Headaches are the most common type of neurological disorder among children and adults and are a top cause for missed days of school or work and lower quality of life. (5) In some cases, specific natural approaches may help prevent or improve headache symptoms. Don’t let headaches get in your way—read on to learn how to get rid of a headache.
10 tips for preventing and addressing headaches
These ten tips may help prevent and relieve headaches and improve your overall health and well-being.
1. Stay hydrated
Dehydration has been shown to cause or exacerbate headaches. (2) Consuming adequate amounts of water and hydrating foods can help prevent dehydration, thus reducing the risk of dehydration-induced headaches. According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, women and men should consume approximately 91 oz (2.7 L) and 125 oz (3.7 L) of water, respectively. (29) A good gauge of hydration status is the color of your urine. Clear to pale yellow urine indicates that you’re adequately hydrated. (23)
2. Get enough quality sleep
Loss of sleep and poor sleep quality can trigger migraines with and without aura, cluster headaches, and tension-type headaches. (9)(20) According to multiple studies, up to 74% of migraine sufferers and up to 72% of individuals with tension-type headaches identify lack of sleep as a common trigger for their headaches. (3)(4)(10) As a general recommendation, most adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. (22)
Download a handout to learn more about the top seven lifestyle tips for better sleep.
Did you know? Approximately 50% of individuals who experience tension-type headaches or migraines also have insomnia. (10)
3. Mind your posture
Poor posture can place greater amounts of stress and pressure on the neck, shoulders, and back, leading to abnormal muscle spasms and headaches. (17) Research demonstrates an association between forward head extension, one of the most common posture abnormalities, and tension headaches. (17) Scrolling on your smartphone or working on a computer for extended periods are common causes of forward head extension. (19) If you work from a desk, a comfortable and ergonomic set-up may help promote proper posture and prevent discomfort related to poor posture. (18) Tips for improving your desk set-up include:
- Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet are placed comfortably on the floor.
- Adjust the height of your keyboard and chair’s armrests to allow your arms to rest gently by your side at a 90-degree angle.
- Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. An adjustable standing desk can accommodate both sitting and standing positions.
- Avoid slouching on your armrests.
- Ensure that your desk is at elbow height.
- Keep your wrists in a neutral position.
- Position the top of your computer monitor at eye level, approximately arm’s length from your body. (21)
4. Minimize screen time
Digital screen exposure from cell phones, tablets, and computers has been shown to cause eye strain, precipitating headaches, especially when used for long periods. When using digital devices, give your eyes a break every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds. (5)
Furthermore, digital screens emit a type of light known as blue light that may trigger headaches. Wearing blue light-blocking glasses while using digital devices may prevent computer vision syndrome (CVS), a set of symptoms that includes eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and dry eyes. (8)
5. Manage stress with meditation
Chronic and acute stress has been shown to trigger headaches. (15) Combat stress and mitigate stress-induced headaches by practicing mindfulness meditation, a type of meditation practice that involves bringing awareness to the breath and body. According to a 2018 meta-analysis, mindfulness meditation improved pain intensity and headache frequency in participants experiencing headache pain. (12)
Did you know? Approximately 80% of migraine sufferers identify stress as a common trigger of their headaches. (15)
6. Practice yoga
Similar to meditation, yoga is also an effective stress and pain reliever. Research demonstrates that yoga may reduce the pain associated with migraine headaches. (27) A randomized controlled trial indicated that yoga may reduce self-perceived pain, pain intensity and duration, and pain medication use in individuals with chronic migraines. (26)
7. Minimize histamine intake
Histamine is a naturally occurring compound with vasodilating effects (causing expansion of blood vessels), which can trigger migraine headaches in some people. Common sources of histamine include beer, wine, cured and semi-cured cheese, oily fish, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, citrus, and fermented cabbage. (7) According to one study, participants with chronic headaches who followed a low-histamine diet noted an improvement in headache frequency, duration, and intensity. The study also demonstrated a 68% reduction in chronic headaches following the four-week low-histamine diet. (31) If you suffer from chronic headaches, talk to your integrative healthcare provider to determine whether a low-histamine diet is appropriate for you.
8. Apply or inhale essential oils
Topically applying or inhaling certain essential oils, particularly peppermint and lavender essential oils, may help improve headache symptoms. In a placebo-controlled trial of participants diagnosed with migraine headaches, inhaling lavender essential oil reduced headache severity during migraine episodes. (25) Furthermore, topical application of a 10% peppermint oil in ethanol solution has been shown to provide relief to individuals with acute tension headaches. Simply apply the oil directly to your temples and across your forehead every 15 to 30 minutes for relief. (11)(13)
9. Supplement with magnesium
Migraine sufferers have been shown to have lower magnesium levels in the brain during a migraine attack. This has prompted researchers to investigate the connection between headaches and magnesium. (24) Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of magnesium supplements for relieving and preventing headaches. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have concluded that magnesium may reduce the severity and frequency of migraine headaches compared to placebo. (6)(30) Although research is limited, magnesium may also help relieve tension-type headaches. (1)
10. Try a cold compress
Applying a cold compress to the head or back of the neck can calm pain nerve signals, providing a mild anesthetic effect. (14) Furthermore, applying a cold compress to the back of the neck (targeting the carotid arteries) at the onset of migraine symptoms has been shown to reduce pain significantly. (28) Next time you feel a migraine headache coming on, reach for a cold compress and apply for up to 30 minutes to help achieve relief. (28)
The bottom line
Whether you suffer from chronic migraines or the occasional headache, you want fast relief. Certain natural interventions, such as following a low-histamine diet, practicing meditation and yoga, applying a cold compress, supplementing with magnesium, and more, have been shown to reduce the severity and frequency of headaches. If you are a patient, speak to your integrative healthcare provider before starting a specific dietary regimen or introducing new supplements to your wellness plan.
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- Arca, K. N., & Halker Singh, R. B. (2021). Dehydration and headache. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 25(8), 56.
- Barbanti, P., Fabbrini, G., Aurilia, C., Vanacore, N., & Cruccu, G. (2007). A case-control study on excessive daytime sleepiness in episodic migraine. Cephalalgia, 27(10), 1115–1119.
- Boardman, H. F., Thomas, E., Millson, D. S., & Croft, P. R. (2005). Psychological, sleep, lifestyle, and comorbid associations with headache. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 45(6), 657–669.
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- Chen, P. Y. (2016). Effects of intravenous and oral magnesiumon reducing migraine: A meta-analysis ofRandomized controlled trials. Pain Physician, 1;19(1;1), E97–E112.
- Comas-Basté, O., Sánchez-Pérez, S., Veciana-Nogués, M. T., Latorre-Moratalla, M., & Vidal-Carou, M. D. C. (2020). Histamine intolerance: The current state of the art. Biomolecules, 10(8), 1181.
- Dabrowiecki, A., Villalobos, A., & Krupinski, E. A. (2019). Impact of blue light filtering glasses on computer vision syndrome in radiology residents: A pilot study. Journal of Medical Imaging, 7(02), 1.
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- Gu, Q., Hou, J. C., & Fang, X. M. (2018). Mindfulness meditation for primary headache pain. Chinese Medical Journal, 131(7), 829–838.
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- Lee, E., & Lee, S. (2019). Impact of cervical sensory feedback for forward head posture on headache severity and physiological factors in patients with tension-type headache: A randomized, Single-Blind, controlled trial. Medical Science Monitor, 25, 9572–9584.
- Leyshon, R., Chalova, K., Gerson, L., Savtchenko, A., Zakrzewski, R., Howie, A., & Shaw, L. (2010). Ergonomic interventions for office workers with musculoskeletal disorders: A systematic review. Work, 35(3), 335–348.
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