Painkiller medication is often all that’s needed to treat a headache - and you should speak to a pharmacist or doctor for guidance before taking any painkillers.
But what if you want to take a more natural approach?
Studies show that you may be able to manage some headaches with alternative therapies like acupuncture, or by making small changes to your diet and lifestyle.
This article takes a closer look at natural headache remedies to help you identify what works and what doesn’t.
Myths about natural headache remedies
If you search the internet for natural headache remedies, you may come across suggestions, such as cream of tartar, aromatherapy oils, or herbal supplements like feverfew or butterbur extract.
However, there isn’t much evidence to support the use of these natural remedies.
What about magnesium supplements?
Some studies seem to show a link between magnesium deficiency and migraines, but more research is needed to justify the use of magnesium supplements.
If you want to try magnesium as a headache treatment, speak to a doctor before doing so as taking magnesium has its risks. These risks include:
- magnesium interacts with certain medications, including antibiotics and muscle relaxants
- magnesium supplements may decrease blood pressure
- taking too much magnesium may cause serious side effects, such as diarrhoea
Natural headache remedies that may work
Water and other fluids
Drinking extra fluids may help to improve certain types of headache. Try to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid per day.
You can drink water or milk, but it’s generally best to avoid sports drinks and alcohol. These drinks can dehydrate your body, and dehydration can trigger migraines and other headaches.
What about herbal teas?
Some people find that it helps to drink herbal teas. Ginger, peppermint and willow bark tea are all popular options. Clove tea is also said to be a good natural remedy for headaches.
However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to show that these teas are more effective than drinking plain water.
Certain herbal remedies are also known to interact with other medications, so if you’re already being treated for a serious medical condition you should check with a doctor before drinking herbal tea.
Some headaches are brought on by hunger, so following a balanced diet and eating regular meals may help to ease your symptoms.
Be careful what you eat though; research shows that certain foods can trigger migraine-type headaches. These foods include:
- citrus fruit
- smoked fish, cheese and cured meat - these contain large amounts of a natural compound called tyramine
- cold foods like ice cream or frozen yoghurt
Acupuncture is a type of complementary or alternative medicine in which fine needles are used to stimulate sensory nerves under the skin. Acupuncture can help to encourage the release of natural painkilling chemicals called endorphins.
According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic tension-type headaches and can also be used to treat migraines.
Rest and relaxation
Some headaches can be triggered by stress or tiredness. If you’re overtired or dealing with stress, getting plenty of rest and sleep may help to ease your symptoms.
Doctors recommend getting around 8 hours of good-quality sleep each night.
If you’re struggling to relax and unwind, try to practise deep breathing exercises, download a mindfulness app or read this article on ways to quickly relieve stress.