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Five Surprising Tips For Easing & Stopping Headaches

Updated: Nov 10, 2020


Headaches are one of the most common and debilitating ailments.

About 20% of the population suffers from migraine at some stage in their lives and according to Headaches Australia 36% of men and 42% of women suffer with tension-type headaches, with a staggering total cost of $35.7 billion per year.

A Melbourne study, involving interviewing 1717 individuals discovered that 87% of subjects had experienced headache in the last year. [1]

Here are 5 (very surprising) tips to help with headaches.


1. Exercise

Ironically exercise often has a bed reputation as a trigger or causative factor for headaches, however one of the easiest ways to reduce the number and severity of headaches is to participate in some form of physical activity. A Swedish study found that “40 minutes of indoor cycling three times per week was more effective than relaxation techniques at reducing headache frequency.” [2]


A large study including more than 92,000 participants showed that a decreased level of physical activity was significantly associated with an increased likelihood of headaches. [3]

Through sports, hobbies and our activities of daily life (ADL) there are many easy ways to increase your activity level, and one of the easiest tips is to simply increase the amount of steps you take throughout the day.

Walk the long way. Take the scenic route. Take the stairs.


2. Cold

It’s fairly common knowledge that using a cold compress can help reduce headache symptoms, but one commonly asked questions is "where do you put the cold pack?" Front, back, side, top? Head, neck?

Does the location of where you apply it make a difference in terms of effectiveness?


A Hawaiian study showed that “the application of a cold or frozen compresses to the back of the neck and head area decreases inflammation, slows nerve conduction and constricts blood vessels, all of which help reduce headache pain.” [4]


Another study focused entirely on women, and looked at applying a wearable gel cap which covered the entire head, and showed a significant reduction in migraine pain. [5]


3. B-Complex Vitamins

B vitamins are a group of water-soluble micronutrients that play a host of important roles in the body, and according to the Victorian Government Better Health Website there are eight different types of vitamin B:

  • B1 (Thiamin) -helps to convert glucose into energy and has a role in nerve function.

  • B2 (Riboflavin) - primarily involved in energy production, and helps vision & skin health.

  • B3 (Niacin) - helps maintain skin health and supports the nervous and digestive systems.

  • B5 - needed to metabolise carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol as well as produce red blood cells and steroid hormones.

  • B6 - needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and certain brain chemicals. It influences brain processes and development, immune function and steroid hormone activity.

  • B7 - needed for energy metabolism, fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism and glycogen synthesis

  • B9 (folate or ‘folic acid’) - needed to form red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It helps the development of the foetal nervous system, as well as DNA synthesis and cell growth

  • B12 - helps to produce and maintain the myelin surrounding nerve cells, mental ability, red blood cell formation and the breaking down of some fatty acids and amino acids to produce energy

Some recent studies have shown that the B vitamin supplements riboflavin (B2), folate, B12 and pyridoxine (B6) may reduce headache symptoms. [6-8]


B-complex vitamins contain all eight of the B vitamins and can be safe, cost-effective way to naturally treat headache symptoms. B vitamins are considered by most health professionals as safe to take on a regular basis, as they are water-soluble and any excess will be flushed out through the urine. [9]


4. Essential Oils

Essential oils are the highly concentrated extracted liquids from a variety of plants, that contain aromatic compounds. Some may have certain therapeutic benefits and are most are used used topically, though some can be ingested.

Studies have indicated that in particular peppermint and lavender essential oils may be very helpful when you have a headache. A German study found that peppermint essential oil when applied to the temples was shown to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches. [10]

Meanwhile, some research indicated that lavender oil can be highly effective at reducing the symptoms of migraine when applied to the upper lip and inhaled. [11]

(...the added benefit of essential oils is that both you & your room will always smell amazing!)



5. Histamine

Avoiding certain foods high in histamine can be an effective way to manage headaches.

Histamine is a chemical that occurs naturally in the body and is involved with immune function, and with nervous systems and digestive system. [12]


Unfortunately it’s commonly found in (delicious) foods like cured meats, aged cheeses, fermented food, beer, wine and smoked fish.


A Danish study found that consuming histamine may likely cause migraines in those who are sensitive to it. [13] Some research from the Jefferson Headache Centre in Philadelphia suggested that eliminating histamine-rich foods from ones diet may be a useful strategy for people who frequently suffer with headaches. [14]



With headaches being all too common, there has never been a more urgent need for easy, natural options being the first approach to try for headache management, with over-the-counter medications like panadol, and others like ergotamine, NSAIDs and triptans perhaps being appropriate secondary and tertiary resorts.




Reference:

[1] Prevalence of headache and migraine in an Australian city- J. Heywood, T. Colgan, and C. Coffey- Journal of Clinical Neuroscience (1998) 5(4), 485.

[2] Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: A randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls Emma Varkey, Cephalalgia. 2011 Oct; 31(14): 1428–1438.

[3] Why does increased exercise decrease migraine? Andrew H. Ahn, MD PhD Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2013 Dec; 17(12): 379.

[4] Randomized Controlled Trial: Targeted Neck Cooling in the Treatment of the Migraine Patient Adam S Sprouse-Blum, MD. Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2013 Jul; 72(7): 237–241.

[5] Cold Therapy in Migraine Patients: Open-label, Non-controlled, Pilot Study Serap Ucler Et Al Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006 Dec; 3(4): 489–493.

[6] Vitamin Supplementation as Possible Prophylactic Treatment against Migraine with Aura and Menstrual Migraine Munvar Miya Shaik and Siew Hua Gan *Biomed Res Int. 2015; 2015: 469529.

[7] Effects of dietary folate intake on migraine disability and frequency

Saras Menon 1. Headache 2015 Feb;55(2):301-9.

[8] Effects of pyridoxine supplementation on severity, frequency and duration of migraine attacks in migraine patients with aura: A double-blind randomized clinical trial study. Omid Sadeghi, Iran J Neurol. 2015 Apr 4; 14(2): 74–80.

[9] B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. David O. Kennedy. Nutrients v.8(2); 2016 Feb PMC4772032

[10] Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache.H. Göbel Der Schmerz volume 30, pages295–310(2016)

[11] Lavender and the Nervous System. Peir Hossein Koulivand, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 681304.

[12] The role of histamine in regulation of immune responses Marek Jutel Chem Immunol Allergy. 2006;91:174-87.

[13] Histamine and migraine revisited: mechanisms and possible drug targets Jacob Worm 1, Katrine Falkenberg 1 J Headache Pain 2019 Mar 25;20(1):30.

[14] Histamine and Migraine. Hsiangkuo Yuan 1, Stephen D Silberstein . Headache. 2018 Jan;58(1):184-193.

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