With the pressures of a fast-paced and demanding modern-day lifestyle, we’ve all experienced headaches from time to time, whether it is induced by stress, lack of sleep, a hangover, poor hydration, environmental triggers, or all of the above. While headaches are a common and often chronic condition affecting around 4% of the global adult population, not all pain is created equal.
Tension and cluster headaches can cause anything from mild discomfort to severe pain, but anyone who suffers from migraines will surely tell you that they’re not your typical headache; often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, numbness, and visual changes, they can have a debilitating effect on your day-to-day life. So what do you do when a migraine creeps up on you when you least expect it?
Of course, the most obvious and appealing solution would be to pop a few painkillers as a quick-fix for that pounding pain, but what if the medication doesn’t always work as well as you would like? Or maybe you’re just looking for a natural, drug-free way to combat the condition? Look no further because this article includes a comprehensive list of effective home remedies that have been proven to prevent migraine headaches, or at the very least, reduce their duration and severity.
Avoiding food triggers
Certain foods are known to cause migraines; pinpointing what these potential triggers are and eliminating them from your diet while also keeping track of them in a food journal, can be the catalyst for alleviating the condition. Try and steer clear of the following foods and drinks, many of them are quite popular in modern-day diets so, understandably, it can be quite tricky to cut the culprits out for good, but you’ll thank yourself once you notice relief from your migraines:
- Nitrates found in processed meats, such as hot dogs, deli meat, bacon, and sausages.
- Dairy products, especially cheese, contain a compound called tyramine that is known to induce migraines. Other offenders include buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt.
- Products that contain the flavor enhancer, monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Alcohol, particularly red wine.
- Cold foods such as ice cream or iced drinks.
- Processed foods.
Adding nutrient-rich food to your diet
There are certain foods you should avoid if you want to keep your migraine at bay, eating certain other foods can also help. The key is to follow a wholesome diet that provides your body with essential nutrients to keep it functioning at its best, so when a migraine decides to strike, it won’t stand a chance. In particular, focus on incorporating the following foods into your regimen:
- Foods high in omega 3 and 6 fats, including salmon, coconut and vegetable oils, and nuts and seeds.
- Magnesium-rich foods like almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, eggs, dark leafy greens, and oatmeal.
- Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, found in fish and chicken.
Sometimes, the simplest technique is the most effective solution to a problem, and drinking water to prevent migraines is no exception. Even the slightest bit of dehydration can trigger a headache, so it is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat hydrating foods like fruit and veg, to curb a cumbersome migraine.
Try and aim for at least 2 liters; albeit this may be a tall task for someone who isn’t used to drinking their eight glasses per day; in such cases, it is best to go at a slow and steady rate, gradually increasing the volume of water you consume daily until you reach the recommended amount.
Trying relaxation techniques
Stress is our body’s natural way of reacting to any type of danger or threat – whether it is internal or external; real or imagined – and while this response is designed to keep us out of trouble and harm’s way, remaining in a constant state of stress, as many of us are in this day and age, can do more harm than good, including triggering a migraine - all the more reason for us to find relaxing outlets to effectively manage and alleviate stress.
There is a wide range of relaxation techniques you can employ to help control your life; some may work great for you, while others not so well. Try experimenting with these different methods; you may be pleasantly surprised by how effective they can be to help reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines:
- Yoga: Certain poses can promote blood flow to the brain, helping to reduce any throbbing pain you may experience. Time to start perfecting that downward dog.
- Meditation: Practicing mind-body techniques can put you in a calm state and thereby help to alleviate any underlying stress.
- Exercise: When you exercise, your body releases endorphins – feel-good chemicals that moonlight as natural painkillers and can work wonders for reducing the intensity of a migraine.
- Massage: A good massage can leave you feeling like you don’t have a care in the world; this is all thanks to it easing muscle tension and spasms and relieving pressure on the nerves and blood vessels.
- Biofeedback: This method specifically combats stress by using electrical sensors to monitor bodily functions that change in relation to your stress levels, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, and employing relaxation techniques when a stress response is underway, to calm arousal.
- Acupuncture: For those who have an aversion to needles, this may not be your go-to method to curb your stress, but the benefits of acupuncture cannot be denied. The thin, metallic needles are inserted in different areas of the body to stimulate the nerves to release endorphins and turn off pain receptors in the brain.
Using essential oils
Essential oils have a wide range of benefits, including as an herbal remedy for numerous ailments, as well as being found in many cleaning products due to their potent germ-killing properties, and its perks don’t just end there. Many sufferers swear by peppermint oil to stop a migraine in its tracks when applied to the forehead and temples. Meanwhile, lavender oil boasts therapeutic qualities such as relieving stress and anxiety; applying the oil to the upper lip and inhaling it can provide faster relief from migraines, according to anecdotal evidence.
Taking herbal remedies
Many people favor the herbal route when remedying an illness, often because it comes with far fewer side effects than conventional drugs. Ginger root is widely recognized as a potent solution for numerous ailments, including migraines and associated symptoms. According to research, ginger was as effective as a prescription drug in reducing the severity and duration of migraines in many sufferers. It can also help relieve nausea and vomiting that often accompanies a migraine attack – talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Butterbur and feverfew are two powerful herbs whose effects are proven in decreasing migraine frequency. As little as 150mg of butterbur per day, when taken for a minimum of 3 months, has shown to be effective in combating the condition; however, feverfew may have slightly reduced efficacy. While both herbs have their benefits, it is important to proceed with caution as taking them in high amounts may cause liver damage, and effects from long-term use are currently unknown.
Owing to its ability to elevate mood, increase alertness, and regulate blood flow to the brain, sipping on caffeinated drinks – such as tea and coffee – can help ease a migraine once it starts.
As with any drug, it can become all too easy to become dependent on caffeine, which may lead to a bunch of unwanted withdrawal symptoms once you cut down on the stuff, including headaches. For this reason, be sure to drink caffeinated beverages in moderation.
Using a hot/cold compress
According to many migraine sufferers, applying alternate hot and cold compresses to the body can help with a migraine attack. Common techniques include placing your feet in warm water, taking a hot shower, or using a heating pad on your head. Other subjects have reported relief from placing an ice pack around the base of their neck and temples.
It is worth noting that what may work great for one person may not work as well for you, so it is best to try each method to determine the most effective way to soothe your pain. Try not to go overboard with each method, though. Use cold packs for 15 minutes at a time and take an adequate break in-between uses; don’t fall asleep with a hot compress, either; and this goes without saying, but when taking a hot shower, make sure that the temperature of the water isn’t scalding.
Getting into a good sleep routine
When it comes to sleep, the key is to reach a delicate balance, as too little shut-eye can trigger a migraine just as easily as too much of it. Try and aim for that sweet spot of 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night; furthermore, practice good ‘sleep hygiene’ by sleeping in a dark, quiet room, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and avoiding artificial lights from mobile phone and television screens at least 1 hour before your bedtime.
Avoiding strong smells
Strong smells are a known trigger for migraines; anything from the smell of petrol and paint to perfumes and pungent foods can cause one. The fancy word for this sensitivity is called ‘osmophobia’; it is important that you avoid powerful odors like the plague if you’re prone to migraine attacks as they will only make it worse.
Anyone who suffers from migraine attacks knows how challenging the symptoms can be, and the draining impact they can have on your daily routine. Thanks to advances in research and the internet, finding help and information on migraines and becoming connected with other sufferers to share your story has never been easier. While prescription medication is often helpful in alleviating pain and symptoms, there’s no harm in employing a holistic approach to complement conventional methods and attain more effective relief. Like always, if you have any questions or concerns, always address them with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional.