The Herb Stop Blog
Herbs & Diet for Headaches & Migraines
What is a Headache?
In medical terms: cephalalgia. Headaches are described as pain in the head, neck or upper back. The common causes are tension, migraine, eye strain, dehydration, low blood sugar and sinusitis. There are 5 general types of headaches which include:
- Vascular headaches are most commonly migraines. Next common are toxic headaches – usually from fever, or disease.
- Muscular headaches which involve tightening of facial and neck muscles. Tension headaches are the most common form.
- Cervicogenic headaches are anatomical in nature. Caused by keeping one’s head in an uncomfortable position for too long, or an injury causing pressure on cervical nerves.
- & 5. Traction/inflammatory headaches symptoms of other disorders anywhere from sinus infection to stroke.
Specific Types of Headaches
- Tension headaches account for 90% of headaches. Pain which can radiate from the neck, back, eyes or other muscle groups in the body and is often described as having your head in a vise. Tension headaches can last anywhere from 1 hour to months! Tension headaches are caused by stress, sleep deprivation, stressful position/bad posture, hunger and eyestrain.
- Migraine headaches see below
- Ictal headaches are associated with seizures.
- Thunderclap headaches are described as “the worst headache of my life” usually an indication of an aneurysm.
- Vascular headaches are where blood vessel swelling or disturbance causes the pain. They include cluster headaches, migraine and toxic headache.
- Cluster headaches are also referred to as suicide headaches because the pain is far worse than imaginable and some have committed suicide because the pain was too intense. These headaches can also lead to depression, ultimately leading to suicide. Many sufferers say the pain is similar to that of an ice pick stabbing above the eye constantly over a long period of time. Other associated symptoms include drooping eyelids, tearing, constricted pupils, nasal congestion, runny nose, sweating and jaw/tooth pain. Cluster headaches are timely and regular. The pain can be so intense that it may wake you from your sleep! Cluster headaches are typically vascular in nature. The pain is caused by the dilation of blood vessels which creates pressure. If you or someone you know is suffering from these headaches and is in danger please contact the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Toxic headaches are the least common type of vascular headache. They are caused by a fever from an acute illness such as mumps, tonsillitis, etc.
- Sinus headache are caused by pressure from the sinuses that causes pain.
- Hemicrania continua headaches are a continuous headache lasting for more than 3 months, no pain-free periods, moderate intensity. This headache is usually a bi-product of a more serious condition.
- Rebound headaches are also known as medication overuse headaches. They can occur daily and are very painful. These types of headaches are caused when pain medications have been used too frequently to relieve headaches.
What is a Migraine?
A migraine is a neurological disease best known for severe headaches that are its most salient symptom. A migraine causes moderate to severe “headaches” that are most often one-sided and throb/pulsate. These episodes can last several hours to three days. Migraines are often accompanied with nausea, vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and phonophobia (sensitivity to noise). Many people that have migraines also report a preceding aura – which includes bright flashing lights, zigzags, visual distortion, tunnel vision, rainbows, blind spots, etc.
Who is Affected By Migraines?
Migraines affect more females (75%) than males and the causes are not set in stone. According to modern medicine, migraines can be the result of genetics, hormones, serotonin issues, organ disease, etc.
The 4 Phases of Migraines
Because migraines affect people in a multitude of ways, not all people experience these phases, or may experience them in different ways:
- Prodrome - occurs in 40-60% of migraine sufferers. Symptoms include irritability, depression, euphoria, yawning, food cravings, constipation or diarrhea and even vegetative states.
- Aura – occurs in 20-30% of migraineurs. These symptoms appear slowly over 5-15 minutes and can last up to 60 minutes. Visual auras include flashing lights, tunnel vision, zigzags, rainbows, blind spots, foggy vision, etc. Sensory auras include the feeling of pins and needles in the hands, arms and or nose/mouth. Other aura symptoms include olfactory hallucinations, vertigo, hypersensitivity to touch, dysphasia (speech impairment).
- Pain – This includes unilateral, throbbing pain. The pain may be bilateral at the onset and become generalized, and may alternate from side to side. Some other effects include polyuria (passing of an unusual amount of urine), pallor (paleness), sweating, and cold, moist hands and feet.
- Postdrome – Feeling exhausted, irritable, impaired concentration, tenderness throughout the head, mood swings. On the other hand some people feel euphoric and energized.
Unusual Types of Migraines
- Basilar Type Migraine – symptoms that result from brainstem dysfunction. Can lead to stroke, coma or even death.
- Familial hemiplegic migraine – symptoms include reversible limb weakness on one side as well as visual, sensory or speech difficulties.
- Abdominal migraines – Affect mostly children. Symptoms include severe central abdominal pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Usually children that suffer from abdominal migraines will “graduate” to more traditional migraines after puberty.
- Acephalgic migraine (amigrainous migraine, ocular migraine, optical migraine) – symptoms include auras such as scintillating scotoma, nausea, photophobia, hemiparesis (partial paralysis of one side of the body), and other migraine symptoms NOT accompanied by a headache. Visual snow can also be a symptom. Scintillating scotoma is the most common visual aura. Usually begins as a spot of flickering light in the center of the visual fields, which obscures vision to some degree. It then expands into shimmering arc(s) of white or colored lights. The arc of light gradually enlarges, becomes more obvious, and may take the form of a definite zigzag pattern. It is difficult to read or drive with the scotoma is present. Normal central vision may return in several minutes and the periphery in up to one hour. Visual snow is a visual hallucination that resembles snow or static on a television.
What Triggers a Headache or Migraine?
For the most part it is one’s diet, specifically processed grains, as well as stress. People who commit themselves in eliminating processed grains and processed foods on a daily basis have a good chance in overcoming migraines. What happens is your immune system goes into overdrive attempting to fight off the effects of grains – actually it is the pollution in grains. The immune system recognizes it can’t keep up and the body is saying I can’t stop all of these things going through the system, and it therefore has to protect the primary internal organs. So, one of the things that happens, the body restricts impurities reaching the brain. Imagine for a moment, the only way it can do that is to tighten the muscles in the neck area to restrict blood flow to the brain, then once the toxins are filtered out of the body blood flow is increased into the brain, hence you get a migraine. You are not getting enough oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Herbs, massages, meditation, reiki, biofeedback, etc. have shown to be helpful in getting those stress levels down, to relax these tight muscles and to get the circulation to the brain going again. Also, if you want to “fool” the immune system into thinking that it is doing a better job than it is and therefore not shutting down the system is to work with blood and immune boosters.
Stress can also cause a tightening in the neck, which causes a restriction in blood flow. Allergies can cause the same effect as the aforementioned grain allergy.
Most Common Triggers
- Allergic reactions
- Smoking/exposure to smoke
- Bright lights, loud noises
- Skipping meals
- Certain perfumes & odors
- Physical/Emotional stress
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Menstrual cycle/birth control pills
- Tension headaches
Foods To Avoid
- Tyramine containing foods such as:
- Red Wine
- Smoked Fish
- Aged Cheese
- Chicken Livers
- Some Beans
- This includes soy which is among the highest naturally occurring source of MSG.
- Nitrate containing foods such as:
- Hot Dogs
- Other foods such as:
- Peanut Butter
- Fermented Foods
- Pickled Foods
- Dehydration is also a very common cause of migraines.
- Anti-inflammatories, such as feverfew, have been known to be very effective.
- Anti-histamines, such as nettles, taken at the onset have been shown to minimize effects and even prevent the full development of the pain phase.
- Blood pressure controllers, such as Heart Calm, have also shown to help reduce the vaso-constriction/dilation.
- Neurological assistants, such as St. John’s Wort, help to increase serotonin and repair nerve issues.
Herbs & Natural Remedies
B-2 is a supplement that balances blood flow to the brain. Taken daily this has great preventative power. Natalie suggests 200 mgs twice daily.
Kudzu has been shown to help with menstrual migraines and cluster headaches. Imitates estrogen and has great effects on serotonin receptors.
Feverfew is known by many migraine sufferers and they say that feverfew is effective in reducing the number and severity of headaches, as well as alleviating the nausea and vomiting that often accompany them.
Ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain supplying the brain with more oxygen, hence not only relieving headaches but improving memory and alertness as well.
Nettles may stop a migraine if taken at the onset, because they are known to contain antihistamine properties. According to recent scientific research, antihistamines might act like methysergide to stimulate serotonin receptors (migraines are linked to low seratonin levels in the brain).
Passion Flower is a calming herb, known to be useful for mild depression, insomnia, nervous headaches, migraines, muscular/nerve pain, and stiffness in the neck.
Skullcap’s name points to problems related to the skull and head. Interestingly, the word migraine comes from the Greek “hemikrania”, which means “half a skull”. Very often the pain begins on one side of the head, but can spread.
Cayenne has gained attention recently in the medical community especially for its treatment of cluster headaches. Cayenne’s main constituent capsaicin, which among other things seems to raise the pain threshold.
St. John's Wort has been used in replace of SSRI’s. Increasing serotonin has been shown to drastically reduce migraines/headaches. St. John’s Wort also helps to repair damaged nerves.
Wild Lettuce is known to be a very effective herbal narcotic. Take as juice or in an extract for the best results.
White Willow is known by herbalists as the natural aspirin.
Lavender Essential Oil massaged into the temples at the first sign of an attack has helped hundreds of migraine sufferers. The same can be achieved with peppermint essential oil.
Balance & Focus Essential Oil inhaled from the bottle, or in a diffuse, as well as massaged into the temples (make sure to avoid coming near the eyes) has been used by many of our customers for headaches, focus and tension.
Tension Release - Migraine sufferers say that this herbal formula has been very supportive in both preventing and treating headaches/migraines along with vitamin B-2. If taken at the onset of a migraine you may circumvent a full-blown migraine headache.
Migra-Soothe combines herbs traditionally known to relief migraine and tension headaches. People have said they have experienced relief after taking 1 teaspoon at the onset of a headache as an initial dose, then 60 drops every 30 minutes until the pain is relieved. You may also try to take one capsule of fenugreek. Fenugreek helps the body utilize oxygen.
Heart Calm may be used torelive blood pressure disorders. This causes a balancing effect and can help with vascular related headaches.
Stress Release is a popular formula known to be appropriate for long term use as both a preventative and to ease headaches and migraines.
Tranquil is another formula known by many migraine sufferers for its calming effect during times of stress.
Headache Relief is a homeopathic remedy in a spray form that is one of Natalie's favorite remedies for treating the pain associated with headaches and migraines.
Migraine Relief is another homeopathic remedy in a spray form that is another one of Natalie's favorite remedies for treating the pain and neurological discomfort associated with migraines.
Weather Changes is another homeopathic remedy in a spray form that is very effective for headaches associated with changing weather.
Happy Clear & Pain-Free Heads!
Leilah & Natalie
**Consult your healthcare practitioner before using any herbs in this article if you take pharmaceutical drugs or have a medical condition.