Migraine can be a scourge. Many migraineurs suffer severe headaches for years and miss out on work, play and all the best in life.
To further complicate things, many remedies out there are dubious or even harmful. And while prescription and over-the-counter drugs are effective, they can have unpleasant side effects or be misused.
But you can reduce the number of crises and sometimes even get rid of a migraine quickly by following some simple precautions and using home remedies.
Recent clinical trials have shown that some simple measures can be highly effective at treating and even preventing migraines.
A word of caution: This post is not medical advice. Seek medical attention if you have an unrelenting or abrupt headache or symptoms such as weakness, trouble with balance, reduced vision or hearing, fever, stiff neck, difficulty speaking, a severe and abrupt headache, or loss of consciousness.
What is the best thing for migraine relief?
Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for migraine.
That said, you’re not helpless—not at all.
Several techniques—from drinking water (!) to massage to vitamins to herbal supplements—can relieve migraine symptoms. Optimal migraine management often requires multiple approaches. Some of them are simple, while others involve some trial and error.
But everyone, however severe their migraines, can prevent at least some crises and get relief when the pain strikes.
For starters, let’s talk about preventing migraines.
How to prevent migraines (6 proven ways to get an ounce of prevention)
First of all, take good care of yourself. This includes:
Sleep. Both lack of sleep and too much sleep may trigger migraines. Make sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep every night and maintain good sleep hygiene—don’t nap during the day, avoid caffeine and other stimulants in the evening, and don’t watch TV or use mobile devices at bedtime.
Exercise (and a healthy body weight). Regular moderate exercise helps keep your body healthy, relieves stress, and prevents weight gain. Stress and excess weight can make migraines more frequent and more severe.
However, some types of exercise, especially vigorous activities, may trigger headaches and should be avoided. A migraine diary can help you identify the activities that trigger your migraine.
Hydration. A recent study showed that even minor dehydration can trigger or prolong a headache. Make sure you drink enough fluids—either water or liquid foods such as juices, smoothies and soups.
Nutrition. Some foods and additives are notorious for triggering migraines. The most common culprits are:
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Foods containing nitrates, such as hot dogs and other processed meats
- Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate
- Cheeses that contain tyramine, such as cheddar, feta, Parmesan, blue, and Swiss
- Monosodium glutamate. This flavor enhancer is found on Chinese food, soups, and processed meats. The FDA requires labeling of foods that contain monosodium glutamate.
- Ice cream or iced drinks
- Fermented dairy products such as yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk
Relaxation. Relaxation techniques lower overall stress and can help patients cope with the body’s response to headache pain. Some techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), guided imagery, and mindfulness/meditation.
Another highly effective, empowering approach that supplements all the other techniques is to…
Keep a migraine diary. Some people find it helpful to write a migraine diary to figure out which foods or eating patterns trigger their migraines.
A migraine diary should include the timing for each headache, how long it lasted, how severe it was, what symptoms came before (if any), and what did you do about it.
Careful logging of headache symptoms and associated factors will help you find out what triggers your headaches and what treatments work best—both for immediate relief and over the long term.
Common triggers include foods and food additives, beverages, lighting and stress. But migraine triggering by medications, hormonal fluctuations, weather changes, strenuous exercise, stress and sexual activity has also been reported.
What helps migraines besides medication? (Some migraines can be nipped in the bud)
Some effective measures don’t require that you put anything in your body. You can avoid triggering stimuli, soothe the nerves that cause migraine pain, and make your body release substances that will relieve pain.
Some proven remedies are:
- Dim the lights
Bright or flickering lights often trigger migraines; many migraineurs are sensitive to light. Be careful with computer and mobile screens. Consider anti-glare screens, wear sunglasses outdoors, pull the curtains, and replace lightbulbs with daylight-spectrum fluorescent bulbs.
- Relieve pressure on the head
External pressure on the head can also trigger migraines and worsen the headache. Beware tight ponytails, hats, headbands or swimming goggles.
- Cold compresses for headache
Cold compresses can soothe the nerves that transmit migraine pain. This can relieve symptoms quickly and, when started early during a migraine, even abort a headache entirely. Apply an ice pack to your head for 15 minutes and then rest 15 minutes, or take a cold shower.
- Mind your chewing
Chewing stimulates the trigeminal nerve, a cranial nerve that plays an important role in migraine. Avoid chewing gum, don’t nibble on pens or pencils, and don’t bite your nails or the inside of your cheek. See your dentist if you have trouble chewing or grind your teeth at night.
- Apply acupressure
Acupuncture and acupressure (acupuncture without needles) stimulate the central nervous system and promote release of substances in the spine and the brain. These techniques can be effective for pain and nausea associated with migraine.
Pressure points for migraine relief
To stimulate a pressure point, apply firm circular pressure over it for 5 minutes.
- What pressure points get rid of migraines?
LI-4. Located between the base of the left thumb and the index finger. In a recent study, acupressure relieved migraine pain and fatigue after migraine crises.
PC-6. Located three fingers away from the base of the wrist on the inside of the arm (at midline). A clinical study showed that stimulating acupressure point PC-6 helped reduce nausea and vomiting associated with migraine.
8 home remedies for migraine relief (+ their scientific basis)
Some herbal remedies, supplements and dietary modifications have proved to be as effective as standard migraine drugs at both preventing migraines and aborting headaches when they start.
Some evidence-based approaches are:
Coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages can improve migraines, especially when taken at the beginning of a crisis. Many over-the-counter and prescription analgesics used for migraine actually contain caffeine.
But avoid too much caffeine; it can cause irritability, interfere with sleep, cause rebound headaches, and even trigger migraines.
In a recent study, ginger was as effective as sumatriptan, a first-line migraine drug, at relieving migraine pain. Ginger is available as tea, powder or supplements.
- Lavender oil
Research showed that lavender essential oil was effective in relieving migraine pain. Inhale the oil for 15 minutes or dab both temples with a diluted solution.
One study showed that 150 mg of a butterbur supplement daily made migraines less frequent. Some cases of liver toxicity have been reported, so talk to your physician before starting herbal supplements containing butterbur.
The evidence for feverfew supplements is less solid than for butterbur, but it is less toxic and can also work.
An higher magnesium intake may help reduce migraine with aura and menstrual headaches.
Magnesium dicitrate is available as a supplement. Foods rich in magnesium include:
- Peanut butter
- B-complex vitamins
B-complex vitamins such as vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid play a role in regulating brain activity and may help reduce the onset and severity of migraine.
- Peppermint oil
One study showed that menthol (the active ingredient of peppermint) rubbed on the temples helped relieve migraine crises. Menthol can irritate the skin, so it might be better to dilute a drop of peppermint oil in avocado oil or jojoba oil before dabbing it on your skin.
Important note. Before taking a herbal remedy or food supplement regularly, talk to your physician.
Migraine drugs: usage (and abusage)
Many patients, especially those with frequent and severe migraines, take excessive doses of analgesics.
While these drugs are quite safe, they’re not entirely harmless.
Some important caveats are:
- Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs should be avoided by people with heart or kidney failure.
- Aspirin should not be given to children due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially lethal disease that gets worse when the patient takes aspirin.
- Taking high doses of painkillers for prolonged periods increases the risk of stomach, liver and kidney problems.
- Overuse of painkillers can cause rebound headaches, which are headaches that start when the body eliminates those drugs. Some people then take even more analgesics, which makes the problem worse.
Another common problem is undertreatment. Many people who could benefit from preventive drugs—and there are several safe, effective and affordable options—do not take them. If you don’t get enough relief from home remedies and over-the-counter drugs, seek professional help.
Although migraine has no quick and easy cure and severe migraine can be nasty and debilitating, you are not helpless.
You can do several things to prevent crises, relieve headache pain and other symptoms, and avoid side effects. Even simple measures such as drinking more water and applying ice packs to the head sometimes provide substantial relief.
With careful management, you can get effective treatment, obtain symptomatic relief, and lead a more fulfilling life.