How often do you get headaches or migraines?
I used to get a bad migraine once or twice a week and they only seemed to get worse.
A few years ago, I made simple healthy changes. I reduced my migraines to once a week, then once a month. Now, I only get a few mild migraines a year. Also, I haven’t had to use migraine medication in over two years.
In this article, we will cover natural migraine headache remedies, symptoms, causes, and triggers.
Can a migraine be cured permanently? Learn how a migraine is a friendly warning that something more serious is wrong. It gives you a snapshot into the previous few hours or days, helping you find your stressors and sensitivities to avoid.
Solving my migraine problem has reduced my stress, increased my production, and helped me enjoy life. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of a migraine and prevent the next one.Think of a migraine as a friendly warning that something more serious is wrong and that you need to make a change.
Table of Contents
- What is a migraine?
- Migraine Symptoms
- Migraine Causes and Triggers
- How Common Are Migraines?
- Migraine Phases
- Migraine Home Remedies
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A migraine is a neurological disorder caused by nerve and blood vessel disturbances in the brain (1). This disorder affects the modulatory mechanisms in the brain stem that process pain. In a migraine, these abnormal processes can increase pain perception.
This is a relatively new migraine definition as recent advances in technology give a clearer picture of how the brain and nervous system work. Previously, researchers primarily thought that the dilation and constriction of blood vessels caused migraines.
Generally, a migraine feels like a throbbing headache, usually on one side of your head.
It is important to know the symptoms of a migraine to treat it early or recognize any changes. Recording your symptoms helps your medical provider rule out diseases and treat you properly.
The most common migraine symptoms reported in the American Migraine Study include: (2)
- Throbbing head pain (85%)
- Sensitivity to light (80%)
- Brain Fog (80%)
- Sensitivity to sound (76%)
- Nausea (73%)
- Pain on one side of the head (59%)
- Vision changes (44%)
- Aura (36%)
- Sensitivity to touch (32%)
- Vomiting (29%)
- Food cravings (28%)
- Hallucinations (including sound or smell) (18%)
When Are Migraines Dangerous?
You should seek medical attention If you develop new symptoms or your symptoms worsen. The most important new symptoms to watch for are confusion, fever, vision loss or double vision, and weakness (3). A migraine can also be caused by a more serious problem such as an aneurysm, meningitis, or a stroke.
Further, if you develop new symptoms and you already have a serious health problem, you should consider a visit to the ER.
Experts believe that migraines are a genetic disorder, but migraines can be caused by the following: (4)
- Stress and Anxiety
- Sleep quality
- Dehydration and hunger
- Foods and additives
- Loud Noises
- Bright lights
- Female hormones
- Weather changes
- Skipping meals
A 2015 survey found that 20% of women and 10% of men aged 18 years or older reported a bad migraine or headache in the last 3 months (4). For both men and women, the frequency of severe migraines decreases with advancing age.
Migraines by gender and age
- Women 18-44 years old: 24.7%
- Men 18-44 years: 11.0%
- Women ≥75 years: 6.3%
- Men ≥75 years: 3.4%
Who Is at Risk of Migraine?
As you can see in the data above, women have at least twice the risk of a migraine. You are also at greater risk if you have a family history of migraines or you have anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, or epilepsy (4).
Migraines develope in four main phases of symptoms: prodromal phase, aura phase, attack phase, and postdromal phase. Not every migraine follows the same phases, but knowing them can help you treat it early and recognize changes.
Prodromal Migraine Phase
Hours or even a day before the migraine and you may experience the following (6):
- Energetic excited, depressed, or irritable
- Food cravings
- The need to urinate more than usual
Aura Migraine Phase
About 25 to 33 percent of people experience an “aura” before or at the start of a migraine (6). An Aura may include changes in vision such as flickering light, a blind spot in your field of vision, and hallucinations.
An aura may also include skin sensations such as tingling or numbness in the hands or face that can spread to other body parts.
Lastly, you may experience communication and language problems such as having trouble speaking or writing, trouble understanding words, or trouble concentrating.
Migraine Attack Phase
During the attack phase a migraine you experience the pain of a migraine which can last from hours to days (6). Migraine pain generally starts above the eyes. Then it can affect one side of your head, both sides, move side to side, or your neck and lower face.
Symptoms during the attack phase generally include throbbing pain, sensitivity to light, sound, and odors, lightheadedness, and nausea and vomiting.
Postdromal Migraine Phase
After your migraine attack, you enter the postdromal phase which lasts as long as a day. Symptoms of this phase include (6) exhaustion, drowsiness, confusion, and head pain from sudden movements.
These remedies are grouped into three main migraine causes: stress, toxicity, nutrient deficiencies. and comfort measures. Controlling these causes can both relieve and help prevent migraines.
The last group of remedies is comfort measures that can help relieve migraine symptoms but not treat the underlying cause.
1. Treat It Early
Take action as soon as you feel migraine symptoms.
If you use medication, the American Headache Society recommends taking it during the prodromal phase during the prodrome phase of your migraine, when you start to experience migraine symptoms. This gives you the best chance of getting relief and avoiding a severe migraine.
Stress and Migraines
Stress is a common cause of migraines, but the effects can last for years.
A review of migraine studies found that in 50% to 80% (7) of cases, patients report stress as a migraine trigger. Further, patients with higher stress levels in the previous year reported a higher rate of migraine attacks. These findings suggest that stress may initiate migraine susceptibility and chronic migraines.
2. Drink The Right Amount of Water
Dehydration is a common cause of headaches and migraines (8).
In one small study, 40% of respondents reported that “insufficient fluid intake” possibly caused their migraine attacks (9).
In another study, researches reasoned that headache pain comes from the meninges and that dehydration could prolong migraine attacks and lead to impaired concentration and irritability (10).
For example, one study found that even mild dehydration may change how people think and feel (8). Dehydration can make your migraine symptoms feel worse than usual.
Drinking more water for migraines is a low risk, low-cost remedy. It can relieve headache symptoms in most dehydrated migraine sufferers within 30 minutes to 3 hours (11).
To stay hydrated, drink at least one ounce of water for every two pounds of body weight. Also, eat plenty of liquid-rich foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Drink water consistently throughout the day. If you have a migraine, sip water slowly to avoid an upset stomach. Or, suck on ice chips.
Also, avoid foods or beverages high in sodium or caffeine as well as alcohol.
3. Relieve Pressure on Your Head
A hat, headband, helmet, glasses, goggles, or ponytail that is too tight can cause a headache. Similarly, if they are worn for a long time, they can constrict the blood vessels in your head.
One study of 93 women found that loosening hair can relieve migraine pain almost instantly (12). Four women relieved their migraine pain immediately, 32 women within half an hour, and 5 women within an hour.
This “ponytail headache” is believed to be caused by pericranial muscle fascia and tendon traction. The researches stated that “Distinguishing intracranial from extracranial headache is essential in diagnosis and treatment.”
What they mean is that you should determine if your headache is caused by pressure on your head before you treat your migraine.
4. Get Out of the Light
Bright or flickering can trigger and progress migraines. If you have migraine symptoms, try to avoid sunlight, bright indoor lighting, computer/phone screens.
Wear sunglasses outside and inside and wear a hat to keep direct light out of your eyes. Finish work on computers or phones as soon as possible and dim their light.
Make your bedroom as dark as possible by turning off all electronics and using blackout curtains.
To relieve stress from bright light, go into a dark room and open your eyes. Cover your eyes with your hands or an eye mask, but keep them open. Your pupils will dilate to let in light, this will help relieve eye strain. You can also try this if you can’t get out of the light.
5. Monitor Your Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measure of time between successive heart beats. It is a good measure of your autonomic nervous system balance. Generally the higher your HRV, the better your body can handle stress.
Knowing your HRV could give you an early warning of a migraine attack. Research shows a strong association between migraines, headaches, and imbalances in the autonomic nervous system.
One study found that migraine patients had reduced (13) parasympathetic activity (rest and repair) with high sympathetic activity (fight or flight).
Monitor your HRV to know when to plan stressful activities or relaxing activities.
6. Practice Yoga and Meditation
Meditation is an effective long term solution for migraine sufferers. Mindfulness meditation helps to relieve stress and raise your HRV.
One study found that meditation can promote (14) healthy heart rate regulation which supports effective recovery from stressful events.
Yoga and Migraines
Practicing yoga can help you relieve stress, increase strength and flexibility, decrease pain, improve sleep, and increase circulation (15). The benefits of yoga not only help prevent migraines, but they can also improve the quality of life.
One study compared conventional migraine care with conventional care with yoga therapy. Both groups showed significant improvement, but the yoga therapy group had better improvement.
Another study found that practicing yoga for three months can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches (16).
Other relaxation practices that can help with migraines are deep breathing, tai chi, and progressive muscle relaxation.
7. Get Regular Exercise
Physical activity may decrease the frequency of migraines and reduce the intensity of migraine pain.
One study of 91 people found that exercising 40 minutes three times per week was as effective as relaxation and medication at reducing frequency (17).
Recent research suggests that exercise activates the neurotransmitter signals that could reduce the intensity of migraine pain (18).
Walking every day is one of the simplest ways to get enough exercise. Learn about the benefits of walking in Walking to Lose Weight | 30 Benefits of Walking Every Day.
8. Consider Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a technique of traditional Chinese medicine where practitioners stimulate specific body parts (19). This form of alternative medicine usually involves inserting thin needles into the skin.
A review of 22 studies of 4,419 people found that acupuncture was slightly more effective than migraine medications (20). Further, acupuncture had less adverse side effects.
Another study discovered that acupuncture was more effective than topiramate, an anticonvulsant used to treat chronic migraines (21). Further, there were only adverse side effects in 6% of the acupuncture group compared to 66% in the drug group.
Acupuncture is generally safe and is an effective alternative migraine treatment. One concern, however, is the use of sterile needs.
9. Get a Massage
Massages help relieve two main causes of migraine headaches; tension and stress.
A study of 26 adults with migraine headaches randomly assigned participants to a massage therapy group or a wait-list control group. Those in the massage therapy group reported less pain, better sleep, and fewer migraines than the control group (22).
Can a Massage Trigger a Migraine?
If you are not used to getting massage therapy, a deep massage could trigger a migraine (23). Start with short massage therapy sessions to give your body time to adjust.
Further, tense muscles and tissues that are unable to flush out metabolic waste (24). Massage therapy promotes circulation and waste removal.
Because your kidneys need extra water to replace what you lose in the cleansing process, massage therapy can cause dehydration. Drink plenty of water after getting a massage to prevent a dehydration headache.
10. Find Your Migraine Pressure Points
Acupressure is a form of alternative medicine based on the idea that energy flows through “meridians” in your body. Physical pressure is applied to acupressure points to clear blocked energy flow in these meridians.
Besides the anecdotal evidence that acupressure helps with migraines, there is conflicting scientific evidence. Nevertheless, some studies show that acupressure can help reduce migraine-associated nausea (25).
Watch this short video below to find your migraine pressure points. Start with light pressure and avoid areas with open cuts, redness, or swelling (26).
11. Watch For Weather Changes
Weather changes can cause migraines in different people.
One study found that whether affects headaches in 50.6% of participants (27). Of 77 participants, 33.7% were sensitive to temperature and humidity, 14.3% to changing weather patterns, and 12.9% were sensitive to barometric pressure.
Another study of 100 people found significant weather sensitivity in small subgroups (28). But there wasn’t a significant association in the entire 100 participants. The researchers argued that weather cannot be used to predict migraine attacks in the general population of people with migraines.
Keep track of weather changes and your migraine attacks to find your weather sensitivity. If you find that certain weather can trigger your migraines, avoid stressful activities that day. For example, save your intense workout or workload for another day.
12. Try Ginger Herbal Tea
Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory loaded with antioxidants (29).
One study compared the effectiveness of ginger to one of the best selling migraine treatment drugs (30).
Participants were randomly chosen to take just one-eighth of a teaspoon of powdered ginger or a full dose of the drug.
Both groups had the same relief, but the drug group reported significantly more side effects. Side effects of the drug included dizziness, a sedative effect, heartburn, and vertigo. The only side effect in the ginger group was an upset stomach in about 4% of participants.
Ginger also helps ease (31) two other migraine symptoms, nausea, and vomiting.
Ginger is a cheap and effective natural migraine remedy with relatively few side effects. You can use a ginger supplement, grind it in your food, or brew it in tea.
Migraines and Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies can elevate homocysteine levels which are associated with migraines, heart disease, and mitochondrial energy (32). Vitamins and mineral deficiencies that can cause migraines these include:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
13. Supplement With Magnesium
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and supports over 300 enzymatic reactions (33). Because of its vital role, magnesium can treat or prevent many serious diseases.
Magnesium deficiency is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and migraine headaches.
Some of the vital functions of magnesium are muscular contraction, nerve transmission, and neuromuscular conduction. Deficiency can lead to tense muscles and irregular perception of pain, leading to migraines.
Foods rich in magnesium that may help prevent migraines include:
- Almonds, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds
- Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lentils
- Cocao (dark chocolate)
- Dark leafy vegetables
- Salmon and tuna
Magnesium Ease contains an easily absorbable form of magnesium that you can spray on your skin (click here to check the current price on Amazon).
14. Supplement With B-Complex Vitamins
B-complex vitamins are an inexpensive and effective long-term protector against migraines
B-complex vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that include vitamin thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), B6, biotin (B7), and folic acid (34). Two important things that B vitamins do are support mitochondria for energy production and help build red blood cells.
Because B vitamins are water-soluble and not stored in the body, they are considered safe for long-term use (37).
15. Get Your Vitamin E
Vitamin E can be an effective relief for headache pain and migraine symptoms with few side effects
One study found that Vitamin E inhibits prostaglandins which are associated with menstrual migraines (38). Therefore, Vitamin E may relieve menstrual migraine symptoms and headache pain. The researches caution that more large population studies are needed.
Eating Vitamin E rich foods like almonds and green leafy vegetables are a safe way to make you get enough of this important vitamin.
16. Consider Supplementing With CoQ10
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a substance that is produced naturally in the body and is also found in the diet. The heart, kidneys, liver, and pancreas have the highest levels of COq10 (39).
Besides scavenging free radicals and supporting your metabolism, COq10 can help prevent migraines and headaches.
One study of 80 people found that taking 100 mg of CoQ10 daily reduced the frequency, severity, and the duration of headaches (40).
Another study of 42 migraine patients found that taking 100 mg of CoQ10 3 times a day reduced the frequency and duration of migraines (41). Further, it reduced the patients days with symptoms of nausea.
Food sources of COq10 are meat, poultry, fish, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables (42).
17. Avoid Strong Chemicals and Smells
Strong smells from chemicals can trigger migraines unexpectedly.
One study of 400 migraine patients found that strong odors, especially from perfume, can trigger migraines within minutes (43).
Osmophobia, hypersensitivity to odors, is common in those with migraines. One study found that it and may help predict chronic migraines in children (44).
A study of 1,005 migraine patients found that 43.9% of patients without aura and 38.5% of patients with aura reported osmophobia (45). The most common offending odors were scents from perfume 63.9%, food 55.2%, and cigarette smoke 54.8%.
Do you have osmophobia? If you do, keep track of your migraine smell triggers so you know what to avoid.
18. Get The Right Amount of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is a form of stress that can harm your health and cause migraines.
One study found that stress and sleep quality can predict migraine attacks (46).
Another study compared headache frequency between those who get less than 6 hours of sleep and those who sleep longer. They found that those who get less than six hours of sleep per night had more frequent and more severe headaches (47).
Sleeping either too little or too long can trigger migraines. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommend sleeping between seven and nine hours per night (48).
Changes in sleep patterns can also trigger migraines. Changes can come from jeg leg, a disruption in your biological clock from crossing time zones, and changes in your schedule. Getting a night of quality sleep, however, can relieve a migraine (49).
Learn more about sleep in How to Fall Asleep Instantly.
Food Migraine Triggers
What Foods Trigger Migraines?
- Gluten (53)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) (54)
- Processed Foods
- Pickled and Fermented Foods
- Salty Foods
- Eating Frozen food too quickly
- Aspartame (55)
19. Avoid These Migraine Trigger Foods
Processed foods, high in histamine, nitrates, and nitrites, can trigger migraines.
Histamine is a natural compound in your body that helps initiate immune and inflammatory responses (56). It also interacts with the central nervous system and may affect your body’s migraine response (57).
Foods high in histamine are processed meat, dairy, and fish, and fermented foods including beer and wine (58).
In healthy individuals, histamine is quickly detoxified by the enzyme amine oxidase (59). Those with low amine oxidase activity have a higher risk of histamine toxicity. Excess histamine can cause numerous allergy-like symptoms and headaches.
Nitrates, Nitrites, and Migraines
Nitrates and nitrites are used as food preservatives added to processed meat to prevent microbial growth. Processed foods containing nitrates can trigger migraines possibly by causing blood vessels to expand (60).
Limiting processed foods is an inexpensive and low-risk migraine prevention.
20. Use Caffeine Sparingly
Used sparingly, caffeine can relieve a migraine. While overuse can lead to dependence and trigger migraines.
The American Migraine Association says that even though caffeine can be effective for headaches, it should not be used more than twice a week. Further, people with migraines who take caffeine (for any reason) three or more days a week may become dependent and increase their number of migraines.
Caffeine affects migraines through its interaction with adenosine, a neurotransmitter with many important biological roles (61). During a migraine attack, adenosine blood levels rise. High adenosine levels can cause less brain electrical activity, temporarily dilate blood vessels, and affect sleep and movement.
Caffeine can block adenosine from sticking to special receptors in the brain, preventing adenosine activation. Your body adapts to frequent caffeine use by changing the number, types, and function of adenosine receptors.
Your brain becomes dependent, expecting that timely extra dose of caffeine. If this expectation is unfulfilled, you experience withdrawal symptoms similar to that of a migraine. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, and trouble concentrating.
Used sparingly, caffeine can increase alertness, boost your mood, constrict blood vessels and relieve migraine symptoms (62). Further, it can increase the effectiveness of common headache medications (63).
To prevent and reduce migraines, save the caffeine for when you need it most.
21. Limit or Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is one of the most commonly reported migraine triggers.
One study found that alcohol was reported (64) to trigger migraines in 34% of participants. Red wine was reported to trigger migraines in 19.5% of participants, but white wine was only reported in 10.5%.
Red wine appears to have a greater effect on women Twenty-two percent of women in the study reported red wine as a trigger compared to only eight percent of men.
How Does Alcohol Cause Headaches and Migraines?
- Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it widens blood vessels and increases blood flow. One study found that vasodilators such as blood pressure medications can cause headache symptoms (65).
- Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases the production of urine. This extra loss of fluids and electrolytes causes dehydration, which can cause or progress headaches (66).
22. Keep a Food Journal
If you have chronic migraines, keep a journal of what you eat to identify your trigger foods.
Try an elimination diet which involves removing the foods related to your migraine symptoms. Start with the most common food triggers and reduce one at a time to pinpoint your food migraine triggers.
One small study tested the effectiveness of a 12-week elimination diet. The elimination diet reduced the frequency of migraines people experienced within four weeks (67).
Migraine Comfort Measures
Migraine comfort measures do not treat the cause of a migraine but they help ease your symptoms. Common comfort measures are hot and cold therapy, aromatherapy, and resting in a dark and quiet room with earplugs or a sleep mask.
23. Try A Hot or Cold Compress
Applying ice or a cold compress on your head or neck helps relieve migraine pain by restricting blood vessels, decreasing inflammation, and slowing nerve conduction.
One study found that applying ice to the neck for 30 minutes can significantly relieve migraine pain (68).
You can make a cold compress by filling a plastic bag with ice and wrapping it in a soft towel. Try it on your head, temples, or back of the neck to find the best headache relief. Alternate on or off for about 15 minutes. Also, anything cold will help, like a cold shower.
Applying heat can relieve tension headaches by relaxing tense muscles.
For a warm compress, use a hot towel, hot water bottle, or take a warm shower or bath.
You can relax your muscles with warmth and soothe your head with cold by soaking your feet in hot water while applying ice to your head.
I’ve found that taking a warm shower and ending with cold water helps reduce migraines. The hot water relieves tense muscles, while the cold water helps relieve head pain.
24. Experiment With These Essential Oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts containing aromatic compounds. Essential oils have many therapeutic properties and are used mostly in aromatherapy or topically.
The inhalation of lavender oil appears to be a safe an effective treatment for migraine headaches
In one study, one group of migraine sufferers were asked, at the early signs of a headache, to rub (69) 2-3 drops of lavender oil on their upper lip and inhale its vapor for 15 minutes. Then they were asked to rate the severity of their migraine headache for the next two hours.
The placebo group used the same method except with unscented liquid wax. Neither group was allowed to use any other painkillers.
In the lavender group, 74% of participants reported an improvement in their symptoms, which was significantly better than the placebo group. How does lavender oil compare to conventional treatments?
- Lavender oil works about three-quarters of the time;
- Ibuprofen, 54% of the time (70)
- Tylenol works about half the time (71)
- Generic Imitrex, 59% of the time (72)
- The Extreme treatment used in emergency rooms (injected under the skip), 70% (73)
Another study found that applying peppermint oil to the temples can help relieve tension headache symptoms (74).
25. How to Get Rid of a Migraine At Work or School
If you have a migraine at work or school you need something that can work fast. Youtuber Kamil Wawrzyszko offers a way to get rid of a migraine in two minutes. When you don’t have time for home remedies, this method is worth a try.
Kamil has you ask yourself three questions about your headache. Answer the questions then ask and answer them again until your migraine is gone. He claims that this technique will work in two minutes or less.
- “Where is your headache?”
- “What color is it?”
- “What shape is it?”
This technique forces you to think about what your migraine is and what it is not. A migraine is not a thing, it is your perception of pain. Theoretically, if your brain cannot physically describe what a migraine is, it should disappear.
My theory is that answering these questions frees your mind of thinking of a migraine is a separate and new problem. It is only your body’s natural response to some form of stress.
Try this technique to clear your mind. The remedies in this article are to help you find and eliminate the source of your migraine. At the very least, find migraine relief and comfort.
This morning you thought of migraines only as unnecessary pains.
Now you know that a migraine is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.
The remedies that work for you depends on what is causing your migraine. Work with your health care provider to determine if your migraines are caused by stress, deficiency, or toxicity.
In this article, we covered the causes and remedies for migraines and headaches. The focus is on natural and holistic remedies that will remove the cause, not just treat the symptoms.
What natural, alternative, or holistic migraine remedies work for you? What did I miss in this article?
Please share or leave a comment with your questions.
- QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Aged ≥18 Years Who Reported Having a Severe Headache or Migraine in the Past 3 Months, by Sex and Age Group — National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:654. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6624a8