Headaches & Migraines – the pain you cannot think around

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Monique Nelson

Founder at Choose to Cook
Monique Nelson is the founder, chief organizer and editor at Choose To Cook, and is highly motivated to help people of the world take charge of their health through simple and delicious nutritional changes.
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Dramatic featured image, no? It’s because two days ago I had a migraine and, considering I am still feeling the residual symptoms I was feeling uncommonly dramatic while I wrote this post.

When it was developing, luckily, it really picked up steam as I was finishing up in the office and didn’t totally incapacitate me until a few hours after I got home. I don’t get them often, but I always try to “mind-over-matter” them. I am fairly successful at ignorning headaches by being busy or occupying my mind with something else, but a migraine will bring me to the “I think I’m going to be sick from the pain, please-oh-please make it stop” state much quicker than I’m ever prepared for. If I do choose to take some form of painkiller at that point, it’s usually much too late. Like yesterday, for example.

I don’t get migraines often and, if I’m being honest (which I always am), I really hoped I wouldn’t get another after going Vegan. Especially during my “dry month!” I know that drinking Shiraz will affect me, but I haven’t touched a drop of any wine all month and I feel a bit cheated. I think it may have been caused by a pair of glasses that I haven’t worn in ages. Though it could have been something else entirely, I’ll probably never know for sure.

But the point of this post is not to diagnose the cause of my head pain, but rather to research some natural remedies to hopefully help tame the pain in any future events. And, of course, share said research with you! The condensed version of my findings is below, but before we get to that, let me please remind you that I am NOT a doctor or professional of any type and anything you read here is NOT meant to diagnose or cure you in any way. I am not recommending anything, I am merely sharing what I have researched and deemed reasonable for me to try for myself. I suggest you speak to your trusted professional if you are suffering from concerning headaches or migraines.

3 Most Common Types of Headaches

I have experienced a variety of headaches, and this list is obviously not all-inclusive. But there are 3 types that most people seem to suffer from most frequently.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache around, and they are usually caused by stress, lack of sleep or actual physical tension. For example, my walk to the office takes approximately 50 minutes a day, and I pack a substantial lunch with me everyday. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen an example or two. That lunch gets rather heavy in my big, big purse, and it weighs down on my shoulder quite a bit. Occasionally, this will cause massive tension and, consequently, a tension headache. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like something is literally squeezing your head, to the point where you can feel each heartbeat put pressure against your skull which feels likes it’s all of a sudden a few sizes too small for your brain. The pain can run from one ear to the other and back around, and often in the neck and shoulders as well.

Cluster Headaches

I consider myself very fortunate to never have experienced this particular type of headache, through I have a good friend who has and compared it to getting “an ice pick to her head” multiple times a day. The pain doesn’t last long, in comparison to some other types of headache, but it is fierce and incapacitating and returns sporadically throughout an unspecified time length that could last for days. The complete inability to prepare for this type of assault is horrendous to think about, and I sympathize so dearly with anyone who has dealt with this before. Since I have never had this type of headache, I’d be very interested to hear about your experience in the comments below, what has helped and what has been a totally remedy flop, should you care to share!

Migraine Headaches

And of course, last but not least, my current mortal enemy, the migraine headache. In my personal and very recent experience, migraines are essentially debilitating – causing you to writhe in pain in total darkness and silence while in bed, attempting vainly both not to move and to find that elusive position that will ease your pain and let you find the comforting bliss of sleep. Migraines generally cause a throbbing pain on one side of your head, those sometimes the pain seems to move around, from behind your eye to the back of your head, to in your ear somewhere.

Migraines can be genetic, thanks mom and women are three time more likely to have them than men. According to WebMD, a quarter of all women will experience migraines at some point in their life. Wow.

5 Best Natural Remedies for Headaches or Migraines

As you may have discovered by this point, I am not a fan of taking “drugs.” I usually have some form of Ibuprofen in the house, in case of emergencies, but I really prefer to find a more natural solution whenever possible. To the best of my knowledge, here are the best non-drug remedies for the three most common types of headaches.

Massage

Woman receiving a head massage to relieve headacheThis remedy works like magic for me. Because the pain is often caused by tension, having a massage can help release that tension, allowing you to relax. Spend a few minutes in a meditative, distressing state and then take a nap. This almost always brings me back to normal. But sadly, a massage is not always a realistic option. If you don’t have someone generous enough and with talented fingers willing to endure your totally justified “woe-is-me” attitude long enough to rub you down in the comfort of your own home, and you don’t have the funds or the ability to get your throbbing head out of bed in order to visit an actual masseuse, you may want to try one of the other options…story of my life.

Ginger Tea

Ginger can be very effective at relieving headaches mainly due to ginger’s great success rate at reducing inflammation. Fresh ginger, in my opinion, is best and is very cost effective and easy do. Just scrape the skin off, grate some ginger into a mug and cover with hot water. You can use powdered ginger as well, and studies show the results are the same; just at 1/4 of a teaspoon should do the trick! This site has a nice little video that discusses some pretty impressive test results when Ginger was used as a migraine treatment: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/ginger-for-migraines/

Capsaicin Cream

Full disclosure, I have not tried this but I have heard it works. I find it a bit worrisome to have hot pepper that close to your eyes – cayenne pepper is the main ingredient – but if you are careful and desperate, it may be a good solution for you. Apparently you just put a dab on your finger and apply it to the inside of the nostril and the side of your head where you are feeling the worst of the pain. My [probably flawed] synopsis of the theory behind it is that the nerves in your nose that send pain signals to your brain are the same as the nerves that are affected by a migraine or a cluster headaches. These nerves can only handle a certain amount of pain before they are exhausted of sending the signals to the brain and basically just stop. They just stop telling the brain they’re in pain. So, if you can build up a tolerance over as little as 5 days to the pain of the pepper cream in your nose, these particular nerves will stop sending the pain signal to the brain, whether the cause is burning pepper or ice pick pressure. NutritionFacts.org has a great video which is equal parts terrifying and heartening: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/hot-sauce-in-the-nose-for-cluster-headaches/

Chlorophyll

Edamame with Coconut Oil and SaltIf you remember your high school science, you will know that chlorophyll is what plants use in photosynthesis and it is also what makes plants green. It is supposed to help alleviate headaches in 3 ways – getting more oxygen to your brain, increasing your dietary magnesium, and decreasing inflammation. There are supplements that you can take, but you make know me well enough by know to know that I don’t really like supplementation of things that we can get naturally. And chlorophyll can obviously be obtained naturally through eating your vegetables! Green vegetables, in particular, have a healthy dosage of this lovely powerhouse player, as do the uber trendy wheat grass and spirulina. If you’re following me on Instagram, you’ll know I had a heaping helping of Edamame for lunch today. Yum. Just saying.

Oxygen

This one may sound likes it’s not even worth mentioning but the scary thing is that it is! Our lifestyles are actually making it so that many of us are not getting as much oxygen in our bloodstream, and therefore to our brain, as we should be. Toxins in the air and in our food and the things we put on our skin is making our blood “dirty” and allowing less room for oxygen to get in and be transported where it needs to go. Making that worse is the fact that our sedentary lifestyles and our poor posture means that we are breathing more lazily than ever – small, shallow breaths rather than full, deep breaths – and bringing in even less oxygen. When your brain begins to lack in oxygen, it starts to hurt! So if you can get more oxygen to your brain you may be able to reduce the pain you feel with a headache. Spending a few minutes with your eyes closed focused on nothing else but taking deep breaths in and mentally directing them towards the pain can help. I’ve also found that hanging upside down helps, as it increases blood flow – and therefore oxygen to your brain.

BONUS TIPS for Preventing Headaches and Migraines

Acupressure Massage and/or Acupuncture

If you have the time and resources, exploring the ancient art of healing form Chinese culture can be a great way to prevent and reduce the pain of your headaches and/or migraines. Sadly, I have never had the opportunity (aka money or guts) to try either of these, but they are certainly on my to-do list because I have heard incredible stories.

Acupressure massage is a technique of applying pressure to certain points on the body that can and will help relieve pain. It can also be used to promote long-term stress relief, relaxation, pain management and overall wellness. At the risk of sounding like a plagiaristic parrot, I’m just going to share a quote from WebMd.com that describes the principles behind this type of therapy:

It is believed that through these invisible channels flows vital energy — or a life force called qi (ch’i). It is also believed that these 12 major meridians connect specific organs or networks of organs, organizing a system of communication throughout your body. The meridians begin at your fingertips, connect to your brain, and then connect to an organ associated with a certain meridian. (WebMD on Acupressure Massage)

The practice is very similar in acupuncture, with the marked difference that thin little needles are tapped into your skin to realign this flow of energy.

You can learn some techniques to be able to find the pressure points and do some acupressure massage on yourself, though I wouldn’t personally try the needles on yourself without some certified guidance. If you try either of these, yourself or with a licensed practitioner, please let me know in the comments section below. I’m very intrigued by this!

Changing Your Diet

There are many food items that are well known to cause headaches and migraines, and some that may just cause a headache or migraine in you due to some sort of intolerance or mild allergy. If you suffer from head pain on a regular basis you may want to consider keeping a food journal. Note what you eat each time you have a headache and see if there is any crossover. If you don’t notice any patterns, try eliminating common causes, or talk to your doctor/nutritionist/dietitian/authority-of-choice about an elimination diet.

Some foods that have been known to trigger headaches include:

  • Wine
  • Caffeine or the lack of it once one drinks it regularly.
  • Cheese
  • Cold Cuts and other highly processed meats

It’s also very important to realize that headaches can also be a result of skipping meals or overexerting yourself in a significant way. Both of these can lead to a drop in your blood sugar levels which can trigger headaches, nausea and a myriad of other symptoms.

Exercise!

Woman doing simple yoga and meditation outsideRegular exercise keeps you healthy and headache free in so, so many ways. Basic immune function is increased, stress levels are decreased, inflammation goes down, blood flow and oxygenation goes up…I could go on and on, but this is not the place for it. Just please realize that exercise is good for you and even the smallest amount can help prevent headaches from bothering you on a regular basis. Yoga and other forms of strategic stretching may be especially useful and it helps to keep your body aligned properly, reducing tension, promoting better posture and allowing all your insides functions to operate properly.

There are, of course, other types, causes and remedies of/for headaches and migraines, but these are the most common in my experience and research. Again, please do not consider anything you have read here as medical advice and always consult your doctor with any questions or concerns you may have. But – if you have been successful in curing, preventing or lessening headaches in your life through some natural or holistic method, please share your experiences in the comments section below!

PS: I find NutritionFacts.org a very helpful and entertaining source of data. I think the site is fairly reputable, but I am not 100% sure of that. It doesn’t appear to be an “internet sourced fact regurgitater” like so many other sources…like this blog, for example. D’oh.

Post Author: Monique Nelson

Monique Nelson is the founder, chief organizer and editor at Choose To Cook, and is highly motivated to help people of the world take charge of their health through simple and delicious nutritional changes.

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