Five natural ways to manage your migraines and headaches

When your head starts pounding, put down the pills and embrace these all-natural alternatives

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There’s nothing that will stop you in your tracks faster than a pounding headache or debilitating migraine. If you find yourself regularly reaching for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and pain relievers, you may want to implement these natural methods for taking the edge off your head pain.

1. Minimize migraines with magnesium
I have written about the benefits of magnesium before and luckily, it is also a powerful defense against headaches. Magnesium can affect the regulation of blood flow to the brain, which can be compromised during a migraine attack. In one study, the treatment group, receiving 600 mg of magnesium for a 12 week period, experienced a 42 percent reduction in headaches compared to only a 16 percent reduction in migraine headaches in the placebo group. Additional research suggests that magnesium supplements may shorten the duration of a migraine and reduce the amount of medication needed. As an added bonus, magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, so you may find that supplementation reduces other muscle aches and pains.

Bottom line: I recommend magnesium glycinate or citrate, taken to bowel tolerance each night (approximately 200 mg – 600 mg). If you get loose stools, reduce the dose.

2. Supplement with CoQ10
Coenzyme Q10 (also known as CoQ10) plays a critical role in the function of your cells. The supplement has also been found to reduce migraine attacks in humans, according to a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Researchers studied 42 subjects who suffered an average of four migraine attacks per month. Approximately 48 percent of the CoQ10 group experienced a 50 percent response rate during the three-month study. In addition, the patients treated with CoQ10 experienced fewer migraine attacks per month while the placebo group experienced no reduction in migraine frequency. CoQ10-treated subjects also had more headache-free days than the placebo group and fewer days with nausea.

Bottom line: Supplementation with CoQ10 may not only improve your energy but also your heart health, blood sugar balance, nervous system and help to manage high cholesterol and high blood pressure in individuals with diabetes. Take 100 mg up to two times daily.

3. Know your triggers
In my clinical practice I have seen patients eliminate their migraines just by discovering their food allergies. One patient discovered that the grapefruit she had enjoyed each morning for more than 20 years was the instigator behind her pounding headaches. To determine the true culprit behind your distress I recommend doing a two week elimination diet. This includes the removal of all the most common food allergens (all grains that contain gluten, dairy, citrus, peanuts, caffeine, sugar and soy). After the 14-day removal period you should slowly reintroduce the foods one at a time. By doing so, any physical or mental symptoms related to the food can be isolated.

Bottom line: When it comes to allergies, don’t just be on the lookout for headaches. Common symptoms of a food allergy include gas, bloating, constipation, headaches/migraines, fatigue immediately after eating the food, fatigue on waking the next day, a gradual decline in energy, irritability, anxiety, headaches, water retention (can’t get your rings off) and dark circles under the eyes.

4. Hone in on herbals
Out of all the herbal medicines, feverfew has the most promise for its ability to decrease the frequency and/or intensity of a migraine attack. In one study, 72 volunteers were randomly allocated to receive either one capsule of dried feverfew leaves a day or a matching placebo for four months and then transferred to the other treatment for a further four months. Treatment with feverfew was associated with a reduction in the mean number of, and severity of attacks in each two-month period. Feverfew seems to work by inhibiting the production of inflammatory substances and re-establishing proper blood vessel tone. Another herbal preparation, butterbur, has been shown to relax the blood vessels of the brain which can prevent headaches.

Bottom line: As with all herbal medications, they require consistent usage for optimal benefits. I recommend working with a naturopath or herbalist to determine the dosage that is best for you.

5. Mind your postural muscles
Tight muscles in the neck and trapezius can be a one-way ticket to head pain, especially when it’s linked to weak muscles, and poor posture. Acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and osteopathic manual therapy have all been shown to alleviate tight muscles and reduce pain sensors. In one study, chronic tension headache sufferers received structured massage therapy treatment directed toward the neck and shoulder muscles. Researchers found that the treatment was effective in reducing both the number and duration of headaches.

Bottom line: For best results, ask your practitioner for some homework to do in between treatments. This may include corrective exercises, ergonomic adjustments (particularly at work) and even relaxation techniques to relieve tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back.

What do you do to cure headaches?

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.