More than 45 million Americans experience headaches severe enough to seek help from a doctor. Whether your headaches tend to cause shooting pain or mild discomfort, several do-it-yourself home remedies may help.
The best way to find your headache fix? Start by paying attention to your diet, your home and work environment, and the state of your body, says Brigitte Mars, author of The Country Almanac of Home Remedies.
“If you're getting frequent headaches, keep a journal to track what you were eating or doing when you got those headaches,” Mars advises.
Cheese, wine with sulfites, too much sugar, fried food and caffeine can all cause headaches in people sensitive to compounds in those foods, Mars says. Yeasted breads, gluten-rich foods, citrus fruits and processed meats are other headache-causing culprits.
It’s equally important to notice if you’re exposed to toxic chemicals at home or at work—even frequent exposure to printer supplies could do it, she says.
If you suspect—or your journal confirms—that your headaches may be caused by stress, the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAM) reports that relaxation training, Tai Chi and even acupuncture can help prevent tension headaches. For immediate relief, relax your body with slow, deep breathing, jaw relaxation, meditation and neck rolls, Mars suggests.
Aromatherapy may bring potent relief, too. Try a warm bath with drops of peppermint, rosemary and lavender essential oils, or dab lavender oil on your temples. “This helps relieve pain and the aromas have a calming effect on the brain,” Mars says.
Some research also suggests that supplements of riboflavin and coenzyme Q10 may help tame tension headaches, according to NCAM, and herbs like butterbur and feverfew, which can be taken as capsules, may reduce migraine frequency. Mars adds that feverfew works best as a preventative when taken daily.