Plagued by headaches or migraines but reluctant to take medication? Try these natural remedies out for size.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Rhalou Allerhand
When a headache strikes it can be painful, debilitating and even a bit scary, but it’s also a fairly good indicator that your body is out of balance and it’s time to look after yourself. While over-the-counter medication is usually very effective for pain management, the good news is there are a number of at-home remedies you can use to combat headaches and provide natural and cost-effective pain relief.
Headaches are not typically related to more serious conditions, but could be a red flag that you’re overtired, hungry, thirsty, tense, hormonal or suffering from low blood sugar. While over-the-counter pain relief should do the trick, the following natural remedies may give you a head start:
Research carried out by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, suggests that peppermint oil can relieve tension headaches. Peppermint oil contains menthol which can help muscles relax and ease pain. It is thought that applying diluted peppermint oil directly to the temples can help relieve pain from tension headaches and migraines.
✔️ Try this: add a few drops in your bath, mix it with your massage oil or sip peppermint tea to ease the pain. Directly applied to the skin undiluted it can case skin rashes or irritation. (It should never be applied to the skin of infants or young children as serious side-effects may occur from this and also inhalation of the menthol).
Book a massage
If you’re struggling with tension headaches or migraines, a full-body massage can help. Stress is a known headache trigger, so a good rub down will provide much needed relief and loosen you up in the process. Research shows regular massage can also help to prevent headaches from occurring, so book yourself in for a rub.
Keep a diary
If you’re prone to migraines, you may have noticed that certain stimuli can bring on an attack. Keep a diary noting the pain patterns and your daily activities, so you can spot trigger factors. It’s also worth showing the results to your doctor so they can decide what type of treatment is most appropriate for you.
Along with stress, tiredness and bright light, migraines can have common food triggers like chocolate, cheese, alcohol. Avoid any food or drink in your diet that you have identified as possible triggers for your headaches/migraines.
Fluctuations in blood sugar can lead to migraines, so try to avoid skipping meals and ensure you always have snacks at hand. Include lean protein in your meal plans to help keep glucose levels steady.
American researchers recently found that people who incorporated meditation and controlled breathing into their daily routine have better regulation of the stress hormone cortisol. Stress can lead to headaches, so reducing cortisol could also help to ease headaches and other chronic pain.
If you’re a coffee drinker, you set yourself up for withdrawal headaches, which can stimulate your brain’s migraine centre and develop into migraines.
✔️ Try this: limit your daily intake to 1-2 cups a day, substitute for herbal teas and steer clear of caffeine altogether if you feel a migraine coming on. If you decide to cut down or leave out the caffeine altogether then reduce your intake slowly so your body acclimatises.
A treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles into pressure points on your body for therapeutic purposes. The British Medical Association endorsed the treatment for migraines, as acupuncture effectively provides pain relief, reduces inflammation and boosts levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Find a well qualified, experienced practitioner.
Rest is best
Resting or sitting in a darkened room can help relieve symptoms, especially if you are struggling with migraines, and it can also help if you’re suffering with a simple headache. For best results, switch off all electrical appliances, close your eyes and focus on relieving tension in your neck, back and shoulders.
Hit the road
Once a headache hits you may be in too much pain to consider heading to the gym, but some sufferers have found that if you time it right, going for a jog can successfully sidestep a migraine.
According to The Migraine Trust, 30 minutes of gentle exercise three times a week should help to manage migraine symptoms, but stick to more moderate or mild exercise so you don’t risk triggering an attack onset. Exercise promotes production of natural painkillers in the body and combats stress but in some people too strenuous exercise may trigger headaches.
✔️ Try this: make sure you warm up slowly and watch your fluid intake. Try more gentle exercise first if that is better suited to you.
An ancient spiritual discipline that promotes holistic living through a combination of postures and breathing techniques, yoga has been found to ease headache and migraine pain. Breathing deeply releases tension, while opening the neck, shoulders, and spine helps blood flow to your head more freely.
Dehydration is a common headache trigger, and simply ensuring you drink enough water can stop a headache and migraine in its tracks.
✔️ Try this: the Joseph Joseph Dot Hydration Tracking Water Bottle displays a dot every time you refill, helping you hit your daily hydration target and keep head pain at bay.
Balance your hormones
If you notice your headaches/migraines are linked to your menstrual cycle time look at changes you can make with regards to food triggers and stress management at this part of the month and keep a symptom diary and if persistent speak to your doctor. It is very important to tell your doctor if you develop migraines and are on the combined contraceptive pill as this will be a reason to change to a different method.
Known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, humans have been harvesting the powers of this zesty root for centuries. Ginger has also been known to reduce the nausea that comes with migraine attacks. Chew on a fresh clump or drink ginger tea.
Famous for its relaxation benefits, lavender oil also has proven migraine-busting properties. A recent study found that 92 out of 129 migraine sufferers who inhaled lavender during a migraine attack responded positively to the essential oil. Rub it on your temples and wrists, add a few drops to your bath or try a diffuser to fragrance your whole house.
Ice ice baby
A cold compress over the forehead may help some people’s headaches. It is important to find out what works best for you.
Getting enough quality sleep in a regular pattern is essential for all wellbeing. Chronic tiredness will worsen any headache symptoms. Put your tech away at least 90 minutes before bed, make sure your evening rituals are relaxing and maybe even try an epsom salt bath to relax you before bed and thus reduce your chance of headaches the next day.