According to Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is one of the most common conditions in the world. In fact, almost 12 percent of the entire U.S. population seems to suffer from migraine headaches.
One thing that is important to note is that a migraine is more than a severe headache. It is a neurological condition that can be debilitating and chronic and it comes with a number of severe symptoms, such as:
- Pounding pain
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Visual changes
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to sound
- Sensitivity to smell
As the symptoms can be so severe that they can impact a person’s daily life, one is willing to try almost anything to make it stop.
There are many medications available and effective in both treating and preventing migraines and in severe cases the use of prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs may be necessary.
However, there are also some natural, drug-free, and side-effect-free alternatives that may help prevent migraines, treat them, or at least reduce their severity and duration.
One of the best ways to prevent migraines is to adopt an overall healthy lifestyle and to take good care of yourself. Other natural migraine remedies and interventions that may offer a safe and efficient first aid are listed below.
Avoid Dietary Triggers
As is the case in any other health condition, diet also plays a major role in preventing (or triggering) migraines. Certain foods and beverages are known to trigger migraines. As such, it is vital to avoid those triggers and thus prevent a migraine from occurring in the first place.
Dietary triggers for migraines include:
- Foods that are high in nitrates, such as hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats, etc.
- Processed foods
- Pickled foods
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Cheese that contains tyramine, e.g. blue cheese, Swiss cheese, feta, cheddar, and Parmesan
- Cultured dairy products, including buttermilk, yogurt, and sour cream
- Dried fruits
- Foods that contain a flavor enhancer called monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Very cold drinks, e.g. ice cream and iced beverages
While small amounts of caffeine may ease migraine pain, large amounts of caffeine may trigger a migraine and cause a severe caffeine withdrawal headache.
To find out which foods may trigger your migraines, make sure to keep a food journal and track what you eat and how you feel afterward.
Your eating habits may also play a role. To prevent migraines, make sure to eat at approximately the same time every day. In addition, avoid skipping meals, as fasting may increase the risk of migraines.
Dehydration is known to cause headaches and worsen them. As such, it is of utmost importance to stay hydrated, both when it comes to preventing and treating migraines.
When you feel you may get a migraine, immediately start hydrating aggressively, as doing so may help shorten the duration and severity of the attack.
In terms of the beverage you choose, it’s best to opt for plain water. In case you have trouble drinking lots of water, add a slice of lemon, a few drops of lemon juice, or a small amount of any other fruit juice.
Add Small Amounts of Caffeine
As mentioned before, large amounts of caffeine may cause headaches. However, small amounts can ease the pain, especially if you intake a small amount of caffeine early after the pain starts. In fact, some migraine medications even contain caffeine. Additionally, caffeine may help some over-the-counter pain killers work better.
Try drinking a cup of tea or coffee and notice how you feel.
Certain herbs are believed to help reduce migraine severity and frequency.
One of the herbs that may reduce migraine pain is butterbur. A study has shown that a daily dose of 150 mg of butterbur effectively lowers migraine frequency when taken for approximately 3 months.
Feverfew may also help some people offer migraine relief, however, it is said to be less effective than butterbur. In addition, according to a systematic review, there is not enough evidence to confirm feverfew’s efficiency.
As taking these herbs may come with certain risks, make sure to consult your doctor before taking them.
Add Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Adding certain vitamins and minerals to your diet may help you prevent migraines.
Magnesium is an important essential mineral. It seems that magnesium deficiency may trigger both a menstrual-migraine headache and migraine aura – a vidual disturbance that may or may not occur at the onset of a migraine.
Studies have found that taking sufficient amounts of magnesium may reduce the frequency of migraines in some people. Magnesium oxide supplementation may help prevent both menstrual-migraine headaches and migraine auras.
Make sure to consult your doctor before taking magnesium supplements, especially if you have any other health conditions.
You can also get sufficient amounts of magnesium from magnesium-rich foods, such as:
- Brazil nuts
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
In addition to magnesium, B-complex vitamins may also help reduce migraine severity and frequency.
B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins that play a role in regulating neurotransmitters in the brain.
Currently, trials are being done to establish the efficiency of B vitamins in relieving occupational stress, which is also linked to migraines.
Ginger is effective in easing nausea caused by many different conditions, including migraines. In addition to easing nausea, it also offers other migraine benefits.
A 2014 study has shown that ginger powder reduces migraine severity and duration. It has shown that the effectiveness of ginger is comparable to sumatriptan, a common migraine drug, with fewer side effects.
Yoga and Stretching
Yoga is an excellent type of exercise that promotes health with body postures, meditation, and breathing exercises.
A 2015 study found that yoga may reduce the severity, duration, and frequency of migraines. Yoga reduces anxiety, releases tension in body parts that may trigger migraines, and improves blood flow and vascular health. As such, yoga seems to be excellent complementary therapy.
Physical exercise in general can be a great way to prevent and treat migraines. During physical activity, certain chemicals are released that may help block pain signals to the brain. These chemicals also reduce anxiety and depression – two conditions that are known to make migraines worse.
Exercise also helps us maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of obesity, which is also linked to the risk of chronic headaches.
In addition, exercise reduces inflammation and improves cardiovascular health, which may prevent migraine attacks.
Physical activity also helps with improving sleep and reducing stress, which is crucial.
All types of exercise are great choices, especially walking, swimming, and cycling. However, stick to moderate-intensity exercise, as vigorous exercise may have the opposite effect.
Also, keep in mind that exercising during a migraine attack may worsen the symptoms, as such, it’s best to exercise between attacks, as doing so may reduce the number of attacks you experience.
Migraines are often triggered by poor sleep and a good night’s sleep may actually reduce the pain and other migraine symptoms. Therefore, sleeping soundly is of utmost importance.
The following tips may help you establish a strong sleeping routine:
- Go to bed and wake up at more or less the same time every day.
- Keep daytime naps short (under 30 minutes).
- Relax at the end of each day. Try listening to calming music, taking a bath, meditating, etc.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, heavy meals, or intense exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Check your medications for caffeine and other stimulants and refrain from taking them late in the evening.
- Minimize distractions. Turn off all the lights, mute any distracting noises, keep your room temperature cool.
Keep in mind that too much sleep can also trigger migraines, therefore make sure to get 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep a night. Doing so is one of the best ways to prevent migraines.
Rest in a Dark, Quiet Room
At the first sign of a migraine, make sure to take a break before the symptoms develop into a full-blown migraine headache. Find a calm, quiet, and preferably dark environment where you can rest for a while.
Many people who have migraines experience sensitivity to light and sound, which can worsen the symptoms. According to a study, the pain caused by light can be experienced due to a group of light-sensing cells in the eye called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). These cells help maintain sleep-wake cycles and the eye’s response to lights and in rats, they converge on brain cells that transmit pain. As such, the pain may get worse in the light and improve after 20 to 30 minutes of being in the dark.
As you may also be sensitive to sounds, make sure to block them out too. Blocking out potentially harmful lights and sounds may even help you fall asleep, which may relieve your migraine.
According to Rebecca Wells, MD, up to 8 in 10 people report stress triggering their migraines. Stress may even create a cycle where a migraine increases stress, which then triggers another migraine attack. As such, managing stress is of utmost importance when trying to prevent or treat migraines.
One of the best ways to manage stress is with meditation. You can simply focus on a sensation, such as your breath. During meditation, you will surely have thoughts and feel other sensations, which is perfectly normal and fine. The trick is to simply turn your attention back to your breath as soon as you notice some distracting thoughts or feelings.
A study has shown that mindfulness meditation may help reduce the overall burden of migraines by improving disability, quality of life, and even depression.
You can also manage the stress in your life by trying some of the following tips and tricks:
- Try journaling, as it may help relieve stress
- Do breathing exercise
- Have a warm bath
- Listen to calming music
- Clear your schedule and include so ‘me time’
- Take a break often
- Stay positive
- Do something you love doing at least 15 minutes a day
- Take a stress management class
Biofeedback therapy is another relaxation method, which teaches you to control your autonomic reactions to stress. It is a therapy that helps a person release and relax tight muscles. It seems to be especially helpful for migraines triggered by muscle tensing and other physical reactions to stress.
Biofeedback therapy takes practice. It is similar to progressive relaxation meditation, where a person observes tense muscles and other body sensations and releases the tightness. In biofeedback, the person gets sensors placed on the muscles, which provide real-time feedback about muscle tension and thus enable the person to observe and release the tension.
Tension along the forehead, jawline, and shoulders has been linked to triggering migraine pain.
Apply Essential Oils
Essential oils are common home remedies in treating many conditions and it seems that they can also be useful in relieving migraines.
Lavender essential oil may be particularly beneficial. It has a calming effect and is often recommended as a remedy for stress, anxiety, and headaches. A 2012 study found that inhaling diffused lavender oil for approximately 15 minutes may help reduce the severity of migraine headaches.
Lavender essential oil may also be applied diluted to the temples.
Peppermint oil may also be effective in preventing migraines, at least according to a 2010 study. According to the study, applying a menthol solution to the temples and forehead may help relieve migraine pain, nausea, and light sensitivity.
Try Acupressure and/or Acupuncture
Acupressure is an ancient healing art that’s based on the traditional Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture. It is the practice of applying pressure with the hands and fingers to specific points on the body to reduce muscle tension and relieve pain and other symptoms. According to research, acupressure may be an effective alternative therapy for relieving chronic migraines and pain caused by other conditions. Another study has shown that the practice may also reduce migraine-associated nausea.
A pressure point that may be particularly effective in reducing migraine pain is the LI-4 point, located between the base of the left thumb and pointer finger. Applying firm (not painful) circular pressure to this point with the opposite hand for 5 minutes may relieve the pain.
According to a study with 40 people experiencing migraines without aura, applying firm pressure on the PC6 acupoint, located three fingers up from the base of the wrist on the inside of the arm, is also effective in reducing migraine-related nausea or vomiting.
Acupuncture, on the other hand, is the practice of penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles and thus activating specific points on the body. According to an extensive 2012 systematic review of studies that evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating migraines, acupuncture is indeed an effective migraine remedy. If you wish to try out the effects of acupuncture for yourself, make sure to find a licensed practitioner.
Get a Massage
A 2006 study found that getting weekly massages may reduce migraine frequency and improve sleep quality, which is also vital when it comes to migraines. Massages seem to reduce stress and improve coping skills. Additionally, they may help decrease anxiety, heart rate, and cortisol levels.
Massaging the muscles in the neck and shoulders as well as the temples is particularly effective in reducing tension and alleviating the pain.
Make sure to find a professional masseuse or try self-massage by using a tennis ball.
Note that some people with migraines (especially people with allodynia – migraine-related sensation sensitivity) are extremely sensitive to touch. Such people may not benefit from a massage. In fact, getting a massage may make them feel even worse.
Placing a cold or warm compress on the head or neck may also help reduce migraine pain and other symptoms. Although many people prefer a cold compress, both seem to be effective. A cold compress or an ice pack has a numbing effect, which may reduce the pain. Warm pads, on the other hand, may relax tense muscles, as do warm showers and baths. Using a hot compress may also help with sinus-related headaches. Keep the compress on your head for 15 minutes and then take a 15-minute break before repeating the process.
This remedy is relatively safe and side-effect-free, however, people with circulatory problems, diabetes, or skin issues may need to avoid extreme temperatures.
Other Remedies for Migraine
In addition to the many promising natural remedies for migraine listed above, you can also try the following tips and tricks:
- Avoid adding pressure to your head. Avoid wearing tight ponytails. Avoid wearing tight hats, headbands, and swimming goggles, as they mal also trigger headaches and migraines.
- If you are sensitive to light, wear sunglasses outdoors. Dim the lights and reduce the screen brightness levels on your laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Consider adding anti-glare screens to your computer. In addition, use daylight-spectrum fluorescent bulbs.
- Don’t chew. Chewing gums, fingernails, lips, pens, and even crunchy and sticky foods may cause a migraine. In case you grind your teeth at night, ask your dentist to give you a mouth guard, which may help you prevent headaches.
- Imagine feeling well. Visualization may be a great way to achieve any goals, including relieving a migraine.
- Try applying firm pressure with both hands on each side of the head. Hold the pressure for about 15 seconds. Then, apply pressure with one hand on your forehead and the other hand on the back of your head. Press together and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat if needed.
- Keep a migraine diary. Doing so may help you track and notice your migraine triggers. Write down when you have migraines, what you were doing before and while feeling the first symptoms, the duration, and what helped you get the necessary relief. Instead of avoiding migraine triggers, which may increase your sensitivity to those triggers, try gradually exposing yourself to them and thus learning to cope with them by using behavioral management techniques, such as challenging negative thoughts, relaxing, reducing stress, etc.
- Surround yourself with people with similar problems, as simply sharing your struggles with someone who knows exactly what you are talking about may be very useful. People who also have frequent migraines may also provide some useful information and share with you some home remedies that haven’t been studied yet. Ask your loved ones for support and if you are feeling anxious, consider seeking counseling or joining a support group.
- Last but not least, lead a healthy lifestyle. Balance is key to overall health.