I’ve met only a handful of people who claim never to have experienced a headache, and I admit I envy them. Those of us who are familiar with this kind of pain probably agree a pounding headache can ruin the day in short order.

Raised by parents who believed in avoiding over-the-counter and prescription drugs except in emergency situations, I always look for alternatives before reaching for a chemical solution. A few years ago I started getting headaches most every afternoon, and evenings were miserable; my head felt like it was going to explode, and I didn’t want to do anything but rest in a quiet place until bedtime.

I took aspirin a few times, but it left me feeling numb and slow, and I didn’t want to rely on taking a pill to feel better. Finding out why I had frequent headaches and figuring out what to do about it was top on my priority list.

While many people find if they drink more water over the course of the day they never get headaches, I was already in the habit of drinking lots of water. Some other common causes of headache include:

  • Low blood sugar: going too long between meals can cause blood sugar levels to drop and bring on a headache.
  • Fatigue or lack of sleep: many of the body’s repair and maintenance processes are conducted during sleep, and if you don’t get enough rest, you’re more likely to get a headache.
  • Stress: physical, mental and emotional stress can lead to constriction of blood vessels that may cause a headache.
  • Hormonal fluctuations: for women, cyclical changes in hormone levels can trigger headaches.
  • Allergies: food or substances you’re sensitive to often set off headaches; reactions to pollen or toxins in the air bother some people, and food allergies (such as wheat, soy products or peanuts) are also common triggers.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: a shortage of B vitamins can lead to a headache, and magnesium is a common mineral deficiency that can also cause problems.
  • Poor posture and tight muscles: physical tension from staying in the same position (such as sitting), or slouching may set off a headache.

There are also many other possible reasons, and if you’re like me, the idea of getting relief from headache natural remedies while you’re tracking down the cause is very appealing! I was interested in feeling better (first) and correcting problems that could lead to headaches (second).

Reducing tension is a great first step to easing headache pain, and that’s where I started. Here are some of the other strategies I found:

  • Essential oils: lavender, peppermint and basil oils are known for easing tightness. Peppermint oil can stimulate dilation of the blood vessels, which increases blood flow; this often stops headache pain. Basil oil relaxes muscle tension, and many people find inhaling vapor from lavender oil in boiling water is also helpful. I got some relief from adding 4 drops of lavender oil to 3 cups of boiling water and standing over it, breathing deeply, for five minutes.
  • Massage the base of the skull or the temples gently; you can do this with or without essential oils. In my experience, this helped for twenty or thirty minutes, but did not make my headaches go away completely.
  • Supplement with “feverfew”; this herb has been found helpful for migraine patients when used regularly. People who took a feverfew supplement daily had 70% less headaches. Since my headaches were not migraines, I didn’t try this remedy.
  • Add a B-complex vitamin to your diet; you should be able to tell within two or three weeks if it makes a difference.
  • Magnesium is a good bet for promoting muscle relaxation; start with 200 mg daily and work up to 600 mg, splitting the dosage between morning and evening. If you get diarrhea, back down on the amount until you have solid stools again.
  • Eliminate foods that are likely to cause headaches for two weeks, then add them back in, one at a time, so you can pinpoint problem foods. The list of most common food allergens includes dairy (especially cheese), chocolate, avocado, peanuts, citrus fruits, and onions. Many people get headaches from monosodium glutamate (MSG – a food additive) and nitrates in processed meats like bacon. Fermented foods can also trigger headaches, and red wine causes issues for some people.

One of my best friends found that dropping cheese from her diet stopped the terrible migraine headaches she had for years, and once my daughter cut out all sources of gluten, such as wheat and other grains, she only got headaches infrequently.

But my elimination process didn’t turn up any headache-causing foods. Instead, I found that my problems came from spinal misalignment.

A visit to the chiropractor, where spinal manipulation was used to correct vertebrae positions, left me headache-free for nine days. I made another appointment, and ended up getting three treatments during the first month. After that, a monthly visit kept me headache-free for half a year.

Now I only see a chiropractor about twice a year. I’ve found doing a short yoga routine most every day helps keep my spine flexible, and since my work does not involve much physical activity, I make sure to get up and stretch for five or ten minutes every couple of hours.

Since there are so many possible causes for headaches, it may take some time to pinpoint the right approach for you. If you try any of the suggested strategies or have a different one that worked for you, be sure to let us know in the comment section.

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