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Treating Headaches Naturally

1_8717E752White Willow BarkHeadaches are one of humanity’s most common afflictions. Vascular headaches result from dilation of the blood vessels in the head, and non-vascular (psychogenic) headaches result from stress. Many headaches are caused by neuromuscular/skeletal imbalances. Low blood sugar can be factor. If one feels worse when bending, it may be a sinus headache. Headaches are considered a heat disease where Liver chi (energy) rises when the liver is congested. Poor posture and lack of sleep can also contribute to headaches.

Dietary Suggestions

Stay off sugars and eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep blood sugar levels on a more even keel. Foods to eat more of include barley, black sesame seed, buckwheat, rye, carrots, celery, radish, and scallions.

Food allergy is common with migraine sufferers. Dairy products, eggs, wheat and food additives, such as MSG, aspartame, sulfites, nitrates and nitrites, red and yellow dye may all be culprits. A sensitivity to the amino acid tyramine commonly triggers migraines. Tyramine occurs in avocados, bananas, cheese, citrus, red wine, peanuts, fermented, pickled and smoked foods, plums, sourdough bread and baker’s yeast. Chocolate contains phenylethalamine which has a similar effect.

Caffeine consumption causes blood vessel constriction, and even caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches. It is best to gradually decrease caffeine rather than all at once.

Minimize excess spicy foods, heated fats and fried foods. Avoid ice-cold foods and drink. Minimize dairy products, flour and sugar all of which can contribute to mucous congestion and sinus headaches. It may be helpful to eliminate suspect foods for several weeks and add them back one at a time to see if any bring on a reaction.

Herbs for Headaches

Feverfew herb ( Tanacetum parthenium ) inhibits inflammatory prostaglandin biosynthesis and helps inhibit the blood from clumping together. Feverfew helps prevent treat migraines by inhibiting serotonin and histamine release which can dilate blood vessels. Feverfew has anti-inflammatory properties and helps tone the blood vessels. A study done at King’s College Hospital in London found that 70% of those that used feverfew had a reduction in the frequency and intensity of headaches. One third had no headaches. Feverfew works best as a preventative taken on a daily basis rather than when headache is already in progress.

Ginger root ( Zingiber officinale ) inhibits biochemical pathways associated with inflammation and prevents blood platelet aggregation. Ginger helps relieve pain, reduces inflammation and spasms.

Peppermint leaf (Mentha piperita) helps relieves migraines and headaches. It improves liver function, calms the nerves, is a mild vasodilator, reduces inflammation, and calms spasms, Scullcap herb(Scutellaria lateriflora) stimulates endorphin production. It helps ease tension headaches, can help relieve pain, reduce inflammation and spasms, and calm the nerves.

White Willow bark (Salix alba) inhibits prostaglandin production and thereby reduces inflammation. It contains salicin, a forerunner of aspirin and can help relieve pain.

Vitamin Therapy 

Magnesium relaxes muscles and can help migraine and tension type headaches. B Complex has also been found helpful. Essential fatty acids such as found in fish, flax and hemp seed oil can help by reducing the inflammation associated with headaches. Some have found relief from using the amino acids DLPA, L-Glutamine and GABA. 5HTP is a precursor to serotonin and those with low levels of this brain chemical are more susceptible to pain. Migraines, when treated immediately can he helped by the vasodilating effects of 100 mg. of niacin (also known as vitamin B3). Niacin can cause a ten minute heat sensation that will soon pass.

Hydrotherapy

A simple folk remedy is to sit with the feet in hot water Add one teaspoon of ginger or mustard powder to a gallon of water. While doing this, apply a cold compress to the back of the neck at the base of the skull for five minutes.

Some find that spraying a cold jet of water directly onto the soles of the feet constricts blood vessels and relieves headache.

Another hydrotherapy technique is to sit on a waterproof stool in the shower with legs apart, bending forward with hands clasped in back of the neck. Allow the elbows to fall between the knees so the upper back muscles get stretched. Have a spray of warm/hot water aimed towards the back of the head for five minutes. Turn off the water. Dry off. Soak a face towel in very cold water. Apply it to the same area you were spraying with hot water. Leave in place for half a minute

Aromatherapy

Unwind in an aromatherapy bath of lavender, peppermint or rosemary. An aromatherapy headache pillow can be made by stuffing a sachet full of aromatic headache herbs like peppermint, rosemary and lavender. Take it to bed with you. Breathe deep the comforting aromas.

Try making a hot or cold tea of lavender, peppermint or rosemary. Soak a cloth in the tea and apply to the forehead and back of neck.

Try sniffing some horseradish or mustard from a jar. An herbal steam inhalation of peppermint or lavender essential oil can headache relieving.

Folk Remedies 

An Irish folk remedy for headaches is to loosely tie a bandanna around the head and then slip some slices of raw sliced potato between the head and scarf. Place the potatoes strategically where the pain is throbbing, over temples or over eyes. Lie down in a quiet room. After an hour the potato slices should be very warm and the headache relieved.

One teaspoon gomasio, simply eaten or a teaspoon of umeboshi plum paste stirred into a cup of hot water and slowly sipped is a favorite Japanese headache remedies.

The acupuncture point, hoku can be stimulated with the fingers to give headache relief. It is located in the fleshy mound in the hand just above where the thumb and forefinger bones come together.

Lifestyle Techniques 

Electro-magnetic pollution can be a factor in headaches. Do you live near major power lines? Is your bed near an excessive amount of clocks, TV, stereo equipment and computer ware? Do what you can to minimize any of these factors, such as moving the bed or electric paraphernalia.

Pay attention to how you hold yourself. Do you clench your jaws, and hold your neck tight? Breathe into tense area and let go. Consider getting professional body alignments.

Biofeedback training and hypnosis can teach a headache prone person to relax. Avoid exposure to hot sun, which can bring on headaches. Wear a hat when outdoors.

When dealing with a headache, lie down, do deep slow breathing and practice tensing then relaxing each part of your body. Some people find that having a bowel movement at the onset of a headache, will diminish the pain.

Other Considerations 

Sometimes headaches require medical attention. See your health practitioner if the headache is 1) caused by a blow to the head 2) worsened by coughing, sneezing or vomiting. 3) accompanied by fever, memory loss, double vision, speech and hearing difficulties. 4) accompanied by sexual, bladder or menstrual problems. 5) very sudden, the patient is elderly, or arteries on the side of the head are engorged 6) accompanied by sweating and fever. 7) brought on after taking some kind of medicine.

Rather than simply blocking out the pain of a headache, it is important to determine the cause and remedy that.

Written by Brigitte Mars

Brigitte Mars is an herbalist and nutritional consultant with over forty years experience. She is the author of Beauty by Nature, Rawsome!, The Sexual Herbal, Addiction Free Naturally, Healing Herbal Teas, The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, and co-author of The Country Almanac of Home Remedies, and The Hemp Nut Health and Cookbook. Brigitte has had a radio show on KGNU called Naturally for over twenty years. She is a professional member of The American Herbalist Guild. Ms. Mars teaches at Naropa University, Boulder College of Massage, Omega Institute, Kripalu, and Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts. Brigitte is a blogger for The Huffington Post and Care2. www.brigittemars.com, 303 442-4967, brigitte@indra.com

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