Headaches are one of the most frequently occurring disorders; they’re more preva- lent than even the common cold. Most of us have experienced headaches of varying intensity and kind, and most of us will continue to have them now and then.
The vast majority of headaches are caused by tension in the muscles of the head, the shoulders, and the neck. If you have a tension headache, you may feel tightness, pressure, or throbbing anywhere in your head or neck. Often the pain is worse as the day goes on but disappears upon waking the next day.
Migraine headaches are another matter. They account for only 6 percent of headaches, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in severity. They are intensely painful and are often accompanied by vision disturbances, extreme sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting. A migraine episode, which is usually
Warning: Sometimes headaches signal a medical emergency. If you have a headache that is much more severe than any you’ve ever felt before, or if you experience a headache along with any of the following symptoms, seek medical help at once:
Confusion or disorientation
A stiff neck Projectile vomiting Paralysis
Deafness in one ear
Extreme fatigue or weakness
incapacitating, may last a few hours, or it can go on for several days. Unlike tension headaches, migraines are not caused by muscular tension but by disturbances in blood ﬂow to the head. In addition, it is rare to have just one migraine; most migraine suf- ferers get them at least once a month. The disorder can run in fam- ilies and affects far more women and girls than it does men or boys.
Cluster headaches are a different type of headache, character- ized by painful one-sided headaches that usually occur in clusters of several headaches in a short period of time. There may be no headaches for weeks or months.
Headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors, most often stress and anxiety but also allergies, hormone imbalance, poor digestion and detoxiﬁcation, low blood sugar, fatigue, and drugs (including caffeine and alcohol). Most headaches are best addressed by identifying and removing the trigger or triggers, along with implementing strategies for natural pain relief.
If you have recurring or extremely severe headaches, however, you should consult a doctor to rule out any serious underlying causes, which can range from glaucoma to high blood pressure to
brain tumors. Check with your doctor before combining herbs with prescription headache medications.
SYMPTOMS OF A CLUSTER HEADACHE
• One-sided headaches that are intense for a number of days or
weeks and then disappear and reap- pear later
SYMPTOMS OF A TENSION HEADACHE
• Sensation of a tight band around the head
• Pressure or throbbing anywhere in the head or the neck
• Tension in the neck or the shoulder
SYMPTOMS OF A MIGRAINE HEADACHE
• Severe pain, usually on one side of the head
• Vision disturbances that precede or accompany head pain
• Sensitivity to light
• Nausea and vomiting
• May last for several days
• Emotional stress
• Allergies (food or environmental)
• Poor posture and spinal misalignment, especially of the neck and the jaw (TMJ)
• Excessive intake or withdrawal from drugs, like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or illegal substances
• Low blood sugar
• Hormonal imbalance
• Constipation and poor digestion/detoxiﬁcation
• Nutritional deﬁciencies (especially of magnesium, B6, essential fatty acids)
The following tests help assess possible reasons for headaches: Blood pressure
Hormone testing (thyroid, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone)—saliva, blood, or urine
Vitamin and mineral analysis (especially magnesium, B6, iron)—blood Digestive function and microbe/parasite/candida testing—stool analysis Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal Blood-sugar balance—blood
Toxic metals—hair, urine
To avoid headaches caused by food additives, eat meals that you’ve prepared from whole foods. To keep your blood sugar steady, try to have ﬁve small portions through- out the day, instead of three large meals.
Make sure you get enough ﬁber to reduce the chance of headaches induced by con- stipation or toxic buildup. One to two tablespoons of ground ﬂaxseeds, along with 10 ounces of water, is a good way to start the day.
Drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours. The ﬂuid will keep the mus- cles in your head and neck supple and will also ﬂush out toxins.
If you want to prevent headaches, include sources of both calcium and magnesium in your diet. Soy products, green leafy vegetables, and beans are all rich in calcium. Green leafy vegetables and beans are good sources of magnesium as well, as are nuts, bananas, and wheat germ. If food allergies keep you from eating these foods, take a good calcium/magnesium supplement every day to ensure adequate intake.
Fish such as salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that may help prevent migraine headaches. Consume a serving three to ﬁve times weekly.
Food to Avoid
If you suffer from migraines or recurring headaches, see the Food Allergies section and the accompanying elimination diet to determine whether your problem may be caused by an allergic reaction or a sensitivity. Common triggers of both tension and
By Any Other Name, It’s Still MSG
Monosodium glutamate is noto- rious for triggering headaches, and for that reason, food compa- nies try not to list it on their product labels. Here are some common additives that are really hidden sources of MSG:
Calcium caseinate Sodium caseinate Autolyzed yeast Hydrolyzed protein
migraine headaches include foods that contain either tyramine or phenylalanine. Tyramine can be found in cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, coffee, cold cuts, herring, smoked ﬁsh, wine, alcohol, sausage, sour cream, and vinegar.
Sources of phenylalanine include monosodium glutamate (MSG), the artiﬁcial sweetener aspartame, and nitrates, which can be found in processed meats, especially hot dogs. If you do have an allergy or a sensitivity, eliminate the troublesome food or foods from your diet.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar products (including artiﬁcial sweeteners).
Do not consume sugary foods. They cause your blood-sugar level to rise sharply and then crash; often, the result is a headache.
Very cold foods can also cause headaches. Ice cream and cold drinks are frequent culprits, so avoid them.
In one study,forty-nine people with reoccurring migraines were given 400 mg of riboﬂavin daily for at least three months. The aver- age number of acute migraine attacks decreased by 67 percent, and migraine severity was reduced by 68 percent. In a sepa- rate double-blind trial, 59 percent of patients assigned to receive vitamin B2 had at least a 50 percent reduction
in the number of headache days, whereas only 15 percent of those taking a placebo experienced that degree of improvement.
If you suffer from chronic headaches, a detoxiﬁcation program can be effective. Try a two- to three-day vegetable juice fast, unless low blood-sugar levels bring on your headaches.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Headache
Super Prescription #1 Homeopathic combination headache formula
This contains the most common homeopathic remedies for headaches. Take as directed on the container for the treatment of all three types of acute headaches. For an individualized remedy, see the Homeopathy section further on.
Super Prescription #2 Magnesium
Take 200 mg two to three times daily. Reduce the dosage if diarrhea occurs. Mag- nesium has been shown in several studies to be effective in alleviating migraine headaches, and we also ﬁnd it very helpful in preventing tension headaches. Intravenous magnesium can be very effective for acute headaches. Consult with a nutrition-oriented doctor for intravenous treatments.
Super Prescription #3 Riboﬂavin (vitamin B2)
Take 400 mg daily for at least three months. Studies have shown it to be effective in preventing migraine headaches.
Super Prescription #4 Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Take a product standardized to contain 250 to 500 mcg of parthenolides daily. Sev- eral studies have shown it to be effective in reducing the severity, the duration, and the frequency of migraines.
Super Prescription #5 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Take 50 to 100 mg three times daily. Several studies have shown 5-HTP to be effec- tive in preventing migraine and tension headaches. It has a direct effect on sero- tonin levels, which affect circulation in the blood vessels of the brain, and increases the body’s endorphin levels (natural painkillers). Do not use if you are currently on a pharmaceutical antidepressant or an antianxiety medication.
Super Prescription #6 Essential fatty acids
Take 5,000 mg of ﬁsh oil or 1 tablespoon of ﬂaxseed oil daily. Essential fatty acids improve circulation and reduce inﬂammatory prostaglandins that may contribute to migraine headaches
Super Prescription #7 Vitamin B6
Take 50 mg daily. Vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which may be deﬁcient in migraine sufferers.
Calcium relaxes the nervous system, the muscles, and the blood vessels, making it helpful for all types but especially for tension headaches. Take 500 mg twice daily.
Ginkgo biloba improves circulation to the brain and has anti-platelet activity. Take
60 mg two to three times daily of a 24 percent ﬂavone glycoside extract.
Melatonin has been shown in preliminary research to help migraine headaches. This is a hormone supplement to consider, especially if you have insomnia. Take 0.3 to 0.5 mg before bedtime.
Peppermint or menthol cream applied to the temple area has been shown in stud- ies to be helpful for tension headaches.
White willow bark (Salix alba) contains salicin, the ingredient from which aspirin is derived. White willow bark is a highly effective pain reliever that’s much easier on the stomach and the entire body than its pharmaceutical counterpart is. Take 60 to 120 mg daily.
Take a few quiet moments with a relaxing cup of tea to reduce tension/stress headaches. Peppermint, chamomile, and passionﬂower are all good choices.
Enzymes taken with meals improve digestion and absorption. Take a full-spectrum enzyme with each meal or as directed on the container.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For acute headaches, take a 30C potency four times daily. For chronic headaches, take a 6x, 12x, 6C, 12C, or 30C twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) helps when it is a right-sided headache that starts on the back of the head (right side) and extends to the right eye or the forehead. There is throbbing pain, as if the head would burst. The face is ﬂushed and the skin feels hot, but the feet are cold. The person feels better lying down in a dark, quiet room.
Bryonia (Bryonia alba) is for pain in the left eye or the forehead that extends to the whole head. Symptoms are worse with any movement and feel better with pres- sure and stillness. Constipation may be associated with the headache. There can be nausea and a great thirst. The person is irritable and wants to be alone.
Calcarea Phosphorica is for schoolchildren who get chronic headaches and stom- ach aches. The pain is intense at the back of the head. The child craves smoked meats, may be homesick, and is often irritable.
Cimicifuga is helpful when there is severe neck stiffness and pain with the headache, which often occurs with the menstrual cycle or with hormonal changes dur- ing menopause.
Gelsemium (Gelsemium sempervirens) is for a dull, heavy pain at the back of then a double-blind trial of 81 people,
I ages 18 to 65, with migraines, a dose of 600 mg of magnesium per day was signiﬁ- cantly more effective than a placebo at reducing the fre- quency of migraines. In weeks 9 through 12, the attack fre- quency was reduced by 41.6 percent in the magnesium group and by 15.8 percent in the placebo group.
neck, which then spreads like a tight band around the head. The person feels tired and dizzy and may have blurred vision. The headache improves after urinating.
Glonoinum is for a congestive headache with intense pounding. Symptoms are worse from the sun and from heat and better from cold applications.
Ignatia (Ignatia amara) is for headaches associated with neck or back spasms. It feels as if a nail were driven into the head. It’s also good for headaches that begin after emotional grief or a trauma.
Iris (Iris versicolor) is for right-sided migraine headaches that feel as if the head is constricted. Nausea and vomiting occur with the headache. There is often blurry vision. The person feels better with movement.
Lachesis is for left-sided headaches, with a burning, congestive, pulsating feeling. The face can be ﬂushed. The person wakes up with a headache. Heat and touch worsen the headache, and the open air improves it.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) is for a right-sided headache in the temple or the forehead area. Symptoms are worse from 4 to 8 P.M. and from being overheated or going too long without eating.
Magnesia Phosphorica is for tension headaches. This remedy helps to relax tight muscles.
Natrum Muriaticum is a great remedy for migraine headaches caused by being in the sun or headaches that come on from stress or grief. The person feels better lying down in a dark, cool room.
Natrum Sulphuricum is for headaches that come on after a head injury.
Nux Vomica is for headaches caused by stress, overwork, and bad reactions to food. The headache feels better with cold applications. There is often a stomach ache and nausea. This remedy is used for headaches caused by alcohol or food allergies. The person is irritable from the headache and feels worse from noise, light, and opening the eyes. Nux Vomica is also useful for headaches caused by constipation.
Pulsatilla (Pulsatilla pratensis) is helpful when headaches occur around the men- strual cycle. The location of the headache changes rapidly. Symptoms are worse from the heat or from stuffy rooms and better in the open air.
Sanguinaria is for a headache that begins in the right side of the neck or the shoul- der and radiates to the right eye. There is relief from vomiting.
Spigelia is for a stitching, sharp headache around the left eye. Symptoms are worse with movement or any jarring and better with heat or hot bathing.
See pages 668–675 for information about pressure points and administeing treatment.
• Large Intestine 4 is good for all kinds of aches, but it is especially successful at treating pain in the front of the head.
• For headaches accompanied by tired, painful eyes or sinus congestion, use
• Gates of Consciousness 20 will ease headaches of any sort, including migraines.
For almost immediate relief, have someone rub the back of your neck and your upper back with ice.
If your headache is caused by sinus pain, you can practice an effective self- massage. Lean forward over a sink or a towel to allow the sinuses to drain, and gen- tly rub the areas over and below your eye sockets. You can also extend out from beneath your eye socket in a straight line across your cheeks.
An all-over massage can help relieve stress before it turns into a headache. If you’re prone to anxiety and tension, you may want to schedule regular sessions with a mas- sage therapist.
Work the areas corresponding to the head, the neck, the spine, and the solar plexus.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
Postural problems are at the root of many recurring headaches. See a chiropractor or an osteopath for a diagnosis and, if necessary, an adjustment of your vertebrae.
Acupuncture can be very helpful for all three types of headaches.
Lavender and peppermint will soothe both head pain and stress. Add a few drops of either to a carrier oil, and massage the temples. You can also add these oils to a cold compress.
If your headache is brought on by sinusitis, use eucalyptus in a steam inhalation. The oil will open up your sinus cavities quickly.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Many headache sufferers experience excellent results with biofeedback. People with tension headaches tend to clench their head and neck muscles unconsciously through- out the day, but they can use EMG muscle biofeedback to learn how to spot this clenching reﬂex and how to stop it, thus avoiding headaches. People with migraines can learn to increase blood ﬂow to their head via thermal biofeedback. If biofeedback is too expensive or too complicated for you, ﬁnd another stress-management technique and practice it daily. Read the Exercise and Stress Reduction chapter and experiment with the therapies there until you ﬁnd one or two you enjoy.
Bach Flower Remedies
Flower remedies are often an ideal way to address the causes of headaches, whether tension or migraine. Select the appropriate remedy, and place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you suffer from migraines, keep a bottle of Rescue Remedy handy. When you feel one about to start, take some to ease the physical and emotional crisis.
Agrimony is a frequent choice for headache relief; most of us can beneﬁt from it at some point in our lives. Take it when you feel you must repress your emotions and hide your concerns from other people.
Elm is for people who are overwhelmed. They may be overworked and fear failure.
Take White Chestnut to calm down an overactive brain and to free yourself from obsessive thoughts.
If hard work is making you feel grim and humorless, a combination of Oak and
Vine will help.
When feeling weepy and blaming others for your problems, Willow would be helpful.
• Breathe deeply. Some headaches are caused or made worse by an inadequate supply of oxygen.
• To reduce muscular spasms, lie down in a darkened room and apply a cold compress to the painful area. Some people may ﬁnd that a warm compress is more effective.
• A heating pad, a warm compress, or a hot towel on the neck or the shoulders is a relaxing way to ease muscular tension.
• Place an ice pack (wrapped in a thin towel) on the back of the neck and put the feet in a bucket of warm water for ten minutes.
• Poor posture and the resulting misalignment of the vertebrae can lead to headaches. Wear ﬂat or low-heeled shoes that ﬁt well, and if you work long hours at a telephone, ask your company to invest in a headset for you. Ergonomic chairs are also recommended for people who sit a long time during the day.
• Women on the birth control pill should consider discontinuing it to see if their migraine headaches improve. Also, women using synthetic hormone replace- ment should switch to natural HRT or nutritional supplements to see if their headaches go away. See the Menopause section for more information.
• Get checked for temporomandibular joint problems, which can be a cause of tension or migraine headaches.