Even the most self-aware wellness aficionados can run into a problem with headaches: you’re used to having a few too many drinks the night before, so a low-level headache is the norm. Are you ignoring regular headaches because you’re not tuned in? Our favorite herbalist Daniela Turley breaks down 4 types of headaches, how to recognize them, and what you can do to get back to normal. Get a headache regularly that you don’t see on the list? Let us know in the comments!
The Basic Headache
What is it? A dull aching headache or sensation of tightness across the forehead and/or on the sides or nape of the neck associated with scalp, neck,or shoulder muscle tenderness.
Advice: As the name suggests these headaches are worse during periods of stress and can go on for days at an end. Luckily they can be treated naturally. I recommend taking a nervine herb like American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). This is a relaxant herb and has been shown in trials to have an anxiolytic effect, this is possibly why it is useful at relieving tension headaches. Acupuncture is also effective at for treating these kinds of headaches. Dietary nutritional supplements also can help. I suggest taking 300mg of magnesium, a 25 mg b-complex and 500 mg vitamins C. This help with stress levels and also the magnesium can help to relax the muscles that are involved in tension headaches.
What is it?: Migraine Is a neurovascular disorder which gives periodic headaches often with prodromal symptoms called an aura, these can range from nausea to visual disturbances. The mechanism starts in the brain and then spreads to the blood vessels where high levels of serotonin causes contraction then dilation of vessels which give rise to painful headaches.
Advice: Prevention is best here. Taking the anti-inflammatory herb feverfew leaf (Tanacetum parthenium) daily reduces the number of migraine attacks possibly by affecting the hyperreactivity of the blood vessel wall, thus preventing the cramping and subsequent dilation. I have used this herb successfully with many clients of mine, it has also been widely studied and shown to be successful in the treatment of migraines.The dose is the equivalent to two leaves a day, so even keeping a plant and nibbling on a leaf is a good bet! Make sure to get a good quality brand if taking a pill or tincture. As well as feverfew there has been good evidence to suggest butterbur (Petrasites) is an effective treatment for migraine sufferers. Discovery of the high incidence a mutation in a gene causing a resulting elevation of homocysteine levels in patients with migraine with aura led to a trial of b12, folate, and b6 in these patients. This trial showed that taking these three supplements resulted in a reduction of homocysteine levels and improvement of migraine symptoms. So taking a b-complex can help reduce migraines. If your migraines are worse around your period also follow the advice below for hormonal headaches. Lastly lavender oil has been shown to be effective in trials for reducing the severity of migraine headaches. Use throughout the day on the pressure points and in the bath at night.
The Hormonal Headache
Symptoms: These are the type you get before your period.
Advice: Taking magnesium and b6 every day can have a preventive effect on these kind of headaches. It also helps with PMS and period pains which is an added bonus! The addition of the hormone balancing herb agnus castus can also be very helpful having been shown in clinical trials to significantly reduce all PMS symptoms including headache. You take this herb in the morning, daily without skipping a dose and for a minimum of two months. Keeping blood sugar up before your period is also helpful at preventing headaches, so eating protein with slow release carbohydrates and not skipping meals is a good bet. If you are also dizzy, pale and tired the headaches may be related to anemia rather than hormonal imbalances. These headaches tend to be on the top of the head. Taking a blood tonic throughout the month like floradix tablets or liquid can help these kind of headache.
The Sinus Headache
What is it? The ones you get during allergy season! Sinus headaches are horrible.
Advice: I suggest treating the underlying inflammation by taking a combination of quercetin and bromelain. These anti inflammatory plant chemicals have been shown in trials to reduce histamine and inflammation in the sinuses as well as symptoms of chronic sinusitis. In my experience taking these daily is more effective that taking claritin or some other over the counter medication. Bromelain is in raw pineapple and quercetin is high in nettle. I have been known to grab raw pineapple when I have forgotten to taken my herbs and within 15 minutes the sinus pain has gone. Its important to take bromelain or fresh pineapple away from food as it is an enzyme it will basically digest food you eat with it rendering it ineffective. As well as the quercetin and bromelain I love the nasal spray sinol M. It contains capsicum (that’s right, chili pepper). After the initial burn it clears sinus headaches very nicely. I always pre-order a couple of bottles to be ready for the allergy season.
Image by the amazing Henrik Adamsen
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