Headaches are serious business in America. Researchers report that one type of headache only (migraines) affects some 9% of the population, while 47 other million people in the US have lived through a headache which they described as severe or debilitating over the past three months. Direct medical costs for addressing this issue amount to about $1 billion per year.
Of course, you can always opt for the tested-and-true cures of NSAIDs like Motrin or Aleve, prevent migraines with anti-depressant medication or beta blockers, or try to cope with the symptoms with the aid of triptans (Relpax or Imitrex are some of the more popular choices). However, today’s post will focus on some lesser-known alternative cures and home remedies. We’re here to help take your headache away, so read on to find out what you can do about it.
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The best hangover headache cure
Popular wisdom has a lot of allegedly good advice, when it comes to combatting the effects of alcohol, on the very next day after an all-night bender. We’re here to tell you that, unfortunately, the only way to avoid feeling hungover the morning after is to stay off the booze completely—especially stuff with high alcohol content like red wine, or dark distilled liquors like whiskey.
The problem with hangovers is that contemporary medicine, for all its advances, doesn’t really yet know what triggers them. It could be any number of things, from an upset stomach, disturbed metabolic (digestive and/or circadian rhythms), excessively high blood pressure caused by artery constriction, or even alcohol withdrawal. That being said, some popular home remedies work better than others, while some can even be bad for you. We’ve listed what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to dealing with a splitting noggin ache caused by the drink.
What seriously doesn’t work (and may even be harmful for you)
Your grandpa may have sworn by these hangover remedies, but contemporary researchers and doctors say ‘steer clear!’:
- Hair of the dog. No, you definitely don’t need another drink, unless you want yet another headache. Your best bet is to allow your body to process and evacuate the toxic substances contained in alcohol, without further confounding it with a morning spritzer.
- Sweating it off in a sauna. Avoid this altogether. Finnish researchers have revealed that the habit of sweating it off carries some very real and serious health risks, including sharp drops in blood pressure, caused overly relaxed blood arteries.
- Breakfast of champions. There’s absolutely no evidence that a greasy plate of bacon and eggs will do anything but cause you heartburn. Lay off the heavy-duty calories, which your stomach may not even be able to process, and stick with a light breakfast, like toast, fruit, or cereal. There’s some evidence that honey may help you cope with alcohol-induced migraines.
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What may or may not work (but isn’t likely to do you wrong)
- Alka-Seltzer. The logic goes that this remedy has been around for 80+ years, so it must be doing something right, as far as curing hangover headaches anyway? Well, the baking soda it contains probably helps neutralize the extra acid in your tummy. Other than that, be warned that it contains some potential irritants (aspirin and citric acid), which might yield the exact opposite effect.
- Like alcohol, coffee constricts blood vessels, and may actually be worse for your hangover migraine. However, if you’re a regular drinker, don’t add a pounding caffeine withdrawal headache to that hangover. Drink a small amount and see how you feel.
- A workout. Sure, if you can pull it off, go right ahead – but by no means force yourself. If you’re already feeling depleted, queasy, or dehydrated, skip that gentle round of exercise, and sleep in a little bit longer instead. It might be better for you in the long run.
What might actually help cure that hangover
- Vitamins, not pills. You’ve seen them all: RU21, Chaser, and PreToxx—but do they work? According to several psychopharmacology experts and studies, there’s no evidence to their efficiency. However, a multivitamin complex can help restore the nutrients you’ve lost by binging on booze.
- Water and sports drinks. Until science can resolutely determine the role of dehydration in hangover headaches, this is all just a lucky guess. In principle, it’s a good idea to replace the water your body has lost overnight, so bring on the OJ, H2O, Gatorade, or whatever your choice of hydration is, it can’t harm you.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) and PMS remedies (Midol, Pamprin, and other similar drugs, which contain caffeine) can help women who experience PMS-like symptoms after a bender.
- Some people are jolted awake after a night spent drinking, by withdrawal-like reactions to alcohol. Yet others are able to sleep it off, so if you’re one of the lucky few, and also have the time for this, definitely linger on in bed for longer.
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Does sex cure headaches?
Science’s best bet at establishing whether or not an orgasm can actually cure a headache has been mere conjecture thus far. There’s but a handful of studies out there, which have attempted to determine whether or not a romp in the haystack can actually help you cope with pain, tension, stress, and other undesirables. For better or for worse, what we can surmise is that the temporary feel-good effects of getting laid will help with literally taking your mind off the pain. Beyond that, here’s what the experts have to say about a frolic when you’ve got a pounding migraine.
Men might actually reap some benefits, new study says
A 400-patient study authored by researchers at the University of Muenster, Germany, and reported in Cephalgia, the journal of the International Headache Society, investigated the effects of love-making on people who had been treated for headaches over the course of 2 years. Of the respondents, 33 percent had sex while also experiencing a headache, and, of them, 60 percent of the people with migraines and 36 percent of those with cluster headaches experienced improvements in their symptoms.
The positive effects of sex were more prevalent with men: 36 per cent of men said sex helped with relieving the pain, compared to only 13 percent of women. Of those who said getting laid actually helped, 19 percent stated thy had completely gotten rid of the pain, 51 percent said the pain got moderately better, and 29 percent said it got at least slightly better.
The conclusions? Though this is only a preliminary study, its results can be compared to those of acute medication for pain relief, with 42.7 percent of all respondents reporting at least a 50 percent improvement.
So, why did it work, then? For any number of reasons, say scientists—but most likely having to do with the release of natural painkillers in the bloodstream. Here’s how sex can help with removing the source of pain, alleviating high blood pressure, and coping with stress:
- Sex helps release endorphins. These substances effectively kill pain and lower blood pressure.
- The hypothalamus controls both. This area of the brain is active both during a cluster headache, as well as during orgasms. As such, the latter might literally override the former.
- Hippocampus growth is stimulated. Daily sexual activity helps encourage cell growth in the hippocampus, according to researchers from Yale, which, in turn, can help you cope with stress better. Also, having sex often can help regulate your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which results in lower levels of stress.
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- Sex helps raise your pain thresholds. Though his research may not have directly focused on headaches, PhD service professor Barry R. Komisaruk from Rutgers State University in New Jersey has revealed that vaginal stimulation can help put an end to chronic leg and back pain. This holds true even when there’s no orgasm involved. And, along the same lines, self-stimulation can alleviate the symptoms of menstrual cramps and arthritic pain.
- Oxytocin for sleep-deprivation related migraines. Laura Bergman explains that the oxytocin released during sex can help improve the quality of sleep.
- Arousal is definitely good for the blues. They may not work as well as Advil does on your headache, but both endorphins and oxytocin are good for your mental health, according to psychology professor James Coan from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Furthermore, research conducted by experts from the University of Texas explains that arousal helps activate the pleasure and reward system in the brain.
How to cure a headache fast, without medicine: 8 natural cures for headaches
If, for any number of reasons you want to avoid OTC medication, when dealing with migraines or any other type of headache, here’s what you can try:
- Compresses, hot or cold
Applying hot or cold compresses to specific areas of your head can definitely improve various headache symptoms. Here’s how to use them.
- For headaches caused by stress or clogged sinuses, try applying an ice pack to your forehead. This will regulate blood flow to the area by constricting your blood vessels. Crush some ice, use ice cubes wrapped in a thin towel, a pack of frozen veggies, or simply a moist, cold piece of cloth (applied to your temples and forehead). Keep the compress there for 10 minutes, or until the pain is somewhat relieved. Remember never to apply ice directly to the skin, as it can cause damage to it.
- To help you relax the muscles at the back of your head, try compresses with hot water, either with a hot water bag, a hot shower directed to the back of your neck, or a hot water bottle. Your muscles will distend, when exposed to the heat. Alternatively, for chronic headache sufferers, dipping your feet for 10 minutes into hot water right before you go to sleep can help you relax.
- Drink water
As previously explained, headaches are sometimes caused by dehydration, so it’s a good idea to down one full glass when the first symptoms appear. Then, continue to take small sips throughout the day. Electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks like Gatorade can also help you rehydrate quick, while also lowering blood pressure. And, whatever you do, steer clear of alcohol, which will only dehydrate you further and constrict your vessels, thereby increasing tension.
- Ginger as an anti-inflammatory
Chewing on a piece of ginger can help you cope with motion sickness, while up to 3 cups of ginger tea each day will relieve inflammation in your body. Ginger aids in the relaxation of capillary blood vessels, which, in turn, helps release natural feel-good substances in your brain. Make sure to drink the tea whenever you feel a headache coming on, to address the issue as early on as possible.
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- Peppermint brew, oil, and steam
The many beneficial effects of peppermint have been proven time and again, and they apply for most forms in which this herb can be consumed. Here are three recommended home remedies:
- Brew peppermint tea. Add 1 tsp of dried peppermint to a cup of boiled water, allow it to steep for 10 minutes, sweeten with strained honey, and drink.
- While that brew is steeping, why not inhale some steam? It might help relieve headache symptoms, as well as helping you cope with nausea and vomiting.
- If you prefer massages to hot tea, you can always try rubbing your temples and the back of your neck with some peppermint oil. The scent of peppermint helps clear up the sinuses.
- Essential oil massages
If you need to relieve pain and inflammation in your temples and forehead, simply massage the affected areas with your choice of essential oils, be that choice almond, eucalyptus, lavender, basil, or coconut oil.
- Apples and apple cider vinegar
If the acid-alkaline equilibrium of your metabolism needs restoring, here’s how apples can help:
- The mere scent of green apples can help you cope with migraines.
- First thing in the morning, down a cup of warm water, followed by a salt-sprinkled slice or two of apple.
- Add 2 tsp apple cider vinegar to a glass of water, with some honey and lemon juice (optional). Drink this solution 2 or 3 times each day.
- Allow a towel to soak in the steam from a large bowl of hot water, with some 3-4 tbsps of apple cider vinegar in it. Apply the towel to your forehead for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
- Lemon juice and curd
Lemon can also greatly contribute to maintain the acid-alkaline balance in the human body. Here’s how to use it:
- Squeeze half a lemon into a cup of warm water, to make the pain caused by a headache more bearable. This is especially effective if you’re experiencing heartburn.
- Make some unsweetened lemon curd by pureeing some rind into a paste, then applying it directly to your forehead.
- Cinnamon paste
If your head hurts because you sat out in a draft for too long, you can try making powder from a couple of sticks of cinnamon, then turning it into a paste with some water, and applying the end-product to your forehead and temples. Lie down with that mixture on your skin for about half an hour, then rinse it off with warm water.
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Foods that cure headaches
The link between one’s diet and recurring spells of headaches or migraines might be intuitive, but, thus far, it hasn’t been scientifically proven. What some experts like Elizabeth Loder MD (co-author of The Migraine Solution) will agree with, is that lifestyle habits and certain uniquely personal ‘food triggers’ may determine the onset of a migraine. Furthermore, hormonal changes or elevated stress levels can also interact with certain foods and cause a migraine, but it’s often difficult to pinpoint what the specific trigger was. And, of course, being overweight, not exercising enough, and improper nutrition can increase other health risks, which, in turn, might cause your head to hurt.
Want to play it safe, when it comes to food and headaches? Here are some cues that you might want to bear in mind:
- Skipping breakfast is not a good idea. Nor is skipping any other meal, for that matter. Ever experienced a headache simply because you had gone hungry? Typically, the pain will go away once your body gets around to digesting the food—but you can avoid this altogether by maintaining a proper meal routine.
- Stating the obvious here, but do try to lower alcohol and caffeine consumption. The trouble with both is that they cause dehydration, which may lead to headaches (take hangovers as an example). Alcohol mixes poorly with those who already suffer from chronic migraines and red wine is often a trigger for these sufferers. As for caffeine, try to limit your daily intake to 200mg (that’s an 8oz coffee cup, or a 12oz can of coke).
- Tannin-rich foods should probably be avoided. Aside from coffee, red wine, and tea, this includes apple juice, and chocolate.
- The same goes for those with a high content of tyramine. Red wine also falls into this category, which probably explains why many cite it as a migraine trigger. Other foods with an elevated dose of tyramine include beer, avocados, bananas that have been left to ripen for too long, aged cheese, pork, bacon and other processed meats, nuts, chocolate, and soy-based foods such as tofu, okra, and so on. As is the case with tannins, more research is needed to establish this correlation beyond the shadow of a doubt.
- Chocolate may signal the rapid approach of a headache. It’s not that chocolate causes headaches per se, but a recent study on women suffering from tension-induced headaches and/or migraines has found chocolate cravings to be an accurate predictor.
Delicious? Yes. Potential headache causes? Could be.
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- Artificial flavorings and sweeteners should be avoided. By and large, flavorings like MSG (monosodium glutamate) and other nitrates found in processed foods and meats, plus sweeteners such as Aspartame are better avoided. There has been some research linking the two types of ingredient to migraines.
As a final word of advice, though, there’s no headache predictor as accurate as elevated levels of stress. So, though we favor moderation and a diet based on whole foods, we also recommend you don’t stress out over what you eat too much. Provided that you’re not specifically allergic to any foods or ingredients, you can simply enjoy a little bit of everything and keep a balanced approach.
Dealing with specific headaches: 5 causes and home remedies
1. How to cure a sinus headache
A sinus headache, usually referred to as a migraine, has plenty of remedies you can buy at the closest pharmacy. These include acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, ibuprofen and other OTC painkillers, decongestants which will help unclog your sinus cavities, steroid sprays for your nose, and antihistamines, for those whose blocked sinuses are caused by allergies.
If you prefer a more natural approach, though, here are some ideas you can try:
- Use a humidifier, vaporizer, or even a warm wet towel to keep the inside cavities of your nose moist.
- Clear mucus from your sinuses with the help of a bulb syringe or neti pot, filled with salt water. This will help reduce pressure within your head. You can also use a store-bought or homemade saline solution spray.
2. Exertion headache cure
PEH is short for Primary Exertion Headache and it’s an issue that many athletes, both professional and amateurs have to deal with on a regular basis. It occurs because the blood flow to your scalp, head, and neck increases, but there’s not enough supply to cater to it. The types of headache in this category include, among others, jogger’s headache and the so-called sex headache or orgasmic headache. They tend to occur more often in people who have a congenital predisposition for migraines.
As far as treatment goes, you can bet your money on indomethacin (commercial name: Indocin), a prescription-only anti-inflammatory – just make sure to take it an hour or at least half an hour before you work out. Also, you can try any of the following remedies: breaking up your workout into several segments, eating a high glycemic index fruit before (such as a melon or banana), and, of course, avoiding excess sugar, salt, and dehydration.
3. Caffeine headache cure
If you drink coffee or caffeinated drinks on the regular, then you must be familiar with that debilitating kind of pain that begins behind one of your eyes, then surreptitiously makes its way to the temples and forehead. It can be caused by any number of reasons, from not enough caffeine (withdrawal), to consuming caffeine from too many sources, overdosing on caffeine (drinking far more than the recommended 200mg daily intake), or even from being sensitive/allergic to the stuff.
Dealing with a caffeine headache can be addressed successfully, but the solution always depends on the cause. Consider the following approaches:
- If you’re trying to quit: don’t be ashamed to use pain killers (acetaminophen, naproxen, aspirin or ibuprofen are safe bets), drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and avoid caffeinated foods and drinks.
- If you’re going through withdrawal: first off, try to avoid them by being consistent. Even a small variation of 50mg/day can throw your body off kilter. Also, always consume it from the same sources; in other words, if you’re a coffee drinker, avoid Coke or dark chocolate.
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4. Sugar headache cure
Proper levels of glucose are essential for the good functioning of the human body, since it uses this blood sugar as fuel for energy. Now, hypoglycemia, or the scenario in which your blood sugar drops to unusually low levels, can cause some severe migraines or headaches. These can occur when you’re dieting too strictly, fasting, or even skipping a meal here and there – but they can also happen when your glucose levels crash after eating too much sugar.
The best way to keep sugar headaches in check is a balanced, regular diet, with plenty of low Glycemic Index foods involved. Here are some good rules of thumb:
- Never skip main meals, especially not breakfast.
- Try to work several small, low-sugar snacks into your meal plan throughout the day.
- Always opt for whole foods like fruit, veg, and high-fiber carbs. Avoid processed junk, particularly sweet stuff (cakes, biscuits, ice cream, or sweetened chocolate). If you enjoy sweets, you can try baking your own with natural sugar substitutes like Agave syrup, honey, or Stevia – but bear in mind that you need to consume these in moderation, too.
- To satisfy your sweet tooth or cravings for cake, opt for raw fruit instead. They, too, contain a type of sugar called fructose, but this naturally occurring element is released into the blood stream at a slower, more bearable pace than its processed counterpart.
5. How to cure a headache when pregnant
When you’re pregnant, you can experience all of the same headaches as you do when you’re not. However, headaches are much more common in the first trimester and those which occur in the later stages of your pregnancy are reason enough to see a doctor about them.
In early pregnancy, the hormone progesterone will distend your uterus by relaxing the blood vessels in your entire body, including those in the head and neck. Then, the blood will surge through those same vessels, and its pounding pace will cause you to experience blood pressure-related headaches.
For quick and natural remedies to mild early pregnancy headaches, you can try any of the following approaches:
- Hot or cold compresses, with frozen packs of vegetables, tea towels, herbal pillows, or hot water bottles. They are supposed to work the fastest, though they probably won’t instantly take the pain away. If opting for this remedy, make sure to keep the temperatures mild, regardless of whether you opt for warmth or coolness.
- Aromatherapy, i.e. therapy with essential oils. Another one of the very relaxing ways to try and cope with headache symptoms when carrying. Make sure not to use more than 2-3 drops of oils like peppermint or lavender while pregnant, since you don’t want to risk aggravating your nausea, or experiencing other adverse symptoms.
- Reflexology, or massages. The theory goes that the different areas in your head all correspond to specific pressure points on your toes. Try getting a gentle foot rub—we guarantee you’ll enjoy it, even if it doesn’t always work to alleviate the pain that quickly.
Reflexology pressure points for foot massages
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