Have you ever had a migraine headache? If you have, you know how painful one can be, and if you haven’t, chances are someone you know has. Given how debilitating migraine symptoms can be, anyone affected wants to know how to get rid of a migraine.
Estimates show that 6 percent to 18 percent of the adult population suffers from recurrent migraines (about 6 percent of men and up to 18 percent of all women). Women get migraines about three times more often than men, and surveys show that more than on in four women will have at least one severe migraine attack at some time in her life. (1)
For many people, migraines start in their teenage years and continue throughout their 20s and 30s. Roughly 10 percent of teenagers experience frequent migraines, especially during puberty due to hormonal changes. “Chronic migraines,” meaning those that cause attacks on more than 15 days per months, affect about 2 percent of the total population and peak in adults between their 30s and 40s.
Although migraine headaches do tend to run in families and have a genetic component, certain lifestyle choices can greatly impact how often and severely someone suffers from attacks. Migraines — and also other common types of tension headaches that affect up to 90 percent of people from time to time — don’t need to become just a “normal” part of life. And even if you’ve had headaches for years, it’s not too late to change things.
Wondering how to get rid of a migraine without the use of prescription medications? Natural remedies for headaches and migraines include adjusting your diet to avoid trigger foods, preventing nutrient deficiencies and learning to manage stress more effectively. Read on to learn exactly how to get rid of a migraine naturally.
How to Get Rid of a Migraine Naturally
There are many options for how to get rid of a migraine, and different things work for different people. Try the following ways for how to get rid of a migraine to see what works best for you.
1. Foods that Help Migraines
Foods that can help prevent or treat migraines include the following:
Nuts, seeds and wild-caught fish, such as salmon or sardines, help control blood flow and lower inflammation.
Organic, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
These foods are high in magnesium and other key electrolytes, which are especially important for controlling blood flow and muscular functions, along with preventing an electrolyte imbalance. They also provide antioxidants that help decrease inflammation, counteract effects of toxin exposure and balance hormones.
Some of the best sources include spinach, swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dates, bananas and sweet potatoes.
Clean, Lean Protein Foods
These include grass-fed beef and poultry, wild-caught fish, beans and legumes.
Foods with B vitamins
Some research suggests that people with migraines could benefit from consuming more B vitamins, especially vitamin B2 (riboflavin). (2) Sources of riboflavin include organ meats and other meat, certain dairy products, vegetables like green leafy veggies, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds.
2. Foods to Avoid that Make Migraines Worse
Some researchers believe that up to 40 percent of migraines could be avoided if people improved their diets and avoided triggers. A poor diet, high in things like processed grains and sodium, is one of the biggest triggers for migraine symptoms. Foods that can make migraine headache pain worse include: (3, 4)
- Added sugar
- Refined grain products
- Conventional dairy products
- Aged cheeses
- Pickled or cured fish
- Breads or pastries made with gluten and yeast
- Red wine and other types of alcohol (especially when consumed in large amounts)
- Chocolate (contains a chemical called phenylethylamine that sometimes causes blood flow changes that trigger headaches)
- Caffeinated drinks (for some people, about one cup of coffee or tea daily can help headaches, but withdrawal or drinking more are usually problematic)
- Eggs (especially if someone has an unknown allergy)
- Artificial food additives and artificial sweeteners, including aspartame
- Flavor enhancers and preservatives in packaged foods, including MSG
- High amounts of sodium, especially when coupled with low intake of other electrolytes
- Very cold foods
- Nitrates found in processed meats like hot dogs, cold cuts, salami, bacon and ham
- Fried foods and fast foods, especially those made with MSG (such as Chinese food)
- For some people, certain types of beans and legumes (including lima beans and snow peas, which contain natural amine chemicals)
Other dietary tips for how to get rid of a migraine include avoiding extreme dieting or skipping meals, preventing dehydration, avoiding drinking too much caffeine throughout the day, and maintaining normal blood sugar levels by eating something balanced every few hours (especially if you’re diabetic).
3. Supplements for Migraines and Headaches
If you suffer from migraines or other types of headaches often, you can likely benefit from taking the following supplements: (5)
- Omega-3 fish oils: Some studies have found that omega-3 supplements can help decrease severity and frequency and migraines. (6)
- Vitamin B2
- 5-HTP: An amino acid that can help improve serotonin levels and lower frequency and severity of pain.
- Feverfew: An herb that helps reduce the frequency of migraine headaches and headache symptoms, including pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise.
- Kudzu extract: An herbal treatment with over 70 phytochemicals or phytonutrients.
- Melatonin: Can help improve sleep quality when used in moderation.
- Capsaicin cream: Apply a small amount of capsaicin cream to the inside of your nostril, or use a nose spray containing capsaicin, which works by blocking nerve pain signals. (7)
- Medicinal mushrooms
4. Essential Oils for Treating Headache Pain
Essential oils have a variety of uses, and you can add essential oils to the list for how to get rid of a migraine. They’re natural painkillers, help lower stress or anxiety, reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, help balance hormones, and lower muscular tension.
Essential oils can be applied to the painful side of the head, neck and elsewhere to soothe muscular tension and stress. You can also numb any pain directly by applying several drops of an oil to a heated towel (or simply use a heating pad or ice pack applied to the head and neck for about 15 minutes at a time).
Essential oils for headaches include:
Peppermint: Reduces pain and inflammation. Works by having a natural cooling effect on the skin, inhibiting muscle contractions and stimulating blood flow around the head when applied topically.
Lavender: Soothes stress and anxiety. Can improve sleep quality, decrease muscular tension, and has natural antidepressant and sedative qualities.
Eucalyptus: Improves blood flow, is uplifting, helps cleanse the body of toxins and harmful substances, and reduces high blood pressure and pain.
Frankincense: Lowers inflammation and has numerous benefits for improving overall immune function, anxiety and hormonal balance.
Rosemary: Reduces pain through regulating blood flow, helps decrease withdrawal symptoms of caffeine or medications, aids digestion, and soothes an upset stomach.
5. Other Options for How to Get Rid of a Migraine
Identify Your Personal Triggers
Every person is unique when it comes to migraine triggers. Experts believe that people with migraine symptoms likely have overly sensitive central nervous systems that respond strongly to triggers in their environments. It might help to keep a journal or log of your migraine symptoms so you can draw conclusions about what your personal triggers might be. The American Headache Society offers free, printable “diary worksheets” that can help you pinpoint headache triggers. For example, ask yourself:
- Do certain foods make your migraines worse or better?
- Do you have an attack following exposure to loud noises?
- Might you be overworking your eyes through exposure to glare from the sun and other artificial light-producing stimuli (such computer screens which are tied to headaches)?
- Does caffeine, alcohol or drug withdrawal play a role in your migraines?
- Do you feel better when you sleep in different positions? For example, does sleeping on your back or side help reduce attacks?
- Are symptoms worse when you haven’t slept seven to nine hours per night?
- Is dehydration involved in your headaches?
- Do you notice worsened symptoms following weather changes, such as humid temperatures and increased pressure?
Research shows that several things that can trigger migraines or make headache pains even worse include physical stress placed on the body (such as overtraining or suddenly increasing physical activity too much), getting poor sleep and being under a lot of emotional stress. Being in a highly stressful situation, whether physically or mentally, affects blood flow and can contribute to expansion/contraction of blood vessels that reach the head. Try natural stress relievers to help reduce stress.
Try Mind-Body Practices
Biofeedback therapy, meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery, massage therapy and other relaxation techniques that link the body and mind are beneficial for any sort of headache pains. These can help reduce muscular tension, improve blood flow, control blood pressure and manage the body’s “fight or flight” stress response. Use these practices to scan your body and check yourself for signs of clenched muscles, including in your neck, jaw or shoulders.
Get Enough Sleep
A lack of sleep and anxiety are capable of triggering migraines by raising inflammation and affecting hormone levels. (8) Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but be careful not to overdo it since research shows that sleeping too much might make migraines worse, especially if you don’t stick to a usual sleep/wake schedule.
Research suggests that one risk factor for migraine attacks is going through hormonal changes, such as puberty, prior to a woman’s period, pregnancy or menopause. Surveys show that young women often have their first migraines once they start having their menstrual cycles. Migraines are also common during the first trimester of pregnancy and when a woman is dealing with PMS. Ways to help balance hormones naturally include eating a healthy diet, using adaptogen herbs, exercising in a moderate way, getting enough rest and avoiding chemical toxins.
In general, exercise is helpful for preventing headaches because it lowers stress, helps balance hormones, improves sleep quality and helps lower inflammation. However, because some people find that increasing activity suddenly can worsen migraines, track your own biofeedback and symptoms. Aim to keep up with a regular exercise schedule that includes a combination of at least 30–60 minutes of aerobic and resistance training five days a week. Keep in mind, however, that it’s best not to try and exercise during a migraine or beforehand if you feel an attack coming.
Conventional Migraine Treatments
Studies suggest that natural, non-drug strategies can play an important role in managing migraines and also preventing complications. However, migraine symptoms are commonly managed with medications that might work immediately to help reduce pain and inflammation but aren’t dependable long term. Drugs used to control migraines include: (9)
- Triptan medications (drugs used almost exclusively for migraines)
- Painkillers, including ibuprofen and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Anti-nausea medications
- Sleep aids and anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, including beta-blockers (used to alter neurotransmitter levels)
- Calcium-channel blockers
- Sometimes anti-seizure medications to control nerve signals
However, if you’re wondering how to get rid of a migraine without taking drugs, try the natural remedies listed above.
What Is a Migraine?
A migraine is a type of headache that causes pains that are moderate to severe. Unlike tension headaches, which usually affect the entire head or neck, migraine pain is unique because it tends to occur on only one side of the head (although it can also affect both).
Migraine symptoms include pulsing or throbbing pain that lasts for several hours or even days, usually coupled with vision changes and increased sensitivity to light and sound. Some people also experience symptoms like nausea and vomiting during migraine attacks, disturbances in sensations, lack of coordination, trouble sleeping, and mood swings.
Unfortunately, migraines can take a serious toll on someone’s quality of life, causing anxiety over future attacks and contributing to missed days at work. Many migraine patients report that at least several times per year they aren’t able to attend work or school due to having trouble concentrating and can’t speak or operate normally following an attack for hours.
What causes migraine headaches? Some people report that their migraines symptoms get worse when they suddenly increase physical activity, are exposed to bright lights and loud sounds, or spend too many hours in front of computers and electronic devices. But the underlying causes of migraines include:
- High levels of inflammation, which affect nerves in the brain and blood vessels
- A poor diet and nutrient deficiencies
- Changes in neurotransmitter levels, including low serotonin levels and high levels of “stress hormones” like cortisol
- Chronic stress (including feeling overly anxious, busy or rushed, and nervous)
- Hormonal changes
- Dysfunction in the brain stem due to injury or past illnesses
- A lack of sleep
- Eye strain due to high amounts of light exposure
- Poor posture that affects the spine
- Other health conditions that affect the neck or spine, including TMJ
- Reactions to medications (including those that affect nerves, hormones and blood pressure)
- Family history and genetic susceptibility
Precautions When Treating Migraines
If you’ve been struggling with severe headaches for some time, look out for changes in how often and how severely you have symptoms to check for patterns and changes (especially if you’re over 40). Sometimes severe migraines that come on suddenly can point to a worsening or underlying health condition, so always talk to a professional if you notice any of the following symptoms for the first time:
- Headaches that are very sudden and intense, stopping you in your tracks.
- Very stiff neck, fever, mental confusion and dizziness.
- Headaches accompanying mild seizures, double vision or fainting.
- Severe headaches after trauma or an injury.
- Headaches that last more than several days and are unexplained. If your migraines don’t seem to coincide with any triggers or other health conditions, especially if you’re older 50, seek professional help.
Final Thoughts on How to Get Rid of a Migraine
- Migraines are severely painful headaches caused from a series of neurological events that trigger head pains, sensitivity to light and sound, vision changes, and sometimes digestive upset.
- Causes of migraines include inflammation, high amounts of stress, nutrient deficiencies, nerve damage, hormonal changes and genetic susceptibility.
- If you’re wondering how to get rid of a migraine naturally, try managing stress, altering your diet, getting enough sleep and rest, avoiding triggers, and dulling pain with essential oils and/or heat and ice.