Dr. David Greuner of NYC Surgical Associates notes that 3-4% of the general population suffers from chronic headaches, so it can be extremely common for people to start overusing either prescribed or over-the-counter medications, even if a natural alternative or lifestyle change might also give them relief.
Greuner says that overuse of headache medications can cause many issues, including Medication Overuse Headaches (MOH). “When someone suffers from chronic headaches and overuses different medications, MOH can potentially lead to depression and anxiety, or even end up causing headaches. As the headache medication wears off, the pain returns, leading to the individual to take more.” This can cause a surprisingly common pain cycle, with MOH affecting 1-2% of the US population.
When your head starts hammering, it’s easy to reach for a pill bottle for relief. But conventional and prescription drug medications aren’t for everyone, and they don't need to be used for every headache.
To avoid overusing medication next time your head is pounding, there are many natural remedies for headaches to try first. Here are seven that experts recommend.
Natural Headache Remedies Before Reaching For Medication
Headache Remedies 1# Essential oils
Various aromatic essential oils can be effective headache treatments. Diluted peppermint oil rubbed along the sinuses can provide great relief for sinus headaches. Dr. Milosavljevic also recommends frankincense, which has sedating properties that can relieve stress as well as stress headaches.
“Lavender is another scent that you can use to combat headaches, particularly migraines. Enjoy lavender in a variety of ways: infused in the bath, as an essential oil, in raw herb form in a pouch, and even through an eye pillow.”
Headache Remedies 2# Cayenne
Greuner suggests a cayenne muscle rub to stimulate your body's circulation and reduce acidity. The capsaicin in cayenne is good for treating pain and inflammation. Studies have found that if you apply cayenne (about 1/4 teaspoon diluted in four oz of water) topically with a Q-tip around your nostrils, it can relieve headaches and relax your muscles.
Headache Remedies 3# Change your health habits.
Greuner notes that headaches may actually be an indicator that your body is missing something like enough water, certain vitamins, or sleep. Stress, fatigue, allergies, poor posture, alcohol, low blood sugar, and hormones can also trigger headaches.
So sometimes a lifestyle change can be paramount in putting headaches to a halt. Examine your diet, your water intake, and how much sleep you're getting first.
Headache Remedies 4# Healing teas
A good tea can have a surprising effect on even a fierce headache. Dr. Nada Milosavljevic, founder and director of the Integrative Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and tea specialist and founder of Sage Tonic teas, says “Peppermint has been shown to calm the discomfort related to tension headaches. Cinnamon, known to have anti-inflammatory properties, can also ease an upset stomach, a symptom commonly paired with headaches.”
Milosavljevic offers headache-fighting herbs like peppermint and cinnamon in her Sage Tonic Clear Head Tea. She also recommends feverfew leaf tea, which has been used for centuries to ease headache pains.
Headache Remedies 5# Natural supplements
Dr. Jennifer Stagg, a biochemist turned naturopathic physician, recommends nutritional supplements that support mitochondrial function for chronic headaches. “I often recommend including magnesium, Coenzyme Q10, and omega-3 fatty acids,” she says, “For migraine sufferers, I recommend taking riboflavin (vitamin B2) and magnesium daily for prevention.”
Neurologist Dr. Damon Salzman, a headache and sleep expert who suffers from migraines, recommends taking supplements like Lifeback, which he created. It uses a combination of naturally occurring compounds like riboflavin (vitamin B2), magnesium, ginger root, and melatonin to fight migraines.
Headache Remedies 6# Preventative earplugs
If you know in advance you're going to be in a loud area like a concert. It's best to be prepare and have spare earplugs on hand as a preventative measure. If you suffer from serious chronic migraines, you may want to invest in ear plugs like those made by MigraineX, which makes preventative ear plugs specifically for travel and weather-related migraines. They even comes along with an app that measure barometric pressure changes often accompanying weather-related migraines so that the user has advance notice of a potential migraine onset.
Headache Remedies 7# Exercise
For bio-mechanist Katy Bowman, MS, exercise has been effective for reducing frequency of headaches. “The heel strike that occurs during walking has recently been recognized as creating a pressure wave that increases the amount of blood to the brain,” she says.
Also, if you’re walking, you’re likely taking a break from the computer. So the relaxation of the eyes and muscles in the face and neck brings about relief.