Dear Readers, this week’s question comes from Tanya from Newmarket. Tanya struggles with recurring migraines and wants to know if there is a holistic remedy to help. The good news is there are several things you can do to reduce headaches and migraines naturally. Today, we’ll look at the top 10 things I use clinically.
Top 10 Holistic Hacks for Headaches and Migraines
1. Drink more water
The No. 1 reason for chronic headaches and migraines is dehydration or a water/mineral imbalance in the body. A number of us get too busy to remember to drink enough water. For these people, I suggest drinking a large cup (12-16 oz) of water on waking and then taking one cup of water every time they urinate throughout the day. This ensures they stay hydrated with minimal effort.
There are other people who find it difficult to stay hydrated on an ongoing basis because they dislike the taste of water or because they are low in electrolytes. In hot countries, it’s well understood that drinking water alone will not rehydrate the body properly and that additional minerals and sodium are needed. To create a homemade electrolyte drink, you can take two cups of unsweetened coconut water and four cups of water and add to that the juice of two fresh lemons or some unsweetened pomegranate juice. To this, I add one-two stevia packets or some raw honey if you prefer.
If you don’t consume sea salt on your food, add 1/2 tsp of Himalayan sea salt. Mix it all and sip through the day. The recipe provides sodium, magnesium, and potassium, as well as trace minerals in good amounts. It can help you replenish your minerals after exercise or after a period of being unwell. It can also help with regular headaches and migraines.
2. Drink coffee
Some people have a condition whereby every weekend when they sleep in, they wake with a mean headache while all week they are fine. Sleeping longer means they miss their usual coffee, and the result is blood rushing to the head through much more relaxed blood vessels. You see, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor. It constricts the veins. This not only helps with not developing a headache, but it also helps with the throbbing that happens as a headache progresses. One of the best things to do when a headache comes on is to reach for a strong cup of coffee or a caffeine tablet. And if you’re normally up with a coffee at 7 a.m., sleeping past that time may trigger headaches on weekends.
3. Try white flower oil
This is an essential oil blend available at traditional Chinese medicine shops. It comes in a small glass bottle, and only a few drops are needed. I advise using gloves to apply them to the occiput and the area that the headache affects, keeping it away from the mucous membranes and the eyes. It’s very menthol, and you will walk around smelling like a human peppermint, but it’s amazing at stopping the headache pain in its tracks. When rubbed on the occiput and followed with an ice pack and strong coffee, this remedy is the bomb. I sell more of this remedy than any in my practice for this very reason.
It can also be used for sprains and strains. True story: a chef I worked with once came to work with a very bad hand injury. His hand was swollen terribly, and he was struggling to get through the day. I insisted he rubs it with white flower oil, 10 minutes after which he sought me out. “What was that stuff!! Where do I get some?” The pain he’d felt all day had totally vanished! Until that point, I don’t think he’d realized the power of holistic medicine.
4. Normalize your blood sugar
High or low blood sugar can bring on headaches and trigger migraines. It’s very common in those with insulin resistance. If it’s high blood sugar, 15 to 30 minutes after eating a meal high in sugar or carbohydrates, the headache will come on. If it’s low blood sugar, it will come on a few hours after eating a carbohydrate or sugar-rich meal. You may feel faint and irritable, as well. The solution for both of these is to avoid foods that spike blood sugar - sugars and carbs. Reduce them greatly for all kinds of health benefits, including fewer headaches.
5. Get food intolerance testing
Hidden food intolerances contribute greatly to headaches. The best way to figure these out is with a blood or hair analysis that determines the foods your body reacts to. Removing or rotating these can help greatly with reducing or eliminating headaches. The most common trigger foods are red wine and chocolate.
6. Remove toxins from your environment
This can include a wide variety of items, from scented home products and all chemical cleaners to body care products and toothpaste. Using the most natural products, you can reduce the toxins your body has to deal with and will reduce your reactivity to foods. It will also reduce the burden on your liver.
7. Do a bowel cleanse
A simple bowel cleanse can also help reduce the toxic load in the body, thereby helping it to be more resilient and less prone to headaches. There are several commercial products for this, but the old standard is psyllium husk in water with bentonite powder in water. The two work to scrub and draw toxins from the bowel walls to be expelled. Many cleansing kits contain these in combination with other herbs. The herbs are not essential for a cleanse but aren’t harmful either. Doing a bowel cleanse for two-four weeks once a year is a good standard practice to maintain good overall health.
8. Do a liver cleanse
A liver cleanse is equally easy and important and can also be done yearly, following the bowel cleanse. Using a herbal tincture is a very easy way to do a liver cleanse. This one by St. Francis is a good product. You simply add it to your water. When doing a liver cleanse, it’s a great time to clean up your diet, as well. But even as a stand-alone, it can make a difference in how your body handles toxins. A telltale sign that the liver is overworked is a headache triggered by scents. In this case, a liver (and colon) cleanse are absolutely necessary.
9. Try white willow bark extract
Never heard of it? Maybe not, but I’m sure you know the pain-relieving part of this plant. White willow bark produces salicin, the backbone for salicylic acid and the active ingredient in aspirin. However, in its whole plant state, it does not cause stomach distress or nasty side effects. Just like aspirin, it quickly removes pains in the body by blocking pain signals (analgesic) and by reducing inflammation that causes pain (anti-inflammatory). It’s been used since at least 500 BC for pain and fevers. To try it, you can get white willow bark whole for tea or powder in capsule form. I recommend following the directions on the product to determine if it’s helpful for your headache pain.
10. Remove inflammatory foods
Of course, inflammation can play a role in headache pain just as it does with other pains in the body. Removing the foods that drive inflammation - sugars, grains, processed foods, and vegetable oils - can greatly reduce the incidence and severity of headaches. Within two weeks, you will notice an improvement when you switch to an anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet. Let’s review the best foods from a few weeks ago.
Top Anti-inflammatory Foods
Let’s look at the foods that are most powerful at helping to reduce inflammation in the body. Fish and seeds that contain omega 3 are great for down-regulating inflammation. These include sardines, salmon, chia, and hemp. If you dislike fish, you can always take fish oil to get the benefit in concentrated form. Look for a product with high EPA and DHA. DHA is particularly important for brain health, which plays a role in headaches and migraines.
Apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized) is also a great anti-inflammatory product. It helps us better digest protein in our diets, as well, giving it great benefit when taken with or just before a meal. Improved digestion means fewer toxins, and that’s good news for headache sufferers.
Turmeric root and turmeric powder have potent anti-inflammatory properties, as does the fresh ginger root. Including these every day in your diet or adding them as supplements can drastically help inflammation, like headaches. Making tea with fresh ginger and turmeric root with raw honey and apple cider vinegar is exceptional as a remedy for flare-ups. Add some cayenne pepper if you can handle it. This is my go-to recipe for acute inflammation! I’ve seen results in just a few days!
What we need to remember is that food isn’t like medicine - it is medicine. We can use it as a first-line treatment to reduce inflammation in the body so that any medication treatment we undertake is both absolutely necessary and more effective because the body has all it needs to help us heal on a deeper level and to prevent the injury from repeating.
Thank you, Tanya, for your question, I hope you found this helpful. If you have your own health issue or question, just send me an email at [email protected]. And if you’re looking for more specific health information, check out my website at hopenotdope.ca. If you want to learn more, you can find other articles like this one at askthenutritionist.substack.com.