Headaches are something we’ve all dealt with, I’ve been dealing with more of them particularly since having my children. It’s the one thing that has lingered since my pregnancies and despite living a healthy lifestyle I still find myself getting tension headaches at least a few times monthly. While that may not be as bad as some people have to face, its not fun. Having to parent children who love to make noise and explore at the same time can be challenging when your head is throbbing. So I generally need some sort of relief.
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I prefer to avoid over the counter conventional medicine if I can. So things like Tylenol and Advil are not my first line of defense when a headache strikes. Intake of Tylenol is well documented to cause a reduction in empathy for others. Empathy is a key component to social psychology and ones ability to remain in stable social relationships and deters the brain from anti-social behaviour. This suggests that use of Tylenol has psychosocial implications which could impact a persons relationships and overall personality.
Some other studies cite Tylenol’s effect on healthy glutathione levels and how it can be damaging to ones liver. Glutathione is responsible for healthy elimination of toxins or as a detoxifying agent. It is especially important to have healthy glutathione levels when illness strikes, so taking this with sickness would not seem productive.
Additionally, there is a possibility of liver damage when taking Tylenol. Considering both the liver and glutathione work towards detoxifying the body of harmful substances, this makes sense that they are both implicated by the drug itself. The same study showed that healthy gut microbiota was protective over this which is promising, however, I personally avoid taking acetaminophen all together if I can.
Advil is not much better when it comes to negative effects on the body. It differs from Tylenol and it also adds anti-inflammatory response. This makes it tempting to take for things such as headache. However, a study (Kuptniratsaikul, V., et. Al, 2014) actually found that Advil was no better at treating inflammatory knee pain than curcuma extracts (turmeric) which also has an anti inflammatory action but comes with less potential for adverse effects. In fact, supplementation with turmeric would have side benefits systemically overall.
So, the next logical question to ask is if I choose to avoid conventional skin over the counter medication.. then what do I use? There are effective and powerful holistic supports that I prefer to reach for. They come with side BENEFITS rather than long lists of potential harmful side effects and I have found deep relief from them when suffering.
Here are my top 3 choices for natural head tension support:
If I feel a headache coming on, magnesium is the first thing I grab for to try and wade off the potential crushing pain that could eventually erupt. Magnesium is a necessary mineral that our body needs to function (I’ve written an entire blog post on the overall health benefits of magnesium HERE). It’s responsible for over 300 chemical processes in our bodies and it’s also a relaxant. If tension headaches are something you experience often then I would suggest keeping magnesium on hand.
According to a study (Gröber, U., et. Al 2015) that looked at the role of magnesium deficiency in the human body, “Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” Further to that, the study discusses how those who consume a western type diet are generally low in magnesium levels. This applies broadly across North American Countries who are often found to consume foods that aren’t as nutrient dense.
This study found that those with headaches were often low in magnesium levels and so they theorized that magnesium supplementation would improve these symptoms. The following results were found with a great degree of statistical significance in favour of magnesium for headaches treatment.
“In order to evaluate the prophylactic effect of oral magnesium, 81 patients aged 18–65 years with migraine according to the International Headache Society criteria (mean attack frequency 3.6 per month) were examined . After a prospective baseline period of 4 weeks they received oral 600 mg (24 mmol) magnesium (trimagnesium dicitrate) daily for 12 weeks or placebo. In weeks 9–12 the attack frequency was reduced by 41.6% in the magnesium group and by 15.8% in the placebo group compared to the baseline (p < 0.05). The number of days with migraine and the drug consumption for symptomatic treatment per patient also decreased significantly in the magnesium group .”
To avoid a digestive upset (which can be common among those who take magnesium internally), my magnesium of choice is a topical magnesium oil that I apply to the back of my calves nightly. If I feel I need extra support, I will apply this when I feel a headache coming on and in some cases I will take magnesium internally.
This is the magnesium oil I use for myself and my family, Shop the oil HERE.
2. Turmeric + Black Pepper
Turmeric (curcumin) has been a buzz spice for a while now and it’s no surprise considering it’s anti-inflammatory benefits are incredibly high. It’s also touted as being antimicrobial, antioxidants, an analgesic and an immune modulator.
You won’t find many peer reviewed research journals that discuss the use of turmeric specifically for the purpose of headaches, however you will find research that compares its anti-inflammatory power to that of NSAIDS (anti-inflammatory pain killers) that are often used in the treatment of headaches and migraines. You’ll also find forums filled with people who rave over the effects this spice has had on their recurrent headaches.
Turmeric is more bioavailable to the human body when taken in conjunction with black pepper. So I always take them together to ensure my body is getting the most benefits of curcumin. There are two ways I have used to benefits from turmeric:
(1) Golden Mylk:
In a small pot, simmer the following ingredients till blended together and warm to create a powerful antioxidant rich elixir:
-1/2 cup organic plant based milk
-1/2 tsp. Organic turmeric
-1/8 tsp. Organic black pepper
-1 tsp. organic raw honey
(2) Leefy Organics Prana Full Spectrum Turmeric Tincture:
This tincture is phenomenal. It tastes amazing, so amazing that both of my kids take it no problem. Just like a lemon drop candy. You simply take two droppers full and sublingually (hold it under your tongue for 20 seconds before swallowing). I love using this for headaches but I have also given it to my son anytime he experiences eczema flare ups.
Check out my favourite Leefy Turmeric Tincture HERE.
3. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint Oil has been in my holistic medicine cabinet for as long as I can remember. There are many uses for this oil but I am consistently impressed each time I grab for it when experiencing headaches. It’s by far one of my favourite items in my holistic cabinet.
Anytime I start experiencing a headache I apply peppermint oil ‘neat’ to the back of my neck and my temples, as well as any other area that I feel pounding head pain. Not only does peppermint help to curb the headache, but within about 1 minute after application it has this icy cooling effect that immediately numbs a headache. I have gotten headaches terribly after having my children and they don’t often respond to conventional treatment but this essential oil has been a lifesaver. The effectiveness blows me away every time!
Studies have shown the efficacy of peppermint oil in headaches. One double blind placebo controlled experiment found that peppermint oil was significantly successful at treating migraines.
I use only one brand of essential oils who own their own chemical free farms worldwide to harvest the herbs and plants required for their therapeutic grade oils. Check them out HERE.
Headaches are certainly not anyone’s favourites experience and they can range from annoyance to debilitating. I have used these natural supports to help curb and relieve headache symptoms for years and sweat by them.
Mischkowski, D., Crocker, J., & Way, B. M. (2016). From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(9), 1345–1353. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsw057
Gong, S., Lan, T., Zeng, L., Luo, H., Yang, X., Li, N., Chen, X., Liu, Z., Li, R., Win, S., Liu, S., Zhou, H., Schnabl, B., Jiang, Y., Kaplowitz, N., & Chen, P. (2018). Gut microbiota mediates diurnal variation of acetaminophen induced acute liver injury in mice. Journal of hepatology, 69(1), 51–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2018.02.024
Kuptniratsaikul, V., Dajpratham, P., Taechaarpornkul, W., Buntragulpoontawee, M., Lukkanapichonchut, P., Chootip, C., Saengsuwan, J., Tantayakom, K., & Laongpech, S. (2014). Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Clinical interventions in aging, 9, 451–458. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S58535
Gröber, U., Schmidt, J., & Kisters, K. (2015). Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients, 7(9), 8199–8226. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu709538
Göbel, H., Heinze, A., Heinze-Kuhn, K., Göbel, A., & Göbel, C. (2016). Oleum menthae piperitae (Pfefferminzöl) in der Akuttherapie des Kopfschmerzes vom Spannungstyp [Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache]. Schmerz (Berlin, Germany), 30(3), 295–310. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00482-016-0109-6