By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
The pain of a headache can be so intense, you aren’t able to think straight. Sound, light, and even moving can be pure agony.
Yes, headaches can make life miserable. But they usually don’t strike out of the blue. Most fall into one of three types: tension headaches, sinus headaches and migraines. Unfortunately, when a headache strikes, most of us reach for the aspirin or ibuprofen and hope for the best.
But these drugs aren’t terribly effective and can upset your stomach. What’s worse, frequent use of these over-the-counter pain relievers can lead to peptic ulcers and even intestinal bleeding. In fact, between 15,000 and 18,000 people die each year from overuse of these NSAID drugs.
But here’s a little secret: you may not need drugs at all to soothe your aching head. If you can figure out what type of headaches you suffer from, you can effectively treat them naturally.
Here’s an easy cheat sheet to help you identify the likely cause of your headaches along with my favorite natural headache remedies.
Tension headaches: A tension headache creates a dull ache or squeezing pain that usually strikes the temples or back of the head and neck. Stress, hormones, poor sleep habits, dehydration, or the drop in blood sugar that results from skipping a meal can all trigger tension headaches.
You can head tension headaches off at the pass with acupuncture, massage, or spinal manipulation. If your tension headaches are relatively mild, adopting a yoga practice or learning meditation can help keep them at bay.
Sinus headaches: Fluid buildup in the sinuses can lead to pain across the cheekbones, the bridge of the nose or behind the eyes. Seasonal allergies are usually to blame but food allergies and sinus infections can also create sinus pain and congestion.
If you have a sinus headache, don’t bother with over-the-counter allergy drugs.
Instead, opt for the herb butterbur. Just 50 to 100 mg of butterbur twice a day can soothe your aching head and relieve allergy symptoms. In fact, a Swiss study found that this herb is just as effective as Zyrtec for allergies and sinus headaches.
It’s also important to stay well hydrated to keep fluids moving through your sinus cavities. And stock up on immune-boosting foods such as citrus fruits and dark leafy greens, as well as infection-fighting compounds such as garlic. Using a neti pot (available at your local drug store) to flush out your sinuses can also be helpful.
Migraine headaches: These are the mother of all headaches and are usually characterized as throbbing pain that feels like someone has taken a jackhammer to your head. It’s also not uncommon to experience nausea and vomiting or suffer sensitivity to light and sound.
What you eat can trigger a migraine. The nitrates in hotdogs, the histamines in beer and wine, fermented foods, cheese, peanut butter, chocolate and foods laced with MSG are common triggers. That’s why the first thing I have my patients do if they suffer from migraines is to keep a food diary. Usually eliminating the offending food also eliminates most migraines. But, even if you religiously avoid your trigger foods, migraines can still make an occasional appearance. That’s when you need some extra protection.
Topping the list of natural migraine remedies is feverfew. A German study found that taking this herb for 16 weeks reduced the frequency and the severity of migraines. Other research shows that feverfew can prevent two-thirds of migraines in people who are prone to them.
Personally, I’ve found that combining 100 mg of feverfew with 400 mg of magnesium and 100 mg of Co-Q10 daily can help prevent future migraines. You can also use feverfew when you have a migraine. Take 250 to 325 mg of a feverfew supplement that is standardized to contain 0.2 – 0.4% parthenolides 4 times per day.
And don’t forget magnesium! Known as the “relaxation” mineral, many people simply don’t get enough magnesium. And yet, magnesium depletion can trigger migraines. You can easily avoid this painful side effect by taking 250 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate daily in a divided dose.
No matter what’s causing your headaches or what type they are, throbbing temples are never pleasant. But with the right phytomedicines, their frequency, intensity and duration might not be quite as debilitating. In consultation with your health practitioner, find an herb that works for you.
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