For years, it never occurred to me that I could relieve a headache naturally. I was quick to pop an Advil at the first sign of pain.
And when I worked a high-stress, full-time job, headaches were pretty frequent.
I’m not an anomaly by any stretch. A survey from 2017 revealed that nearly 40% of Americans suffer from headaches at least a few times a month.
One day, I felt sharp stomach pains shortly after taking an extra strength gel capsule. Although it didn’t lead to anything serious, it prompted me to look at Advil’s side-effect warnings.
I discovered that ibuprofen can be pretty rough on your system if overused. Some of the more scary side-effects include stomach bleeding and even heart failure. (Yikes!)
That’s when I started looking for natural ways to relieve headaches.
If used sparingly, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs are a safe option to treat headaches. But before you reach for the pills, consider trying some of the following strategies to cure your headache naturally.
Dehydration is public enemy number one when it comes to headaches. Drinking water is great for headache prevention, but it can also lessen the severity and duration of your headache if dehydration is part of the cause.
It’s a good idea to always keep a glass of water close by and sip it throughout the day. Try to get at least 6-8 glasses a day.
If you experience headaches after exercise or after spending time in the heat, you’ll need a more mineral-rich water in order to replenish your electrolytes. Steer clear of commercial sports drinks which are made with artificial flavors and added sugar.
Instead, make your own electrolyte beverage with coconut water or herbal tea. Infuse it with fruit or add 100% fruit juice to create a healthy, mineral-rich sports drink.
2. Take a Hot Bath or Shower
If you have a tension headache, try taking a hot shower or long hot bath. Heat therapy can relax the muscles in your neck and eyes, and relieve tension in the head.
Another tactic is to simply soak your feet in hot water. The heat in your feet will draw the blood away from your head to relieve some of the pressure.
Unfortunately, for some people, hot therapy can have the opposite effect and make headaches worse. If hot water worsens the pain, stop the treatment immediately.
3. Apply a Cold Compress
Cold therapy can be just as effective as heat therapy for treating headaches and migraines. The cold causes your blood vessels to shrink and relieves pressure.
Press a soft ice pack to the back of your neck for about 15-20 minutes, or soak a washcloth in ice water and apply over your eyes.
Be careful not to use ice therapy for too long as prolonged exposure to ice can damage your skin. As soon as you start going number from the cold, you should remove the ice pack.
4. Nosh on Magnesium-Rich Foods
One study showed that nearly 87% of subjects with migraines had their pain cured through magnesium injections.
Getting enough magnesium daily can also reduce the frequency of headaches. The jury is still out as to whether supplements work or not, so try to get your magnesium boost through strategic diet choices.
Fortunately, there’s a ton of foods that are high in magnesium such as:
- Dark chocolate
- Dark green leafy veggies like kale and spinach
- Fish, like salmon and tuna
- Whole grains like rice, oats, and quinoa
Aside from ordering extra guac with your nachos, you can double down on your headache-thwarting efforts by taking an epsom salt bath. You’ll get the benefits of heat therapy combined with relaxing properties of the magnesium-rich salts.
5. Have a Cup of Joe
My personal favorite remedy is coffee! Coffee gets a bad rap but it’s high in antioxidants and it can make other pain meds up to 40% more effective. It’s a common ingredient in many medicines for that reason.
Caffeine also reduces inflammation and narrows the blood vessels, which dampens the transmission of pain signals to your brain.
Keep your coffee intake to no more than four cups a day. If you are sensitive to caffeine, reserve this remedy for the a.m. to prevent it from messing with your sleep patterns.
6. Brew a Ginger Tea
If caffeine is not your thing, opt for a ginger tea instead. This zesty root is already well known for quelling nausea, but new research has found it may be more effective than medication for treating migraines.
Ginger reduces inflammation, fights oxidative stress, and blocks migraine-causing peptides.
In plain English? It’s is a headache-fighting power-house.
You can either buy premade ginger tea, or brew your own using fresh ginger root.
A word of caution: Some people experience some gastrointestinal discomfort when consuming ginger, so start with a small amount to test it out.
7. Try a Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
If you suffer from cluster headaches, it’s well worth giving cayenne pepper a try. There’s an analgesic component to this spice called capsaicin.
But put down the bottle of hot sauce because this remedy only works if used topically.
Mix about four ounces of warm water with a quarter teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper. Dip a q-tip or cotton swab in the mixture and then apply to the inside of your nostrils.
Yes, it will burn a bit but this is how the capsaicin blocks the transmission of pain to your brain. Your headache should be gone by the time the burning stops!
8. Use Essential Oils
I used to think essential oils were just a nice-smelling placebo, but I quickly changed my tune after trying them. They really do work!
There are two types that are particularly effective for curing headaches:
Lavender is already a known remedy for insomnia, stress, and anxiety. Now, one small study has found that inhaling lavender can significantly relieve migraines.
Try adding 2-4 drops in 2-3 cups of boiling water, then lean over the pot and inhale the vapours.
There is a growing body of evidence that mint is an effective treatment for headaches, maybe even more so than ibuprofen. Better still, there are no adverse side-effects from using peppermint.
Peppermint Halo by Saje is my favorite go-to for headaches, as it contains both mint and lavender. Apply the oil along your hairline and you will start to feel a cooling sensation after a few seconds, followed by some much-needed relief!
9. Get Some Exercise
Exercise seems counterintuitive since the last thing you want to do when your head hurts is hit the gym. And indeed, when you’re suffering from a headache, you should avoid any high-intensity exercise that will cause jarring or make you sweat a lot (which may dehydrate you and make it worse).
But if you’re suffering from a tension headache, some low-intensity activity can actually help to relieve your symptoms. Exercise releases endorphins, which are the “feel good” hormones in your brain that naturally relieve pain.
Try going for a 20-minute walk, or some light yoga.
Regular exercise is also a proven way to reduce the frequency of headaches.
We all have our own unique chemical makeup and some of these remedies may work better for you than others. A little safe experimentation can help you find the right remedy. Always start with a small dose of the treatment to see how your body interacts with it.
Natural remedies are not a substitute for seeing a doctor. Although headaches are common and usually not serious, a persistent, sudden, or severe headache can be a sign that something is wrong. Always seek help from a medical professional if your headache patterns change.