A headache can stop you in your tracks, making it impossible to carry out your daily tasks. And when these headaches come regularly, they can leave you reaching for products that provide relief far too often. It’s great that there are natural headache remedies or “rescue treatments” available if you are in pain and need immediate relief. But it’s not enough to make the headache disappear temporarily. I always tell my patients that headaches, whether chronic or occasional, are like all symptoms; they’re a call to pay attention to something else that is going on in your body and/or your life.
I believe that knowledge is power. Understanding the circumstances that surround a symptom like headaches can yield a gold mine of information about what your body responds to – and what situations will throw you off balance.
The good news is that most chronic headaches, including tension, cluster, and migraines, can be improved by nutrition and lifestyle changes. The first step in developing a natural headache prevention strategy is to begin a headache diary. Unlike other diaries that require recording every little thing you do, keeping a headache diary is relatively simple: whenever you have a headache. you record the details that will help you and your practitioner better diagnose your type of headache and its possible triggers.
In your diary, you’ll record the date and time of the headache; how long it lasts; what it felt like; how intense it was (a scale of 1-10 works well); any other symptoms you are aware of before, during or after; any medications including Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or birth control pills you’ve taken; any triggers you might be aware of, such as a change in sleeping habits or stress; what you ate over the past 24-48 hours (especially taking note of anything you don’t usually eat); sounds, smells, or physical activity; what you were doing (computer time, watching TV, etc.); and finally, what kind of relief you experienced. No stress – just remember what you can and continue to do so with each recurring headache.
It would also be very helpful to note where you are in your menstrual cycle. Over time (and we’ve found if you have regular headaches, it can sometimes take as little as two or three weeks), you and your practitioner may begin to see patterns. It’s amazing some of the stories my patients have told me about their discoveries after keeping their headache diaries. Food sensitivities, environmental concerns (especially smells from certain chemicals), night teeth grinding (which can cause TMJ headaches), stress from deadlines at work. a mother-in-law visiting, and even disrupted sleep due to uncomfortable bedding or restless sleeping partners have all emerged as triggers for some of my patients!
At the clinic, I always tell my patients that what they are experiencing now is often the result of many months or years of habits. Understanding your body is essential for making changes in your health, but it won’t happen overnight. Remember, the reasons causing your symptoms likely took time to build and develop long before the symptoms appeared – or the headaches began. But if you are committed to making some changes in order to feel better, there are things you can do to address the imbalance and get your body back on track.
1. Nutrition and Supplementation
After treating thousands of patients at our clinic, one common theme has emerged: most people are nutritionally deficient in some area. We all have our ingrained eating habits that may not be ideal, and even if we are doing fairly well, there are challenges getting the nutrients we need from today’s food supply. I see over and over again in my patients that most all of us have faced nutritional challenges and may experience nutritional gaps.
For many of my patients, sugar, alcohol and caffeine are prevalent in their lives. These are all major headache triggers! While going cold turkey isn’t the answer, if you suffer from headaches it may well be worth gradually cutting back and seeing what happens. You can learn more about how to beat your sugar cravings and why sugar is so damaging to our bodies in our article, “Sweet Poison – Kicking Your Sugar Addiction.“
A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals and their co-factors is ideal, but we know in today’s world that even if you eat exceptionally well, it’s almost impossible to get all the nutrients we need from food. So in addition to organic whole foods from all the food groups, we recommend a high-quality multivitamin including calcium, magnesium, and essential fatty acids every day to all our patients. Marcellepick.com has specially formulated supplements to help you achieve this. We find that headache sufferers really benefit from added the nutritional support. The supplement feverfew has also been shown to help with headaches.
2. Focus on Stress Reduction
You may have heard over and over again that we need to reduce the stress in our lives. The reason this is essential is because stress causes real physical damage to our bodies. Today’s world may be full of stress, but our health depends upon finding better ways to manage it.
Have you ever noticed that you rarely get headaches on vacation? Or at least not unless something unusually stressful happens! When we relax and let our blood vessels dilate, our whole body settles down and headaches seem to vanish. There are so many ways to release stress and there is no right or wrong way – it’s about finding what works best for you.
Some people love meditation or deep, slow breathing. It’s been proven to have a myriad of health benefits beyond headaches – so if you are open to trying it, it’s a great technique to explore. Sitting still and following your breath in and out works for many, as does choosing a mantra (a word that you think in your mind like peace or love or joy) and sitting quietly thinking it over and over.
Some people may have apprehension about the idea of meditation and for them, simply sitting still with their eyes closed while listening to music can have the same effect. Whether it’s classical, new age, or Tibetan or Indian flutes doesn’t matter – try different kinds and you may be surprised by what really relaxes you!
Art therapy or journaling are other stress reduction techniques. Maybe you enjoy painting or drawing or making collages; a craft project like sewing or quilting or gardening may be your release. Writing your thoughts in a blank book can be cathartic and empowering, and especially powerful if you go back and re-read it later, circling your key thoughts and looking for themes.
Physical activities also work well. Going for a walk and a talk with a loved one, a bike ride, a jog, a zumba class, yoga or tai chi (these are particularly good choices) are tremendous stress relievers.
It doesn’t matter which one (or ones – having options is great) you choose, as long as they feel good and bring you relaxation and joy. Try to create a little oasis or a mini vacation in your everyday life, even if it’s only for a few minutes. If you struggle with this in any way, perhaps seeing a therapist could help you break through.
If your stress feels more physical, be sure to examine your work environment and look for poor ergonomics. Many companies now offer free consultations to make sure your work station and environment will not lead to physical concerns. Even simple things like the shoes you wear, the bra you choose, carrying a heavy purse or briefcase, or travelling a lot with a shoulder bag can lead to tension that may result in a headache.
3. Get Adequate Rest
After food and stress, lack of good sleep is probably the biggest trigger for most headache sufferers. Of course, stress may impact sleep, and if so, you’ll need to work on stress reduction first. A good night’s sleep is so important because so many of our bodies’ functions around healing and detoxification occur while we are sleeping.
Setting a routine, avoiding the news at night, taking some time to relax and take a bath or read something “mindless” before bed can set the stage for a good night’s rest. If you suffer from sleep disturbances, there may be something as simple as a magnesium deficiency or as complicated as adrenal fatigue (which requires additional adrenal support) at play. Our multivitamin supplements fill in your mineral gaps and our adrenal products will give you the added support you need whether you are “tired” or “wired” – so be sure to check them out.
While the optimal sleep range is 7-9 hours, it can vary by season, with more needed in the winter (our hibernation phase) and less in the summer. A typical REM cycle is 90 minutes, so research is showing that most people sleep better for periods of time in multiples of 90 minutes (assuming you are not getting up in the middle of the night). In other words, you may find yourself better rested after sleeping 6, 7 1⁄2, or 9 hours than 8. Try tracking your sleep over several days or weeks and see how you feel when you awaken – you may find a certain 90-minute interval pops up as being right for you.
4. Stay Hydrated
Our bodies need water to detoxify and cleanse. Since many headaches involve less than ideal triggers that are food or environmentally based, giving our bodies all the support they need to help release these toxins will not only benefit our health overall, it may well reduce our headaches.
It can be hard to start drinking 8 glasses of water per day if you’ve only been drinking one (or none). The best strategy is to add one cup a day every 3-4 days and slowly increase. Slowly drinking throughout the day is always better than downing a glass all at once, so keep a water bottle with you throughout the day. Think about ways that you can build a new habit onto an old one by taking a drink every time you open the refrigerator or go to the bathroom – whatever fits into your routine.
5. Exercise … and MOVE!
Regular exercise has so many proven benefits for our hearts, our muscles and for stress reduction. Most headache sufferers can benefit from exercise, but it’s really effective for relief from tension headaches. If you are new to exercise, start slow and build up gradually. And be sure to drink lots of water!
In addition to studies that prove the benefits of exercise, numerous studies show that we need to simply move more throughout the day. The health risks of sitting may well be even more damaging than not exercising, as studies show that even regular exercisers are at higher health risk of health concerns if they do not have regular movement throughout their day.
Regular movement definitions vary, but most agree that if you are not up and walking around every 30-60 minutes, your health risks increase.
We have lived for thousands of years with daily movement and we are not meant to sit at a desk or a computer all day. Get up and take a walk, a stretch break and move around. In addition to proven health benefits, studies show it increases your creativity, so the problem you are trying to solve at your desk may come quickly if you step outside.
6. Detox Regularly
Headaches may be a sign that your body is struggling with toxins and trying to unburden it’s toxic load. The toxins may be food-based, such as GMOs or food allergies, or they may be environmental – like exposure to chemicals or pesticides, mold, and/or poor air quality. Either way, your body must process and release them. If you are overburdened and you lack proper nutrition, supplementation, sleep, and hydration detoxification won’t occur. For more on this, see our articles in the Detoxification category in our Health Library.
One of the first signs of sensitivity to a toxin is a headache, so if you get headaches and aren’t sure why, you will want to explore your food and your environment and look for triggers. Click here to read our list of Common Toxins. For now, good digestion and bowel movements daily are signs that you are efficiently detoxifying.
Try to sweat regularly in a sauna or through exercise, take magnesium at bedtime (which will also help with sleep), and consider a regular colon cleanse.
7. Consider Food and Environmental Allergy Testing
Many people feel that if they were allergic, they would know it. But headaches could be a sign of an allergy. In addition, so many people are not truly allergic but are sensitive to certain foods. The only ways to know are to avoid a food completely for several weeks and see how you feel, or to get tested and see where you fall on the scale.
So many foods influence headaches including alcohol (especially wine); dairy; aged foods; highly processed foods such as meats with nitrates, MSG, sulfites, artificial colors and preservatives; dyes; and/or artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (NutraSweet). Any one, or several of these in combination, could be your trigger.
In addition, scents or environmental allergens could be the source. Cosmetics, air fresheners, carpets or furniture covered with anti-stain materials (or the use of after market anti-stain treatments), cleaning products, soaps, and bug sprays may pose problems.
There are so many different toxins in our world and studies have shown that even people who live in remote rural areas have traces of dozens of toxic chemicals in their systems. We all have some exposure to toxins and these may well be a headache trigger.
8. Explore Natural Body Mechanics and Alignment
Many companies now offer free assessments to evaluate your proper body mechanics, head and neck alignment. Many chronic issues have been connected to poor posture and head and neck alignment; if you are experiencing chronic headaches, this is definitely something you should evaluate. Does your desk or computer space feel right or do you stand up and feel tight and tense? Do you come home with pains in your arms, fingers or back?
Do you grind your teeth at night? If so a mouth guard might do the trick, or there is a procedure to realign how your teeth surfaces impact with each other.
Whether you think you might have body alignment issues or not, Pilates and yoga are great ways to release stress and improve alignment. Also pay attention to where your body feels tight: it may be the purse you are carrying, or the way you cradle the phone in your neck, or it may well be how you carry the burdens of your life. Many practitioners who work on the body say that shoulders experience tension when we feel we are bearing burdens in our lives and hips may be challenged when we are struggling with moving forward. Whatever your concerns may be, your body is trying to speak to you.
9. Alternative Therapies for Headaches
Often headache sufferers have other stresses in their lives and can benefit from touch therapy, massage, acupuncture, Reiki, Integrated Energy Therapy, the Emotional Freedom Technique, the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais or other alternative therapies. A good massage therapist, chiropractor, or osteopath for cranial sacral therapy can work wonders – find a trained practitioner and ask for their support to break the patterns of your chronic headaches.
You may also find that a practitioner who deals with the fascia web may work wonders. Fascial fitness is now a booming business in America, so working with an expert who understands fascia may reap great rewards.
10. Find Support
We all need support in our lives and finding someone to talk to can help release stress. But after helping thousands of women over several decades, the one common link I have found is solid nutritional support.
I have seen over the years that even my healthy organic-eating patients can struggle with health challenges because the nutrients in our food supply are quite simply not what they used to be. One study showed that to get the nutrients of two peaches from the 1950s, today we would have to eat 53. We know that that is not likely to happen, so it’s essential to supplement with a high quality multivitamin and essential fatty acid (EFA) supplement like the ones we offer at marcellepick.com.
And many of my patients have less than ideal diets, with too much sugar and not enough high quality fats. If you are experiencing headaches or other symptoms, getting back on track nutritionally is a great first step.
It’s important to remember that headaches are symptoms of something deeper going on. Headaches often have a link to hormones. Insulin concerns from high sugar diets, adrenal concerns from our high stress lifestyles, or imbalanced estrogen and progesterone ratios can result in hormonal imbalance symptoms, including headaches. Testing in these areas is usually a great place to begin.
Working with a functionally trained practitioner can help you to identify the root cause of your head pain so you can begin to be proactive, instead of reactive to your headache symptoms.
Following the above suggestions, and taking the time to address all areas of your life that could be impacting your health, could lead you on a path to a headache-free, fulfilling life!