17 Natural Home Remedies for Headaches, and Foods that Trigger Them

  • Medical Author:
    Erica Oberg, ND, MPH

    Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

What natural home remedies relieve pain and get rid of a headache?

Many people are occasionally bothered by headaches and wonder how to get rid of a headache quickly. The way to end a headache quickly depends on what brought it on in the first place.

For many people causes of headaches or triggers are related to

  • dehydration,
  • high blood pressure,
  • tight muscles in the neck and shoulders due to physical or emotional stress, or
  • a reaction to foods, additives, medications, or chemicals that trigger inflammatory reactions in the blood vessels.

To resolve a headache, the correct cause must be addressed. See your health-care professional for evaluation and diagnosis.

These home remedies may help soothe and relieve some headaches.

Surprising Headache and Migraine Triggers

Check out these surprising headache triggers:

  • Your boss
  • The weather
  • Exercise
  • Poor posture
  • Caffeine

Yoga

One research study has shown that yoga can be effective for headaches. The yoga practice included breathing techniques (pranayama) and yoga postures (asana).3 Simple stretching can also be helpful for headaches. Try doing some gentle neck rolls, stretching the jaw, and stretching each ear toward the shoulder.

Meditation or resting

Lying down in a dark room for 15 minutes can often stop a headache or migraine

Meditation, a more purposeful relaxation practice, has been shown to reduce several types of headache in several research studies. Spiritual meditation, as compared to mindfulness or other types of mediation, was most effective at reducing migraines.1

Self-massage

Self-massage around the temples, shoulders and back of the head can help tension headaches. Massage, either self-massage or working with a massage therapist, can resolve chronic neck and shoulder tension that can cause headaches.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture can be effective for certain headaches, like chronic headaches and migraines.2 The acupuncturist will assess the type of headache with a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, and treat the headache with needles in certain places along the energy meridians.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback, especially neurofeedback, is a technique that can be used to re-train the mind. It is helpful for migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches

Exercise

Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise like walking, running, or swimming, can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. Stay well hydrated after exercising!

Essential oils, herbs, and vitamins that soothe and get rid of a headache

Headaches sometimes can be cured naturally. Herbal medicines can help people who get headaches often or suffer from migraines.

Lavender essential oil

Lavender essential oil can be applied to the temples or misted into the air to promote relaxation and relieve some cases of headache. Lavender or rosemary essential oils also can relax the mind and blood vessels in the head. Inhaling the scents of essential oils (try eucalyptus) can be especially helpful for sinus headaches, since this opens up the sinus passages.

Butterbur

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has been researched to prevent and reduce migraines in adults and children. Butterbur is an herb that can be taken as a capsule or tincture. It is taken preventively to reduce recurrent headaches rather than taking it when the headache begins.

Magnesium

Magnesium relaxes blood vessels and can reduce headaches. It can be given intravenously to abort a migraine or bad tension headache in minutes. Taking a magnesium citrate oral supplement can prevent headaches. It is best taken before bed.

Ginkgo biloba and feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

Ginkgo biloba and feverfew also have been studied to reduce migraines.4 These herbs are pain relieving and may reduce a migraine that has already begun.

Vitamin B

Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is effective in preventing some headaches. Research also has found that some people, especially those with MTHFR genetic variations, get headache relief with vitamin B12, B6 and folate acid.6

CoQ10

The nutrient CoQ10 has also been found beneficial for headaches. It helps with several types of recurrent headaches. These natural treatments help get rid of headaches without painkillers.

Quick GuideMigraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Hot or cold compress

Applying a hot compress to the back of the neck or forehead can relax tension and ease vasoconstriction. For some people, a cold compress may feel better. A combination of heating creams (Bengay or similar) and self-massage into the sore muscles of the neck or upper back can help relax the muscles.

Alternate hot and cold compresses and soaks

A classic naturopathic remedy for a headache is to place a hot compress on your head and put your feet in a tub of cold water. This hydrotherapy approach is shocking but works! A milder version of this hydrotherapy is to alternate a hot compress on the head for 5 minutes with an icy cold one for 2 minutes. Always end with cold.

Hydrate

The first thing to try to get rid of a headache without drugs is to drink water or an electrolyte beverage. This helps because, as dehydration is a common cause of a headache. This is especially useful to get rid of a headache that results from drinking alcoholic beverages (a hangover headache). Ideally, choose an electrolyte beverage without artificial colors and sweeteners as these can add to a headache. Packets of powdered drink mixes, such as those mixed with vitamin C, are good options. If you have diabetes it is important to look carefully at the sugar content of the drink.

Coconut and mineral water

Mineral water and coconut water are natural cures for dehydration and relieve headaches related to dehydration. They are natural sources of electrolytes, without the added sugar or artificial sweeteners that are found in many commercial electrolyte beverages.

Caffeine

Many headaches respond to caffeine – a cup of caffeinated tea or coffee can often resolve a headache. Cluster headaches and migraines are most responsive to caffeine.

Natural home remedies for headaches during pregnancy

  • Many of the natural remedies work safely in pregnancy, but any treatment decision must be discussed with the woman's obstetrician or midwife.
  • Non-medication strategies help pregnant women get relief while avoiding both over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbs that may not be safe.
  • Hydration is critical. Dehydration is common in pregnancy. A large glass of mineral water or electrolyte-replacement beverage can resolve dehydration.
  • Blood pressure is often high in pregnancy, and can be a cause of headache. High blood pressure requires treatment.
  • Relaxation, magnesium, and avoiding salt all help with headaches related to high blood pressure.
  • Hydrotherapy, the therapeutic use of hot and cold, is helpful and safe in pregnancy. Apply a hot pack to the head and the back of the neck. This can be paired with a short application of an ice pack to maximize the relief.

What foods trigger headaches?

Foods that cause histamine release and vasospasm

Headaches in some people can be triggered by certain foods that cause histamine release and vasospasm. This is often the cause of cluster headaches. Foods that trigger histamine release can include:

  • Preserved or highly processed foods
  • Canned beans and meats
  • Fermented and aged food
  • Alcohol
  • Shellfish
  • Smoked fish and meat
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Chocolate

Tyramine-rich foods

Another category of foods that can trigger headaches are tyramine-rich foods. Some people have a deficiency of monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down tyramine and other amines. In this situation, too many tyramine-rich foods overwhelm the enzyme and cause headaches. Tyramine-rich foods include:

  • Aged cheeses
  • Aged meats such as air-dried beef
  • Aged sausage and salami
  • Beer, especially on tap
  • Red wine
  • Fermented or aged foods like sauerkraut
  • Soy sauce
  • Miso soup

Salt

Salt also can cause headaches because it leads to fluid retention and high blood pressure. Salt is added to most packaged and processed foods so it is best to avoid those. Check labels and keep sodium less than 1500mg per day. Hidden sources of salt in the diet include

  • Cottage cheese and cheese
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Deli meat and sausages
  • Snacks foods like pretzels and chips
  • Sauces and salad dressings

Which types of specialists treat headache naturally?

Many practitioners may have useful advice about treating headaches without medication. That advice will depend on the precise diagnosis for that particular individual.

Make your health-care professional aware that you are interested in natural therapies. That will allow and open and educated discussion. Your healthcare provider should be able to help you make the right decisions and help diagnose the underlying cause of your headaches.

Sometimes natural remedies may be suggested. You may consider discussing natural treatments for headaches witha qualified, licensed natural health practitioner. Natural health experts for headache include licensed naturopathic doctors (ND or NMD), licensed acupuncturists (LAc or DAOM), massage therapists (LMP or LMT), and certified Reiki or healing touch practitioners (often licensed as nurses or one of the professions listed above).

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Medically Reviewed on 2/14/2018
References
REFERENCES:

Wachholtz, AB., et al. "Effect of Different Meditation Types on Migraine Headache Medication Use.: Behav Med. 2015 Apr 11:1-8. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25864906

Fofi, L., et al. "Acupuncture in cluster headache: four cases and review of the literature." NeuolSci. 2014 May;35 Suppl 1:195-8. doi: 10.1007/s10072-014-1769-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 24867865.

Kim, SD. "Effects of yoga exercises for headaches: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials." J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Ju;27(7):2377-80. Epub 2015 Jul 22. Review.

Rajapakse, T., et al. "Nutraceuticals in Migraine: A Summary of Existing Guidelines for Use." Headache. 2016 Mar 7. doi: 10.1111/head.12789. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26954394.

Mauskop A. "Nonmedication, alternative, and complementary treatments for migraine." Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2012 Aug:18(4):796-806.

Agosti R. et al. "Effectiveness of Petasites hybridus preparations in the prophylaxis of migraine: a systematic review." Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov;13(9-10):743-6.
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