Headaches are a pain – literally. If you’re someone who suffers from headaches or migraines you know that they can be debilitating and affect the activities of daily living. However, there are alternative approaches and solutions to addressing where headaches come from that are not commonly talked about in your doctors office. Some of these include: stress, diet, medications, nutrient deficiencies, hormones, and physical mechanics.
But first, lets get educated about the different types of headaches:
Tension headache: this is the most common type of headache. It ranges from mild to moderate and is connected with stress. It is called a tension headache because it usually stems of the tension of the muscles surrounding the back/shoulders/neck/head. Poor posture, eye-strain due to too much screen time, or emotional stress all contribute to tension headaches.
Sinus headache: results from congestion, inflammation and/or infection of the sinuses (nasal) cavity. This headache usually comes with a cold/flu where the “nose” is affected - but can linger long after symptoms pass, and turn into chronic sinusitis. This can also be due to mold, allergies, or other deeper causes.
Cluster headache: is the most intense and painful type of headache. It is described usually as a burning behind the eyes, usually one sided. It is called a cluster because it comes in clusters: lasting for a period of time (days/weeks) then disappearing altogether. The intensity of the pain should prompt your doctor to investigate any deeper causes especially if you have high-blood pressure or another underlying condition with symptoms – to make sure the health of your eyes and brain is in tact!
Migraine headaches: usually accompanied by symptoms of nausea/vomiting or appetite changes. People who get migraines report sensitivity to light/sound/smell as being a trigger for the headache.
Some of the most common causes as a Naturopathic Doctor that I see are:
-not drinking enough water and consuming too many dehydrating substances (coffee, pop, alcohol)
-lack of exercise/stretching and taking care of the body (sitting all day at work or alternatively standing all day)
-hormonal and related (usually) to a woman’s cycle
-lack of a good nights sleep
-poor gut health: food triggers or eating habits (skipping meals for example)
-too much screen time
-the side effect of a medication or supplement
-infection and environmental cause (chronic sinusitis, mold, or scent sensitivities such as tobacco or perfumes)
So, what can you do?
First, get a proper diagnosis with someone who will take the time to look at your whole health history (diagnoses, medications, lifestyle habits, diet, etc).
Having a proper working diagnosis and understanding of how your body works as a whole is important – then you can understand where the headaches are coming from and how to properly treat them.
There is no one size fits all – your migraine may be triggered by a certain food and for someone else it may be due to a stressful piece in their daily environment. This is what holistic medicine is all about, treating the person.
Pay attention to when, where, and why you get a headache, as well as consider when they started (childhood, or recently, and what was happening at the onset).
Consider the above causes and see if any of them resonate with you. Take a look at your diet, are you drinking too much alcohol or not getting enough exercise? What about coffee? Are you eating enough vegetables and getting rest?
As a Naturopath it’s my job to consider all these moving pieces and put a picture together. Sometimes, people don’t know the side-effects of their medication, or that it could be depleting them in an important nutrient (vitamin or mineral) and that could be the cause of a symptom they are experiencing, such as headaches.
If you want some relief now, here is some of my favorite ways to relieve a headache.
1. Take a time out: turn off the electronics, and soak in a nice bath, or go for a walk in nature (tension and stress related headaches are the most common)
2. Drink a big glass of water or herbal tea (try chamomile, it is known for soothing the nervous system as well as digestion)
3. Go to bed early
4. Try a heat pad on your shoulders/back to relieve the muscular tension (or a warm Epsom salt bath)
5. Peppermint essential oil: dab a few drops around the temples and neck to soothe the strained muscles, the aroma therapy is also relaxing! But be careful not to get it in your eyes.