Traditional headache medication can come with plenty of unwanted side effects. Fortunately, some natural remedies found right in your kitchen can help ease that head pain, reducing both the intensity and frequency of headaches. Here’s a roundup of the best that nature has to offer!
Feed Your Head: Foods For Headache Relief
Certain types of food can treat a headache or even prevent one. This is especially the case when a headache or migraine is due to a deficiency of certain nutrients.
1. Foods Rich In Magnesium
According to some estimates, as many as half of all migraine sufferers may have a deficiency of magnesium. It is believed to influence the synthesis and release of neurotransmitters and the platelet hyperaggregation linked to migraines. Cortical spreading depression, which causes certain neurons in the brain to go quiet, triggering migraines, is also connected to magnesium deficiency.1
Getting enough magnesium can help you prevent headaches and migraines. One study of 81 test subjects prone to migraine attacks found that taking 600 g of magnesium daily for a 12-week period helped reduce migraine headache frequency by nearly 42 percent. The duration and intensity of each attack also reduced a little (but then not significantly).2
What to eat: Foods rich in magnesium include legumes, beans, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, and green leafy vegetables.3
2. Foods Rich In Vitamin B2
Riboflavin or vitamin B2 improves brain mitochondrial function, which in turn is thought to play a role in migraine prevention.4 In one study, the participants’ frequency of migraine attacks reduced within just a month of taking the supplement; over a longer duration (3 months), there was further improvement.5
Higher dosages of about 400 mg/day may be most beneficial.6 However, the National Headache Foundation cautions against taking riboflavin in such large doses, so your best bet is to consume foods that are rich in the vitamin instead.7
What to eat: Eggs, milk, nuts, green vegetables, meat, and enriched flour are good dietary sources of vitamin B2.8
3. Foods Rich In Vitamin B3
Niacin or vitamin B3 is needed by the body to boost circulation and suppress inflammation, factors that play a role in migraines. Oral intake of niacin or vitamin B3 has even been known to help relieve tension headaches as well as migraines.9
What to eat: Organ meat like liver and kidney, as well as fish like salmon, tuna, and swordfish, are all rich in vitamin B3. You can also find the vitamin in beets, sunflower seeds, peanuts, brewer’s yeast, and fortified breads and cereals.10
According to the National Headache Foundation, mild to moderate dehydration can cause headaches and even migraines. When this happens, you may also be irritable and find it hard to concentrate. Replacing lost fluid as well as electrolytes can alleviate the problem.11
In one study, drinking an average of 500 ml of water helped bring complete relief from a headache in just half an hour. Others in the study required a bit more time (1 to 3 hours) and water (750 ml on average) to experience relief.12
What to have: Besides plain water, you can also ensure adequate fluid intake by consuming vegetables and fruit that contain a lot of liquid – like cucumbers, watermelon, celery, green leafy vegetables, and citrus fruits – or by enjoying a freshly made juice.
5. Fatty Fish
Migraines are an inflammatory disease and the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish can help battle the problem.13 Small studies have found that consuming fish oil daily helped reduce both the frequency and the severity of migraine headaches as quickly as within 6 weeks of starting the regimen.14 Other research has noted that the frequency of migraine attacks is higher if dietary intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is lower.15
What to have: Trout, salmon, herring, and mackerel have good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.16
Caffeine is a double-edged sword: Some people find it triggers their headaches, while others find it relieves them. How can it help? Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it can help narrow your blood vessels, easing the pain caused by the enlarging of blood vessels during a headache. This restricted blood flow is what can help treat a headache for some people.17 But since this varies from person to person, you will need to see how you react to it.
What to have: Coffee and tea, of course. Just be sure to balance your caffeine intake with adequate amounts of water to avoid a dehydration headache.
Cherries can also help treat a headache naturally.18 They are rich in antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory effects that can ease the symptoms of a headache.
In one study, the pigment cyanidin responsible for the red color of cherries was found to have better anti-inflammatory effects than aspirin, a traditional anti-inflammatory medication.19
What to have: Eat cherries as a snack on their own or toss some into a healthy dessert. You could also stew cherries to top on your oatmeal or yogurt.
[Read More: Know More Benefits Of Eating Cherries]
Thanks to its pain-fighting enzyme bromelain, pineapple can also help cure a headache. Its anti-inflammatory properties can also ease the inflammation associated with headaches.20 Just be warned that pineapple may also be a trigger for migraines in some people. So you’ll need to see how it works for you.
What to have: Eat some freshly cut pineapple as a snack or pizza topping or add it to a salad; drink up a glass of pineapple juice; or grill some for a delicious side dish.
In one study, patients who experienced acute migraine headaches saw the severity of headaches decrease significantly within 2 hours of taking ginger powder. This was not unlike the effects of sumatriptan, a medication normally suggested for cluster headaches and migraines.23
What to have: You can easily incorporate ginger powder into your cooking. Just add a teaspoon here and a pinch there. You can also add it to juice or soup.
Headache Triggers: Foods To Avoid
Now that you know what foods can help with headaches, it’s just as important to know what foods to avoid. Certain foods are common triggers for headaches, though not all of them may cause a problem for you.
Watch for signs after eating these foods to see if they lead to a headache. If a certain food disagrees with you, you may want to decrease your intake of it or completely avoid it – it may be the simplest solution to find respite from your headaches!
Foods You Are Sensitive Or Allergic To
Sometimes your body is sensitive to foods that don’t cause problems for anyone else. Though you may not have an allergic reaction to them – this is when your immune system kicks in – they may still cause abdominal discomfort, flatulence, or pain when consumed. In some cases, you might even develop a headache. These foods may include:
- Gluten-Containing Foods: If you are sensitive to the protein gluten, you would do well to consume smaller amounts of gluten. If you have celiac disease, you’ll want to avoid it completely. Switch to a gluten-free diet if you experience very severe headaches and digestive issues.24 Gluten-containing grains include wheat, barley, and rye.
- Dairy: Lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy can trigger headaches in addition to gastrointestinal symptoms.25 Limit your intake of milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and other dairy products. Have only small amounts at a time to reduce the burden on your system.
Foods That Are Migraine Triggers
Some foods can cause migraines for some people.26 You may want to check if any of the following foods work as a migraine trigger.
- Peanut butter
- Citrus fruit
- Fermented foods, pickled foods
- Nitrate-containing meats like hot dogs, bacon, and salami
- Foods that contain tyramine (an amino acid) like smoked fish, chicken livers, aged cheese, red wine, and figs
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG), an ingredient used in some restaurants
|↑1||Mauskop, Alexander, and Jasmine Varughese. “Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium.” Journal of neural transmission 119, no. 5 (2012): 575-579.|
|↑2||Peikert, A., C. Wilimzig, and R. Köhne-Volland. “Prophylaxis of migraine with oral magnesium: results from a prospective, multi-center, placebo-controlled and double-blind randomized study.” Cephalalgia 16, no. 4 (1996): 257-263.|
|↑3||Magnesium. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑4||Sparaco M, Feleppa M, Lipton RB, Rapoport AM, Bigal ME. Mitochondrial dysfunction and migraine: evidence and hypotheses. Cephalalgia 2006;26(4):361-72.|
|↑5, ↑7||Vitamin B-2. National Headache Foundation.|
|↑6, ↑8||Riboflavin. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑9||Prousky, Jonathan, and Dugald Seely. “The treatment of migraines and tension-type headaches with intravenous and oral niacin (nicotinic acid): systematic review of the literature.” Nutrition journal 4, no. 1 (2005): 3.|
|↑10||Vitamin B3. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑11||Headaches and Dehydration. National Headache Foundation.|
|↑12||Blau, Joseph Norman, Christian Alexander Kell, and Julia Maria Sperling. “Water‐deprivation headache: A new headache with two variants.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 44, no. 1 (2004): 79-83.|
|↑13, ↑15||Sadeghi, Omid, Zahra Maghsoudi, Fariborz Khorvash, Reza Ghiasvand, and Gholamreza Askari. “The relationship between different fatty acids intake and frequency of migraine attacks.” Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research 20, no. 3 (2015): 334.|
|↑14, ↑16||Fish Oils. National Headache Foundation.|
|↑17||Does Caffeine Trigger or Treat Headaches? National Headache Foundation.|
|↑18||Boriss, H. J., Henrich Brunke, A. Specialist, and M. Kreith. “Commodity Profile: Cherries, Sweet and Tart.” Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (Ag MRC) (2006).|
|↑19||Wang, Haibo, Muraleedharan G. Nair, Gale M. Strasburg, Yu-Chen Chang, Alden M. Booren, J. Ian Gray, and David L. DeWitt. “Antioxidant and antiinflammatory activities of anthocyanins and their aglycon, cyanidin, from tart cherries.” Journal of natural products 62, no. 2 (1999): 294-296.|
|↑20||Cichoke, Anthony. “Enzymes to the Rescue.” BETTER NUTRITION 62, no. 9 (2000): 28-29.|
|↑21||Grzanna, Reinhard, Lars Lindmark, and Carmelita G. Frondoza. “Ginger-an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions.” Journal of medicinal food 8, no. 2 (2005): 125-132.|
|↑22||Marx, Wolfgang, Nicole Kiss, and Liz Isenring. “Is ginger beneficial for nausea and vomiting? An update of the literature.” Current opinion in supportive and palliative care 9, no. 2 (2015): 189-195.|
|↑23||Maghbooli, Mehdi, Farhad Golipour, Alireza Moghimi Esfandabadi, and Mehran Yousefi. “Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine.” Phytotherapy Research28, no. 3 (2014): 412-415.|
|↑24||Symptoms & Causes of Celiac Disease.The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑25||Milk Allergies and Lactose Intolerance. Center for Food Allergies.|
|↑26||Migraine Headache. University of Maryland Medical Center.|