Migraine and Other Headaches – how to prevent and relieve

By Roger French

This discussion is based on a Medline review of recent medical and nutritional research, a booklet by a prominent British naturopath(1) and personal experience.

Headaches bother most people at some time or other, but for those who suffer regular headaches, they can be very distressing. Headaches always have a cause, whether they occur occasionally or often. If they are frequent or severe, there is a pressing need to remove that cause, because it is well known that continued use of analgesics can lead to other problems.

The orthodox view of the cause of headaches is dilation of arteries to the brain, but this is not the cause. It is merely the mechanism which is triggered off by the true, underlying cause.

There are a number of different types of headache, the most common and distressing being migraine. Tension headaches and sinus headaches are also common. Tension headaches involve mild to moderate dull pain, often brought on by stress and/or depression. Cluster headaches involve recurring attacks with severe pain on one side of the head, and occur most frequently in men. They occur in ‘clusters’ of weeks or months, separated by long stretches of freedom from headaches. They usually last an hour or two, and recur one or more times in a 24-hour period.

Migraine affects one side of the head only, while tension headaches are felt on both sides.

Childhood headaches are common, in 2010 afflicting approximately one in every two children and adolescents up to age 20. In this age bracket, migraine affects eight percent.(2)

Migraine Headaches

The word, migraine, is derived from Greek and means ‘half a head’, referring to migraine affecting one side of the head only. Over 2 million Australians have experienced migraine at some stage in their life and over half a million suffer it chronically. Another estimate is that 20% of women and 10% of men experience it regularly. Similarly, after puberty, girls are twice as likely as boys to have migraines.

Migraine is not just a pain in the head, it is a debilitating affliction that can leave the person incapacitated for up to 36 hours at a time, during which they may be unable to tolerate light, sound or movement. Migraine is often accompanied by increased sensitivity to light and sound, visual disturbances, pins and needles, numbness, temporary paralysis in limbs, speech difficulties and/or the presence of an aura.(3)

The headache can be either a dull persistent pain or an unbearable, blinding, sickening pain, often preceded and/or accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, visual disturbances such as seeing flashing lights or temporary sight loss, inability to speak normally, weakness, tingling in the fingers and numbness in the face and tongue or other parts of the body.

Neurologists refer to two types of migraine; common and classical. In classical migraine, disturbance to vision, tingling, numbness, etc., precede the headache and herald the onset of the pain. With common migraine, the more usual variety, there are no preceding symptoms.

Migraine is hormonally sensitive. With pregnant women, it may worsen during the first trimester but usually eases later on.(4)

According to some researchers, migraine is “a common hereditary disorder”.(5) lt’s true that it does tend to run in families, but it is not the headache that is inherited. It is the predisposition towards it that is inherited, almost invariably accompanied by the same lifestyle factors that caused headaches in the parents, especially their ‘cookbook’.

 

THE MIGRAINE MECHANISM

The mechanism that causes the pain is a two-step process. Firstly, arteries inside the brain constrict. Secondly, there is a fall in the bloodstream of the level of the ‘happiness’ chemical, serotonin (which constricts arteries), and the low level of serotonin allows arteries outside the skull to relax and dilate, which causes the pain.

The dilating of arteries irritates nerves on their outer walls, causing the release of peptides which causes additional pain. So, with migraine there is a double shot of pain.

The fact that migraine sufferers have arteries which dilate and constrict more easily may explain the hereditary tendency. This is consistent with the view that only the greater potential for migraine is inherited, not the disease itself.

THE CAUSES OF MIGRAINE

A prominent factor in migraine headaches is liver overload, resulting from foods and toxic chemicals that overwork and congest the liver. The liver is the body’s detoxifying organ, filtering out metabolic wastes and toxic chemicals from the bloodstream. In Chinese medicine, the liver is known as ‘the general of the army’. If the amount of toxic substances arriving at the liver is greater than it can process, it will become congested and its functions impaired.

Headaches are undoubtedly nature’s warning to stop what we are doing to cause them, otherwise liver damage is likely to eventuate.

Foods which are particularly taxing on the liver include fried foods, other very fatty foods, excessive protein especially from meat, excessive sugar, caffeine, alcohol, many food additives, pesticides, salt and, for some people, oranges.

Chemical exposure can greatly add to the liver‘s burden. Researchers now recognise ‘toxicant-induced loss of tolerance’ (TILT), a two-step disease process in which (a) Chemical exposures, such as to pesticides, indoor air pollution or chemical spills, cause susceptible people to lose their natural tolerance for certain chemicals, food constituents and drugs; and (b) Subsequent exposures that were previously tolerated without problems now cause symptoms. Accumulating evidence suggests that TILT may be one of the processes underlying migraine headaches.(6)

Researchers have turned up at least 60 different trigger factors for migraine. These may be dietary, environmental, psychological or pharmacologic factors.

Portuguese researchers in year 2000 listed triggers — as identified by patients — in descending order as: stress, stimulation by light and sound, sleep deprivation, hunger, environmental factors, food, menstruation, fatigue, alcohol, sleep excess, caffeine, physical exertion, head trauma, falls, sexual activity, medications, neck movements, smoking and a low pillow.(7)

Reactions to food may be more common than sufferers realise. Foods may trigger attacks through allergic reactions, the most common offending foods, according to ‘Migraine and Food’, being chocolate, cheese and other dairy products, citrus fruits, coffee and tea (caffeine), alcohol, pork, seafood, onions, Marmite and wheat.(8)

Spanish researchers list a wide range of foods that can cause migraine not necessarily through allergy. They are chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, bananas, nuts, cured meats, dairy products, cereals, beans, hot dogs, pizza, food additives (sodium nitrate, MSG (monosodium glutamate)  and aspartame), coffee, tea, cola drinks and alcoholic drinks such as red wine, beer or whisky (if distilled in copper stills).(9)

When cows’ milk and its products, cereal grains especially wheat-flour products, and eggs trigger migraines through allergy or food sensitivity, the reason is thought to be introducing them in early infancy, before the developing gut is able to properly digest them. In the case of cereals, this may be 24 months of age. The absence of breastfeeding in infancy may also be a factor.

ln a trial at The Hospital For Sick Children in London, the commonest foods which provoked migraine in children were found to be cow’s milk, eggs, chocolate, oranges, wheat-flour products, cheese, tomato, rye and the food additives, benzoic acid and tartrazine (yellow colour). Some children were also affected by fish, beef, pork, soy beans, bacon, coffee, yeast and peanuts. 93% of the children with serious migraine recovered after the foods to which they were sensitive were eliminated

Not only were the headaches eradicated, but the children who also suffered from epileptic fits became free of fits.

In adults, trigger foods to which some sufferers are particularly sensitive include cheese, red wine, chocolates, coffee, oranges, broadbeans and yeast extract. These foods all contain vasoactive amines which can cause dilation of blood vessels.

Although the form of alcohol mostly blamed as a trigger is red wine, a study published in the journal, Cephalalgia (November 1993), found that among a group of people who suffered from alcohol-induced headache, 54% attributed the problem to white wine, 23% to beer or spirits and only 2% to red wine. The investigators concluded that white wine is the principal culprit rather than red — as far as migraine is concerned. However, red wine can certainly cause problems. The Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London found that migraine sufferers had no such effect.(10)

Other common triggers are some preservatives, artificial colourings and salicylates (found in red wine, many fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, tea, honey and peppermint).

The caffeine in tea and coffee is related to headache. An Australian study found that four to five cups daily of coffee or tea significantly increase the incidence of headache. Remember that caffeine withdrawal is also likely to bring on a headache, but this may be the last headache and the end of the problem, provided painkillers are not used.

There are numerous migraine triggers not related to diet. The British Migraine Clinic lists four major categories of non-dietary triggers:(11)

Physical — fatigue, over-exertion, eye-strain, lack of sleep, travel.

Psychological, that is, stress — depression, worry, shock, anxiety, anger. Note that anger is particularly detrimental to the liver. People can harbour anger for months or years at a time.

Medical — the Pill, HRT, high blood pressure, menstruation including pre-menstrual hormones.

External factors — noise, glaring lights, flickering lights especially from TV or computer screens, smells from perfume, cigarette smoke.

Female sex hormones are clearly linked to migraine, which is probably why women sufferers outnumber men two to one. Attacks are more common at menarche (puberty), at menstrual times, in the first trimester of pregnancy and again at menopause. Researchers believe that it is withdrawal of oestrogen that triggers migraines, rather than high or low levels. Discontinuation of The Pill, pregnancy and menopause all involve changing oestrogen levels.(12)

Long-term or abusive use of painkillers, especially when accompanied by tension headaches associated with anxiety and/or depression, can result in almost continuous headache.(13)

Breathing stuffy, stale air may contribute to the headache problem.

Certain attitudes appear to be more common in migraine sufferers. The University of South Carolina found that sufferers were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies, to be perfectionists, to distrust others or to feel ineffective. They noted that these states of mind may affect serotonin levels.(14)

 Other Kinds of Headache

TENSION HEADACHES

Tension headaches are not incapacitating the way migraine headaches are. If your head feels as if it is being squeezed unbearably by a very tight band or crushed by a heavy weight on the top of the head or at the base of the skull, it’s probably a tension headache. These affect nearly everyone at some time or other. Tension headaches can occur either in bouts or in a chronic form. Tense, knotted neck muscles in the upper neck precipitate the headache.

The causes are combinations of mental and physical stresses. Those occurring in bouts or ‘episodes’ are typically in response to stresses such as anxiety, depression, emotional conflicts, fatigue, guilt or repressed hostility. The chronic form is likely to be associated with ongoing anxiety and/or depression.(15)

These headaches are more likely to occur in highly competitive perfectionists who work hard, relax too little and worry too much.

Enormous strain in neck muscles can be caused by bending over a keyboard, kitchen sink or cycle handlebars for long periods of time.

Interestingly, tension headaches can be associated with nutrition. The Department of Neuroscience, University of Turin, Italy, reported in 2002 that susceptibility to certain foods could be as significant with tension headaches as with migraines. The foods that were most commonly reported as triggers for both types of headache are alcoholic drinks, chocolate and cheese.(16)

SINUS HEADACHES

When the mucous membranes lining the sinus cavities under the cheeks, nose and forehead become inflamed and swollen and produce excess mucus, the drainage passages may become blocked. The resulting pressure in the cavities commonly leads to headache.

The Natural Health experience is that the predominant dietary causes of mucous congestion are dairy products, excessive wheat-flour products (bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, cakes, pastries, etc.) and excessive sugar. In sensitive people, these foods are thought to cause the mucous membranes to copiously secrete mucus, as do certain allergenic substances.

Another possible cause of sinus trouble is tooth infections.

ALLERGIES AND FOOD SENSlTlVlTlES
Non-migraine headaches can, according to the Dept of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Calgary, be caused by a wide range of substances, including prescribed medications, over- the-counter medications, illicit drugs, anaesthetic agents, certain foods, food additives, beverages, vitamins, inhaled substances and substances used in diagnostic procedures.(17)

Another researcher has identified artificial colourings and flavourings, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tea, foods containing tyramine, vitamins, minerals, pesticides and several others.(18)

The consumption of significant MSG (monosodium glutamate) may produce ‘Chinese Food Syndrome’, in which headaches are prominent. Prevention lies in avoiding foods containing added MSG. Unfortunately, MSG in packaged food may be difficult to detect because the words “natural flavour”, “flavouring” or “hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP)” may all refer to forms of glutamate.(19)

Allergies and sensitivities may cause headaches directly or by triggering sinusitis. The Natural Health view of allergy is that the body is highly congested and has become super-sensitive to some extra irritant, such as a particular component of dairy products, the gluten in wheat, dust, fur, pollen or household chemicals.

 HYPOGLYCAEMIA – LOW BLOOD SUGAR

Once hypoglycaemia is beyond the mild stage, symptoms can include headache, extreme fatigue, faintness, over-activity, sleepiness, irritability, depression, phobic panic, inability to concentrate, cold sweats, tics and twitches, allergic symptoms, vision impairment, cold hands and feet and/or other symptoms. There will be cravings for sweet foods or stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, tea or nicotine. The symptoms are usually temporarily relieved by satisfying these cravings.

The cause of hypoglycaemia may be over-consumption of sugar and other high-glycaemic-index foods for many years, or it may be the result of ongoing stress, stimulants or allergies, which can exhaust the adrenal glands, leading to low blood sugar levels.

HIGH AND LOW BLOOD PRESSURE

Headache can be a symptom of both high blood pressure and low blood pressure.

THE PILL

Use of the contraceptive pill has been associated with a number of side-effects, including depression, insomnia and headaches. Neurologists have urged women who develop headaches after starting The Pill, or whose headaches become more severe, to stop taking the Pill immediately, as there are dangers, including a greater risk of stroke.

Oral contraceptives can affect a number of nutrients, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center and reported by Susan Biali, MD. Long-term usage can deplete various B vitamins, including folic acid, B6, riboflavin and B12, vitamin C and the minerals magnesium and zinc.(20)

The Pill can reduce blood levels of tryptophan so that less serotonin is produced and the result can be headache.(21)

Natural methods of contraception are available.

OTHER CAUSES OF HEADACHE

There are still other possible causes of non-migraine headaches, some minor and some serious, for example, air pollution, stuffy rooms, eye strain, noise, over-exertion, lifting heavy weights, unusual bending and stooping, over-work, female hormone imbalances, etc. Caffeine withdrawal is notorious for causing headaches.

Alcohol hangover headaches are usually easily identified. The hangover results not only from the alcohol itself, which dilates blood vessels in the head, but also from colouring and flavouring elements formed during fermentation. Brandy, whisky, dark rum and many liqueurs contain them in greater quantities than do the clear spirits like gin and vodka. Alcohol depletes the body of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and dehydrates the brain, further contributing to headaches.

Headaches may be associated with a number of diseases such as glaucoma.

DANGER SIGNALS

It is strongly advisable to consult a practitioner immediately if there is abrupt onset of headache in a previously well person, with localised pain, visual disturbances (except in the case of migraine), signs of nerve problems, changes in the pain with change of position, and/or a change in the pattern of the headaches. A brain tumour should be checked for.

Remember that in the vast majority of cases our worst fears don’t eventuate, nevertheless, don’t risk ignoring possible danger signals.

Prevention and Relief of Headaches

THE PREVENTION OF MIGRAINE

Once a migraine strikes, it is very difficult to alleviate the pain. The only really effective solution lies in prevention. Taking drugs to deaden the pain may provide temporary relief, but problems continue, because not only are the causes still present, but the drugs add to the burden on the liver that is usually already overloaded.

Orthodox medicine

The orthodox medical approach involves avoidance of the triggers, treatment of the acute attack with drugs, and regular use of preventive medications. Pain relieving drugs in common use, as listed by the US Mayo Clinic in 2013 are:(22)

Pain relievers – aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen), acetaminophen, indomethacin;

Drugs specifically for migraines, such as the combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine. If taken too often or for long periods of time, these medications can lead to ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and medication-overuse headaches.

Triptans, such as sumatriptan, work by promoting constriction of blood vessels. Side effects include nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and muscle weakness. Not recommended for people at risk of strokes and heart attacks.

With pregnant women, drug treatment poses a greater dilemma because the risks include birth defects, death of the embryo, abnormalities in growth of the foetus and problems at the time of birth.

Because the drugs are merely treating the symptoms and have nothing to do with removing the underlying causes, a natural health/natural therapies approach can produce much better results in the longer term.

Natural therapies have been found to be effective for migraines as well as other kinds of headache. Researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK reported that effective therapies are aromatherapy, Bowen technique, chiropractic, hypnotherapy, massage, nutrition, reflexology, Reiki and yoga.(23)

Nutrition for the prevention and relief of migraine (and other headaches)

For relatively prompt relief from many kinds of headache, it is often best to consume nothing but pure water until the attack is over. Sleep may be the best natural palliative, and if you are sleeping you won’t eat anyway.

The prevention of migraine begins with nutrition. Years ago, a registered nurse commented that if everyone lived mainly on fresh fruit and vegetables and avoided excessive fat, there would be no migraine.

The crux is to adopt a natural foods diet, including mostly raw foods, unless the digestive system cannot handle raw foods. Unnatural foods need to be replaced with unprocessed natural foods in accordance with ‘Natural Health Dietary Guidelines’ (published in the Spring 2009 issue of Natural Health and Vegetarian Life – available from Natural Health Society.)

Allergies and sensitivities to foods. If foods which are included in these guidelines, such as oranges or cheese, are found to trigger headaches, they should be avoided. Especially avoid the most taxing foods on the liver — fatty foods, alcohol, coffee, chocolate, refined sugar, excessive natural sugar (as in honey, maple syrup and dried fruits) and food additives.

There are several ways to determine if you are sensitive or allergic to particular foods. One convenient method is to keep a detailed record of everything you eat and all your symptoms. Also list what you did each day, where you went, whether the day was stressful or relaxing, and at what times you ate food. You may be able to detect a pattern that identifies problem foods. It may take months before a pattern becomes apparent.

Another way is to fast for five days on pure water under professional supervision or go on a very ‘neutral’ diet, after which you re-introduce various foods one by one, until symptoms develop which you can link with a particular food. Then employ dietary rotation and avoidance of these substances.

A standard four-day rotation diet means that where there is sensitivity to members of a particular family of foods, no food in that family should be consumed more than once in any four-day period. Or, with trial-and-error, the rotation period could be two days or three days, etc.

A supervised fast has the double benefit of allowing the liver to detoxify itself of some of its burden and revitalise.

Remember that if you discover that you must avoid a particular food, all sources of it must be avoided. For example, in the case of milk you would need to also avoid butter, cream, cheese, yoghurt, soup containing milk or cream, ice cream, milk chocolate and products containing milk powder, milk solids, etc.

When practitioners are looking for food sensitivities, they put migraine sufferers on diets that exclude salicylates, amines, MSG, food colourings and some preservatives.

Magnesium. A Michigan urologist has found that the mineral, magnesium, is in short supply in the brains of most migraine sufferers. It could be that they have low-magnesium diets or that anxious people excrete the mineral more rapidly. The natural foods rich in magnesium are legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, English spinach, parsley and peas.

Tonics and nutrients for the liver. Foods that are tonic to the liver and tend to be preventive include lemon juice (always dilute abundantly with water), grapefruit, beetroot, celery, cabbage, dandelion and globe artichoke.

Minerals and vitamins particularly needed by the liver include zinc, B-vitamins especially B6, vitamin C and bioflavonoids. Foods high in zinc include nuts (especially Brazils and cashews), legumes, seeds, whole grains, eggs and spinach. The same foods, along with green leafy vegetables and nutritional yeast, are also high in B-vitamins generally. Vitamin C is abundant in fresh, uncooked vegetables and fruits, while vitamin E is high in wheatgerm (make sure it’s fresh, not rancid), soya beans, sunflower seeds, nuts and egg yolk. The richest natural supplement for vitamin E is wheatgerm oil capsules.

Detoxing. Migraine sufferers can expect a great deal of benefit by occasionally devoting two or three days to fresh, in-season (diluted) fruit juices or fresh fruit only. Good fruits for liver cleansing – when in season – are grapefruit, (very) diluted lemon juice, apple and watermelon.

Be well aware that headaches may get worse briefly before they get better.

A nutritional cocktail. As part of the normal daily eating pattern, it is of exceptional value to include the tried-and-true carrot and chlorophyll juice, containing liver-tonic vegetables. This juice consists of one-third of a glass of carrot and beetroot juice, with the remaining two-thirds being the juices of fresh green vegetables, namely, some or all of spinach, silverbeet, celery, parsley (small amount), cabbage, cauliflower and dandelion. A little radish could be added. Dilute with at least one quarter water. Ideally, consume this juice an hour before lunch and an hour before dinner, so that the fluid has left the stomach before the meal is commenced.

Herbs. Studies have confirmed that feverfew is an effective preventive for migraine headaches (dosage used was 50 mg per day). It has a long history of use for aches and pains, arthritis, high blood pressure, skin conditions, fevers, inflammation and headaches. Only one variety is effective, Tanacetum parthenium. Note that it is not a pain reliever.

A range of natural therapies

Researchers have investigated natural therapies for headaches. The Department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter in the UK found that migraines and other headaches are benefited by aromatherapy, Bowen technique, chiropractic, hypnotherapy, massage, nutrition, reflexology, Reiki and yoga.(23)

Although the New York Headache Center made the observation in 2001 that complementary treatments often lack scientific proof of efficacy, they noted that this is also true for many drugs. They added that many complementary treatments are inexpensive, harmless and possibly effective. Their preferred options are aerobic exercise, isometric neck exercises, biofeedback (electronic monitoring of changes in bodily functions), acupuncture and an oral preparation containing magnesium, vitamin B2 and feverfew.(24)

See an osteopath or chiropractor. In case there is spinal misalignment in the neck, have a check-up with an osteopath or chiropractor. A 2001 investigation found that spinal manipulation can be as effective as prescription medications for migraine.(25)

Massage to relax painful, knotted neck muscles may be beneficial.

Acupuncture. A 2001 review of studies of acupuncture concluded that acupuncture has value for the relief of migraine headaches where the cause is not apparent.(26) It is thought that acupuncture inhibits pain transmission and causes the release of opioids. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the blood flow and supply of oxygen to the brain.(27)

Homeopathy. Has been found to be effective in some cases, but not others.(28) It could be worth trying this relatively safe therapy.

Regular physical activity and stress management can be very significant in preventing migraine and other headaches. Take steps to replace anger with positive attitudes, and have as much rest and relaxation as possible. (For stress reduction, see the Spring 2010 issue of Natural Health and Vegetarian Life – available from the Natural Health Society.)

Elevating the upper part of the body. Two researchers, Singer and Grismaijer, recommend raising the trunk and head when in bed. They found that 70% of migraine sufferers reported improvement, and of these 30% ceased having migraines altogether. The elevation was achieved by keeping the legs horizontal and placing a foam wedge or sleeping bags under the mattress supporting the trunk and head so that the head was 20 to 30 cm higher than usual.(29)

 Pregnant women and children

For pregnant women, it has been found that physical exercise, relaxation and biofeedback can provide significant relief from headaches. Two-thirds of the women using these techniques had maintained significant improvements up to one year after giving birth.(30)

Childhood migraine. University of Kentucky researchers have concluded that relaxation therapies, such as progressive relaxation, self-hypnosis and guided imagery, can be as effective as, or more effective than, medication. They added that it is important to allow the child to feel in control of their health, which these behavioural therapies have the potential to do.(31)

 Water treatment (hydrotherapy)

There are several combinations using hot and cold water which bring relief. Try them and see which one works best for you.

A cold compress on the forehead and a hot water bottle applied to the back of the neck. The compress consists of a cold, moist strip of cotton sheeting wrung out lightly and placed over the forehead, and completely covered (every single square centimetre!) by a piece of woollen material — an old pullover or strip of old blanket will do, but the material must be wool, synthetics won’t work.

Try the reverse of the above with the cold compress on the back of the neck and the hot water bottle on the forehead.

Place a cold compress right around the head, covering the forehead and part of the ears, for 20 minutes or more.

It is essential to simultaneously apply a cold compress around the waist to draw toxins away from the head and to the eliminative organs. Wrap a single layer of cold, moist cotton sheeting 20 cm wide around the waist and completely cover it closely with woollen fabric, fastened with safety pins. At night, go to bed with these compresses in place and try to sleep.

Cold compresses around the head and waist, and place the feet, hands and arms in hot water.

For headaches due to stomach and liver upset, place hot fomentations over the abdominal region – for convenience on retiring to bed. Wring out a towel in hot water and place over the area, covered by a hot water bottle to maintain heat, then a couple of dry towels or wool over this to retain the heat.

Where the headache is congestive – being accompanied by a feeling of fullness in the head – simply use a hot foot-bath for about half-an-hour. Gradually increase the temperature of the water, and finish by dipping the feet in cold water for one minute.

Hydrotherapy for constipation

Constipation is a major cause of numerous health problems, including liver congestion and headaches.

Enemas. There is no quicker way of clearing the bowel. Available from most chemists, the equipment enables warm water to be injected into the rectum and bowel. When inserting the nozzle (lubricate with Vaseline), take great care not to damage the tender tissue of the anus.

Sitz baths. Very effective for relieving headaches associated with bowel or liver congestion. Sit in a tub (such as a baby’s bath) of cold water up to your navel, and massage your abdomen with a wet washer in the direction of the bowel, which is clockwise looking down at your stomach. Do this for five minutes, perhaps morning and evening, but only on an empty stomach. You must be very warm to start with (do some sweeping!), and warmly clothed on your top half as well as legs and feet during the bath. The water needs to be quite cold, but not icy – except that in summer some ice can be added.

Induce vomiting if appropriate

If the stomach is uncomfortable with undigested food, try to induce vomiting.

PREVENTION OF SINUS HEADACHES

For the prevention of these headaches, test for susceptibility to dairy and grains by temporarily avoiding dairy products and all wheat and grain products.

Allow the body to decongest the mucous membranes by adopting a fruit juice diet or fresh fruit and vegetable salads exclusively for two to four days. Beyond this time, professional supervision would be necessary.

Consuming very moderate amounts of onion or garlic (though not on an empty stomach) can be beneficial.

During the acute phase of sinusitis, steam inhalation may provide considerable relief.

Drainage of the sinuses can be promoted by massage over the sinuses and thumb pressure on specific pressure points by a practitioner.

 PREVENTION OF ALLERGY AND SENSITIVITY HEADACHES

The approach is basically the same as for sinusitis — lower the level of toxic wastes in the body through nutritional cleansing, which may be enough to desensitise the mucous membranes.

To identify the particular foods or substances causing allergies, use the techniques explained above under ‘Nutrition for the prevention and relief of migraine (and other headaches)’.

It is astonishing to discover just how reluctant people can be to help themselves. A New York study found that three-quarters of a group of headache sufferers were aware of the foods or substances causing their headaches, yet less than half were informed of the food-headache connection by their medical practitioner. Even in those sufferers who were aware, many made no changes to their eating habits.(32)

 OVERCOMING HYPOGLYCAEMIA

Overcoming hypoglycaemia is a major subject in itself. For a start, investigate if the hypo is sugar-reactive by steering clear of high GI foods – white flour products, refined sugar, honey, jams, soft drinks, confectionery and dried fruits (unless previously soaked in water). If the cause is stress related, also avoid coffee, strong tea and alcohol, and look for ways of dealing with stress.

 HIGH OR LOW BLOOD PRESSURE HEADACHES

How to lower high blood pressure (hypertension) without drugs was explained in the Autumn 2008 issue of Natural Health and Vegetarian Life magazine. Ditto how to raise it if too low. Copies of the Autumn 2008 issue are available from the Natural Health Society.

TENSION HEADACHES

The prevention of tension headaches lies in relaxing the neck, shoulders and head as well as the whole body.

First and foremost, try to avoid getting up-tight about things. Easier said than done, of course, but we can learn to become much more positive in outlook. Guidelines for taking the distress out of stress are given in the Spring 2010 issue of Natural Health and Vegetarian Life and also in Chapter 9 in the Natural Health Society’s book, How a Man Lived in Three Centuries, which is being reprinted and will soon be available again in the Society’s bookshop.

Regularly practise relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, the playing of relaxation tapes, or relaxation exercises.

For tension headaches or where there is arthritis of the neck and shoulders, provided the area is not feverish, place hot fomentations over the shoulders and back of the neck. If feverish, apply a cold compress.

Physical activity in the form of regular walking, jogging (on soft surfaces), rebounding or swimming helps prevent tension in the neck and shoulder muscles.

Never sit in the one position for more than half-an-hour at a time. For one minute, walk, stretch, swing your arms, rotate your head to left then right, rotate your shoulders and finally clasp your hands behind your back and tilt your head back.

Try massaging the muscles of the scalp, neck and face. With the fingertips, feel for tight muscles and then massage them until they have relaxed. Also, briskly massage the whole of the scalp as if you are washing your hair. Then gently pull the hair all over the head — provided it is firmly rooted.

Have a warm shower or bath or try a hot water bottle on the back of your neck.

Try aromatherapy. Place one or two drops of essential oil of lavender on the tips of your fingers and massage in a circular motion across your temples, behind the ears and across the back of the neck. (Keep well away from eyes.)

Consider taking a magnesium supplement. See details below under ‘Help for Headaches in General’.

The herbs, valerian and chamomile, are sedative and help reduce tension and anxiety. With valerian, pour a cup of boiling water onto 2 teaspoons of the root and infuse for 15 minutes. Drink before going to bed.

Acupuncture and the massaging of acupressure points can be effective. An easy point to locate is the base of the ‘V’ formed between the bones of the thumb and the hand in line with the first index finger. Simply press here  for a few minutes.

Homeopathy, as prescribed by a practitioner, could be tried.

If headaches are stubborn, consult an osteopath or chiropractor to investigate spinal misalignment.

 EYE STRAIN HEADACHES

If your headaches come on after reading or watching television, check for eye strain. But rather than rushing into wearing glasses, you could investigate natural vision improvement. (Refer to ‘Revive Your Eyes with Exercise’, Natural Health and Vegetarian Life, Autumn 2007 issue — copies available from the Natural Health Society.) Or consult a wholistic optometrist.

HELP FOR HEADACHES IN GENERAL
 Take a brisk walk

Provided there is no hypoglycaemia or other counter-indication, brisk exercise will often relieve a headache caused by tension or stuffy air. Regular exercise tends to be preventive for most kinds of headache.

Be sure to wear well-cushioned training shoes and, if running, do it on grass. Exercises such as yoga and tai chi can also be beneficial.

Check your jaw

Misalignment of the jaw can have profoundly adverse effects, which may include headaches. Correction will require the services of a skilled dentist who is aware of the importance of jaw joint alignment.

Deep breathing

For migraine and tension headaches particularly, take slow, deep breaths at the first sign of a headache. Take no more than 12 – 15 at any one time or you may hyperventilate and become dizzy.

Red clover tea

Drinking a cup of red clover tea or catnip tea at the onset of the headache may help.

If necessary, take a holiday

Where your headache is due to nerve strain or over-work, ensure adequate sleep. You may need to think about taking a holiday for a complete rest.

Magnesium supplementation

Magnesium (symbol ‘Mg’) can act as a natural painkiller. The wholistic GP, Dr Sandra Cabot, writes in her book, Magnesium The Miracle Mineral, “I have seen many of my patients reduce the frequency and severity of many types of headaches by taking 400 mg daily of elemental magnesium. This includes tension headaches, cluster headaches and migraines.”

For a supplement, Dr Cabot favours a mixture of different forms, most chelated. Her mix contains Mg orotate, Mg ascorbate, Mg glycine, Mg aspartate and Mg phosphate. The names of her supplements are Cabot Health ‘Magnesium Ultra-Potent Powder’ and ‘Magnesium Complete’ tablets (available in health shops and some pharmacies).

Regularly practise a relaxation technique

There are many techniques available for learning to relax and cope with stress. Prominent are yoga, the many forms of meditation, relaxation tapes/DVDs, stress management courses and even physical activity.

And be philosophical! — worry only about those things you can do something about, and forget all the rest! This is not being callous, it is being realistic.

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