Many things can trigger a headache: stress, heat, hunger, illness, hormonal changes (like during pregnancy or menstruation), even bad lighting or strong smells. When that happens, most of us head straight to a dark room, lie down, or (if we’re stuck at the office) take a couple of pain relievers and hope they work fast!
However, people who suffer from chronic headaches may be wary of becoming over-dependent on pain relievers. Pregnant women are also discouraged from taking even over-the-counter medication (unless they get the go-signal from their doctor). In these cases, these all-natural solutions may be your best bet.
1. Take the Popeye remedy.
Some headaches are caused by high blood pressure or a hangover. If you think your hypertension (or the bottle of vodka from yesterday’s party) is the culprit, make yourself a delicious spinach salad. Just substitute spinach for the lettuce in your favorite salad recipe, or try this one. Toss together baby spinach leaves, cubed watermelon, dried apricots, and raspberry vinaigrette. Then, sprinkle chopped almonds — these add a tasty “crunch” to your salad, and help relax blood vessels in your brain.
2. Take in lots of fluids.
You can get a headache if you’re dehydrated. That’s why it’s one of the first symptoms of heat stroke, and an unavoidable part of hangovers (most alcohols are diuretics). Drink lots of water, take soup, or reach for water-rich foods like watermelon, melon, tomato, cucumber or berries. In fact, go ahead and make yourself a fruit or vegetable smoothie or shake. Fruits and vegetables contain minerals like magnesium that can help alleviate headache symptoms. A little grated ginger adds a little “kick” and a great health bonus: it helps alleviate the nausea that headaches often trigger.
3. Load up on electrolytes.
Drinking fluids is important, but if your body has also lost electrolytes (which can happen if you’ve taken alcohol or have sweat a lot because of exercise and extreme heat) reach for a sports drink or potassium-rich food like a banana or a baked potato.
4. Have a cuppa.
Lemon balm tea is a natural sedative with anti-spasmodic effects. Chamomile tea and peppermint tea help soothe tension. Feverfew tea is particularly famous for helping with headache pain. (Important note: pregnant women should consult their oby-gynecologist before taking any herbal remedies.)
If you’re not a tea-drinker, you may find some comfort in caffeine. We’ve all heard about taking coffee to cure a hangover, and there is some truth to it: alcohol expands the blood vessels, and caffeine (a vasoconstrictor) brings these back to their original size. However, coffee can worsen a headache that’s caused by dehydration.
5. Nibble on toast.
You can develop a headache when your body’s glycogen levels become too low. This happens when you skip a meal or follow a very strict low-carb diet. The brain needs glycogen to function well, and the throbbing pain may be its way of saying, “Feed me, now!”
To fix this, reach for a healthy carb like whole-wheat toast or oatmeal. If you’re on a diet, avoid a headache by taking smaller but more frequent meals, so your glycogen levels remain steady throughout the day.
6. Massage your hand.
If you’re suffering from a tension headache or a migraine, use this massage technique. Find the “pressure point” in the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and index finger. Using your opposite hand, squeeze this part, and then hold tight while you count to ten. As you do this, breathe in deeply. Once you reach the number ten, massage the “pressure point” with small and circular motions. Maintain a firm and even pressure. Count to ten again. Release your hand, and repeat the process as needed.
7. Use essential oils.
Lavender, rosemary, marjoram and peppermint can be quite relaxing—that’s why spas will use tub-fuls of aromatherapy oils to ease clients into Nirvana-like calm.
However, there are many other ways to use these essential oils. Try blending lavender and rosemary oils and massaging into your forehead, temples, and the base of your neck. You can also add two drops of peppermint oil on a cold compress, or two drops of lavender oil on your pillow to lull you into healing, restful sleep.
If you’re at work, or stuck in a long plane or car ride, you can mimic the spa experience by adding two or three drops of essential oil into a handkerchief. Use this to cover your face (so you can inhale the scent, and also block out the light.) Try chamomile, rose and geranium oil to relieve stress headaches, and marjoram to relieve sinus headaches.