Eden Botanicals being one of the best brands to consider.
4. Try a B-complex vitamin
B vitamins are a group of water-soluble micronutrients that play many important roles in your body. For example, they contribute to neurotransmitter synthesis and help turn food into energy.
Some B vitamins may also have a protective effect against headaches.
Several studies have shown that certain B vitamin supplements, including riboflavin (B2), folate, B12, and pyridoxine (B6) may reduce headache symptoms.
B-complex supplements contain all eight of the B vitamins and are a safe, cost-effective way to naturally treat headache symptoms.
B vitamins are considered safe to take on a regular basis, as they are water-soluble, meaning that any excess will be flushed out through the urine.
If you’re looking for a high quality B-complex supplement, you may want to try Nordic Naturals Vitamin B Complex. It contains highly absorbable forms of B vitamins, including methylcobalamin and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF).
The supplement is third-party tested, and customers can obtain a certificate of analysis on the Nordic Naturals website.
5. Remove any pressure on the head
In some cases, there is a physical reason for a headache. Check for anything that is putting too much pressure on the head. This may be a ponytail or bun that is too tight or a hat or headband that has been on too long.
Exercise may help keep the body healthy and promote better circulation, which might reduce the chances of a headache showing up.
One 2018 review of research published in the journal Children noted that too little exercise may actually influence headaches among adolescents. Regular, moderate exercise may help, such as briskly walking or riding a bike for 30 minutes a day.
7. Soothe pain with a cold compress
Using a cold compress may help reduce your headache symptoms.
Applying cold or frozen compresses to your neck or head area decreases inflammation, slows nerve conduction, and constricts blood vessels, all of which could help reduce headache pain.
Studies suggest that cold therapy may benefit those experiencing certain types of headaches, including headaches caused by nitrate medication used to treat heart conditions like chest 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 your neck, your head, or your temples for headache relief.
8. Try an elimination diet
Studies suggest that food intolerances can trigger headaches in some people.
To discover whether a certain food is causing frequent headaches, you may consider trying an elimination diet that removes the foods most related to your headache symptoms.
Aged cheeses, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits, and coffee are among the most commonly reported food triggers in people with migraines.
A 2016 study in 50 people with migraine found that eliminating migraine-triggering foods from the diet significantly reduced migraine attack frequency, duration, and severity.
9. Check for food tolerance
Sometimes food intolerances may be the underlying cause of symptoms such as a headache.
If a headache seems to show up after meals, it may be helpful for people to keep a food journal of everything they eat each day. This may enable them to identify and avoid any foods that could trigger a headache.
Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine, where practitioners place small needles into the surface of the skin. The aim is not to cause pain but to stimulate the body’s own energy.
The review published in Children notes that research has shown acupuncture to be an effective way to prevent migraines and tension headaches or reduce their frequency.
11. Drink caffeinated tea or coffee
Sipping on beverages that contain caffeine, such as tea or coffee, may provide relief when you are experiencing a headache.
Caffeine improves mood, increases alertness, and constricts blood vessels, all of which can have a positive effect on headache symptoms.
It also helps increase the effectiveness of common medications used to treat headaches, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
However, caffeine withdrawal has also been shown to cause headaches if a person regularly consumes large amounts of caffeine and suddenly stops.
Therefore, people who get frequent headaches should be mindful of their caffeine intake.
While there are many excellent tea brands on the market, Stash Teas is known for offering a wide variety of flavors, including Green Chai, Orange Spice, and Double Bergamot Early Grey.
12. Massaging pressure points
Massaging certain pressure points may help relieve tension in the head and reduce a headache. Many people do this instinctively, such as rubbing the back of the neck or pinching the top of the nose when they feel stressed.
There may be some truth to these instincts. Many people find that massaging the temples, jaw, or neck may help relieve tension and reduce a tension headache that comes from being too stressed.
Some other areas to try massaging include the area between the eyebrows and the two spots at the base of the eyebrows on either side of the bridge of the nose. These spots may hold tension from the eyes or head, and massaging them could help relieve this tension.
Massaging the neck near the base of the skull may also help release tension.
13. Limit alcohol intake
Some people may not respond well to drinking too much alcohol. A headache is one of the more common side effects of a hangover. This may be because alcohol acts as a diuretic, making the body release more water via the urine.
These kinds of headaches do not only occur with bouts of heavy drinking. Even with light or moderate drinking, alcohol may lead to mild dehydration symptoms in some people or make headaches worse.
Anyone who is uncertain if alcohol affects them in this way could try limiting their drinking and seeing if it changes or prevents their symptoms.
14. Avoid contact with chemicals or other strong smells
For people who often experience migraines, avoiding strong smells may be a wise step to take when trying to prevent them.
One 2013 study found that odors from sources such as perfumes or other strong-smelling chemicals may trigger migraines after just a few minutes of exposure.
It may help if people avoid sources of these smells, such as department stores, others who wear a lot of perfume, or chemical smells from cleaning products.
15. Vitamin E
Vitamin E may also play a role in headache symptoms. A 2015 review of vitamin supplementation noted that vitamin E might relieve headache pain and migraine symptoms from menstrual migraines with a low risk of side effects.
This may be valuable for women who experience migraines during their menstrual cycle, as vitamin E may help keep their hormones balanced to prevent symptoms.
The review did call for larger studies before making any claims about the vitamin, however.
16. Relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques include practices such as deep-belly breathing, guided meditations, and actively focusing on relaxing the muscles.
17. Try some herbal tea
Herbal tea may be a useful way to add water to the diet while also enjoying the benefits of other natural compounds.
For instance, ginger tea may help with a migraine. One 2013 study found that ginger powder had similar effects to a common medication for reducing migraines. A simple tea of warm water and ginger powder may help with symptoms.
Other potentially calming teas include herbs such as peppermint, chamomile, and lavender.
18. Move more
One of the simplest ways to reduce headache frequency and severity is to engage in physical activity.
A number of studies have shown that exercise could help significantly reduce migraine intensity, frequency, and duration.
There are many ways to increase your activity level, but one of the simplest ways is to increase the number of steps you take throughout the day.
19. Avoid nitrates and nitrites
Nitrates and nitrites are food preservatives commonly added to items like hot dogs, sausages, and bacon to keep them fresh by preventing bacterial growth.
Foods containing them have been shown to trigger headaches in some people.
Nitrites may trigger headaches by causing the expansion of blood vessels.
In order to minimize your exposure to nitrites, limit the amount of processed meats in your diet and choose nitrate-free products whenever possible.
There are many different types of headache, and one natural remedy may be more suitable than another to ease a specific kind. Some common headache types include:
1. Tension headaches. The most common headache, these often occur after a person has become overstressed and their muscles have tensed. Pain appears in the middle and top of the head, which may feel as if it has a tight rubber band around it.
2. Sinus headaches. This type involves pain behind the eyes and nose and a general congested feeling in the head. A similar headache occurs when a person has a hangover.
3. Cluster headaches. These headaches may appear throughout the day, causing a stabbing, sharp pain that occurs in one spot of the head.
4. Migraines. Migraines usually cause a throbbing pain behind the eyes that grows and pulses throughout the head. The person may also become very sensitive to light, activity, or movement.
There are several natural and home remedies that people can try to get rid of a headache without using medication. Some of these may work better with different types of headache.
In the end, some headaches may still not respond to these methods, and taking an over-the-counter drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve), may bring relief.
It is essential not to ignore a persistent headache. An ongoing symptom may be a sign of an underlying issue. People may want to discuss a persistent or particularly severe headache along with other symptoms with a doctor to find and resolve a problem.
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