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17 January 2011

A natural approach to headache

Headaches are a real pain - they vary from a mild nuisance to an excruciating agony that you would never wish on your worst enemy. Try these natural steps for relief.

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A natural approach to headache

In this series of articles, we take a look at what you can do or take to prevent, alleviate or cure common ailments naturally. As many complementary and alternative medicine therapies haven't undergone rigorous testing, we base the recommendations here on the amount of evidence that is currently available (indicated with asterisks):

Natural steps for headaches (check the Evidence Rating)
*** Good evidence of a health benefit.
** Some evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.

Lifestyle
Avoid any possible lifestyle or environmental triggers ***

  • Noise
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Environmental allergens
  • Chemicals, fumes

Nutrition
Avoid foods that contain headache triggers:

  • Refined and processed foods.
  • Artificial foods that contain sweeteners, additives and chemicals.
  • Dairy and high-fat products.
  • Sugar and high-sugar products.
  • Trigger foods – red wine, coffee, chocolate, cheese.

Vitamins/minerals
These nutrients have been shown to help in the treatment of headaches:

  • 5 - HTP **
  • Magnesium **
  • Selenium *
  • Co-enzyme Q10 *
  • SAMe *

Herbal
The following herbs are normally used in the treatment of headaches:

  • Peppermint **
  • Feverfew **

Homeopathic
Homeopathic remedies that helps for headaches:

  • Belladonna *
  • Bryonia *
  • Cimicifuga *
  • Cyclamen *
  • Gelsemium *
  • Ignatia *
  • Iris versicolor *
  • Kali bichromicum *
  • Lachesis *
  • Natrum muriaticum *
  • Sanguinaria *
  • Sepia *
  • Silicea *
  • Spigelia *

Alternative/complementary therapy
The most commonly used complementary approaches to headaches are:

  • Acupuncture*
  • Chiropractic*
  • Exercise*

Please note: This natural medicine guide does not replace the assessment and advice of your doctor.

This guide is mainly centred on self care for mild to moderate headaches. Cases of major headaches and migraine require professional care.

Consultation with a health professional, who specialises in neurological disorders, is extremely important if you are experiencing persistent or severe symptoms of headaches.

What are headaches?
There are three main types of headaches: tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine headaches.

The tension-type headache is the most common and is typically experienced as a dull, non-throbbing pain in the back of the neck or as a tight headband pain. This type of headache is often associated with tender nodules in the neck, or with tenderness in the muscles around the head. The headache is often worsened by movement or pressure and may be associated with sleep problems, stress and fatigue.

Cluster headaches are very painful one-sided headaches that tend to occur in a cluster of several headaches for a short period of time, after which there may be no headaches for weeks or months. Cluster headaches involve pain in the eye or upper face, with tearing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and facial sweating.

Migraines are very painful headaches that are commonly preceded by warning symptoms, that may include depression, irritability, restlessness, loss of appetite, and a characteristic “aura” - usually a visual shimmering or a localised area of blindness and usually begins on one side of the head becoming worse with exposure to light. Migraines may also involve nausea, vomiting, and changes in vision.

 

General self care
What follows is a general guide for mild to moderate headaches:

  • Have a look at how, when, where and why you experience headaches.
  • Notice if it is linked to factors in your environment, such as noise, bright lights, or chemical fumes; or if it is linked to internal factors such as eating of certain foods or substances within a food or drink, such as red wine, cheese etc.
  • If related to environment, try to avoid these irritating situations.
  • If related to internal factors, try to avoid these trigger foods.
  • Increase your consumption of protective nutrients against headache triggers.
  • Use herbal remedies to act as prevention strategy against headaches.

Avoid environmental factors
The most effective method for controlling symptoms is to avoid the responsible triggers.

  • Tension-type headaches often occur more frequently and may become more severe during or following times of mental or emotional stress.
  • Minimising stress and getting enough sleep and regular exercise is often recommended for tension-type headaches.

Take steps to reduce substances that may aggravate symptoms, such as:

  • Noise
  • Bright, flashing lights
  • Chemical fumes

Calm your headache symptoms
Creating a relaxing environment does not cure headaches, but may help:

  • Relax in a quiet, darkened room.
  • Breathe calmly and deeply.
  • Rehydrate your body and brain with lots of water.
  • Listen to some gentle classical or instrumental music at a very low level volume.
  • Place your feet in cool water to encourage circulation to the legs and feet – this often relieves congestion headaches in the head.

Healthy nutrition
Avoid foods that you find are triggers for your headaches:

  • Refined and processed foods can contain sweeteners, additives and chemicals that your body develops a sensitivity towards, increasing histamine levels and triggering a headache attack.
  • High-fat and fried foods, hydrogenated, oxidised and processed oils or by-products can cause headache symptoms in some people.
  • Dairy products are known to cause sensitivities in some people.
  • Sugar and high-sugar products can increase histamine response and headaches in some people.
  • A high alcohol consumption has been reported to bring on cluster headache attacks in some people
  • Avoid known trigger foods such as red wine, cheese, coffee, caffeine, soda drinks and chocolate.

Recommended self-care supplementation
Over-the-counter (OTC) vitamins and minerals
Consider taking a good multivitamin/mineral and a specific formula blend for headaches that contains:

  • 5 HTP – This may be helpful for tension-type headaches to combat stress.**
  • Magnesium – Preliminary research has shown that supplementing with magnesium (usually 200 mg per day) reduced the frequency of migraines in 80% of those treated.**
  • Selenium – This alleviates headaches by increasing the glutathione peroxidase levels, which play a vital role in detoxicating the excess histamine levels.*
  • Coenzyme Q10 – In a preliminary trial, supplementation for migraine sufferers with 150 mg per day of coenzyme Q10 for three months reduced the average number of days with migraine headaches by 60%.**
  • SAMe – Preliminary research also suggests that SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) may reduce symptoms for some migraine sufferers.**

Please note that OTC vitamin-, mineral- and other supplementation is no substitute for the consultation and advice of a qualified practitioner

Over-the-counter (OTC) herbal remedies
The following herbal remedies are recommended for headaches:

 

Over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic remedies
The following OTC homeopathic remedies can be used for symptomatic relief:

  • Belladonna – for a headache pain that starts at the back of the skull or upper neck and spreads to the forehead and right temple. It is a throbbing or pounding pain that is made worse by jarring, light, and noise. The headache begins in late morning or afternoon, and is often worst around three p.m.
  • Bryonia – A splitting heavy headache, that has a steady pain that settles over the left eye or spreads to the entire head. The pain is made worse by any motion, such as moving the eyes, it helps to lie completely still and be left alone. Nausea and vomiting may occur, even though the person has a very dry mouth and is thirsty.
  • Cimicifuga – the headach pain is mostly a throbbing or shooting pains in the eyes. It is often associated with the menstrual period, or can occur after long-term mental study or worrying. The muscles of the neck can also feel very stiff and painful.
  • Cyclamen – the headache starts with flickering in the eyes, vision problems, or dizziness. Pain is commonly on the right-side and may involve an pain or itchiness of the right ear.
  • Gelsemium – Weak and lethargic body symptoms occur with a heavy feeling in the face and eyes. Vision is affected with a droopy symptoms of the eyes. Pain is mostly felt in the back of the head and muscles of the neck.
  • Ignatia – the headache commonly occurs after an emotional upset or period of grief. The pain is normally limited to one side of the head, and may feel as if a nail has been driven into the area. It is accompanied by sighs, yawns, or weeping and even hysterical behaviour.
  • Iris versicolor – an intense migraine, with vision that blurs and a pain that extends to the face and teeth. It can occur with vomiting and a burning feeling in the throat and stomach. The headache is made worse from resting but better from motion.
  • Kali bichromicum – the headache pain that settles over the eyebrows, or in one eye. When the headache begins, the eyes become very sensitive to light, and vision gradually diminishes. Nausea and dizziness can be intense. If vomiting occurs it does not relieve the headache. The headache symptoms improve from lying in bed and keeping warm.
  • Lachesis – the headache is on the left side. It is a pulsing pain that is made worse from pressure or tight clothing and the face can become flushed or blotchy. Headaches often are worst before the menstrual period and better once the flow begins.
  • Natrum muriaticum – Before the headache starts the lips or face develops numb or tingling feelings, and the eyes are very sensitive to light. The headache often feels better lying in the dark or after sleeping.
  • Sanguinaria – the headache is on the right side. The pain starts with tension in the neck and shoulder, extending to the forehead with a bursting feeling in the eye. Jarring, light, and noise worsen the symptoms, whilst vomiting, burping or passing gas, and sleep improve symptoms.
  • Sepia – the headache is on the left side. It occurs with dizziness and nausea. Symptoms are made worse by missing meals, near menstrual periods or during menopause.
  • Silicea (also called Silica) – the headache pain is on the right side. The pain starts in the back of the head and extends to the forehead. Symptoms are made worse from drafts or from going out in the cold without a hat. The headache may feel better from lying down in a dark, warm room or if the head is covered.
  • Spigelia – the headache is on the left side of the head. The pain is a violent throbbing, or stitching pain above or through the eyeball. Symptoms are made worse by jarring, motion, touch, position changes. The headache improves from lying on the right side with the head supported, and keeping still.

Caution: If you have a chronic illness or routinely take prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC) medication, or you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor, or pharmacist before taking any new medications.

Do not stop taking any prescription medications without the guidance and consultation with your doctor.

[This article was written by natural expert Dr Chase Webber ND]

 
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