6 Natural Migraine Remedies To Try Before Tylenol
Headaches, which can range from a hint of tension behind the eyes to full-blown, debilitating migraines, are one of the most common health woes in the world. A headache every now and then is no big deal, but if you’re one of the million of people — 12% of the total population, be exact — that suffers from migraines on a regular basis, you’re almost definitely interested in natural remedies that would help prevent and treat them.
But first, what is a migraine, exactly? Anyone who’s had a migraine understands that migraines are way more than just a headache. They occur when the blood vessels in the head tense up and cause throbbing and pain — pain that is much more intense than you’d get with a regular headache. Migraines can also last longer and come with a host of other symptoms, such as:
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and/or vomiting
This combination of uncomfortable symptoms can push you over the edge and leave you unable to do anything other than lay in your bed and wait for relief.
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As a functional medicine practitioner, I specialize in finding natural remedies and alternative solutions to a wide range of health problems, and migraine headaches are one of them. These are my favorite simple tools for alleviating migraine symptoms effectively.
1. Experiment with essential oils
Essential oils are extracts of highly concentrated plant compounds that can be used for anything from immune support to relaxation. This healing modality is called aromatherapy. When it comes to migraines, essential oils can be used in a couple of different ways. If you suspect your migraine is stress-related, try breathing in lavender oil. You can use a diffuser to distribute the scent in your home or put a few drops of lavender essential oil (1) on your wrist and simple inhale. Another option is peppermint, which can relieve pain and cause a cooling sensation when applied topically. I recommend using one drop of lavender on the base of the neck or near the temples, just make sure to avoid your eyes!
2. Give an elimination diet a shot
My patients are often shocked to hear that their headaches might be connected to the foods they’re eating. But the truth is, food intolerances can cause a slew of health issues, including migraines (2). In fact, one study even showed that migraine occurrences decreased (3) in those who did an elimination diet. What’s an elimination diet? It’s a process that involves eliminating common problem foods for a certain period of time, and then adding foods back in one-by-one and observing your symptoms. This can help you pinpoint exactly which foods your body gets along with, and even more importantly, which ones it doesn’t. You may find that gluten, alcohol, or certain preservatives are to blame for your migraines. My book, The Inflammation Spectrum, walks you through exactly how to do an elimination diet.
3. Stock up on magnesium
Magnesium might not be the trendiest supplement around, but it’s the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and essential for a ton of different bodily functions, including blood sugar regulation, muscle contraction, and relaxation of the blood vessels that tense up during a migraine. Knowing this, it won’t come as a huge surprise that up to 50% of migraine sufferers are deficient in magnesium and as much as 60% of sufferers have genetic mutations that inhibit magnesium metabolism.
The good news is that eating more magnesium-rich foods — like dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish like salmon — can help. You can also purchase powdered magnesium supplements that can be added to a glass of water or smoothies for more targeted relief during a migraine. Some migraine clinics even administer IV magnesium sulfate for acute migraines! When it comes to migraines, magnesium is a “must try.”
4. Set boundaries
When it comes to migraines, this one is big. Stress is a known cause of migraines and oftentimes, our approach to stress is more about managing stress instead of preventing it. So while you can’t eliminate stress from your life completely (I wish!), setting boundaries with your phone, your friends, your boss, and your family members can keep you from spinning out and ending up with a migraine. If you’re not sure where to start, try these suggestions:
- Spend 30 minutes each day without your phone. Lock it in a closet or put it in a drawer and spend that time reading, journaling, or walking.
- Vow to log off your work email at 9 p.m. unless there’s a true emergency.
- Commit to 20 minutes of yoga each day.
5. Do yoga
Speaking of yoga, having a regular yoga practice increases blood flow and relaxes muscles, which can help with migraine relief. Research has shown that incorporating a regular yoga practice in conjunction with other migraine treatments can provide more relief than just treatment alone (4). There are a ton of free yoga resources online, try a restorative class from PopSugar Fitness or these 10 poses from mindbodygreen and get yoga-ing right in your own home.
6. Try feverfew
In addition to natural minerals like magnesium, the earth has given us an abundance of natural plant and herbal remedies. Feverfew is a plant that has been studied for its ability to help alleviate migraine pain due to its anti-inflammatory abilities. While more research needs to be done around this herb, some studies have shown that supplementing anywhere between 50 to 150mg per day can reduce migraine frequency (5). If you suffer from frequent migraines, it’s definitely worth a try.
Migraines can be incredibly painful and frustrating, but leaning on these six tips and tricks might just make the difference.
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- Sasannejad, P., Saeedi, M., Shoeibi, A., Gorji, A., Abbasi, M., & Foroughipour, M. (2012). Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. European neurology, 67(5), 288–291. https://doi.org/10.1159/000335249
- Bunner, A. E., Agarwal, U., Gonzales, J. F., Valente, F., & Barnard, N. D. (2014). Nutrition intervention for migraine: a randomized crossover trial. The journal of headache and pain, 15(1), 69. https://doi.org/10.1186/1129-2377-15-69
- Mitchell, N., Hewitt, C. E., Jayakody, S., Islam, M., Adamson, J., Watt, I., & Torgerson, D. J. (2011). Randomised controlled trial of food elimination diet based on IgG antibodies for the prevention of migraine like headaches. Nutrition journal, 10, 85. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-85
- Kisan, R., Sujan, M., Adoor, M., Rao, R., Nalini, A., Kutty, B. M., Chindanda Murthy, B., Raju, T., & Sathyaprabha, T. (2014). Effect of Yoga on migraine: A comprehensive study using clinical profile and cardiac autonomic functions. International journal of yoga, 7(2), 126–132. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.133891
- Pareek, A., Suthar, M., Rathore, G. S., & Bansal, V. (2011). Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacognosy reviews, 5(9), 103–110. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-7847.79105
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.