Every 10 seconds, someone in the United States goes to the hospital complaining of head pain. Over one million of these visits are for migraine headaches. A whopping 12 percent of Americans get migraines, with women disproportionately affected. Roughly one in four women will experience a migraine in her lifetime, and women are three times more likely than men to struggle with migraines.
I’ll never forget my first migraine. I was driving my daughter to school one morning when I noticed everything in the outer edge of my vision looked watery. A few minutes later, I started seeing squiggly flashes of light. I had no head pain, only this dramatic change in my vision. The sensation was startling.
I pulled my car over and called a friend to pick us up. About the time he arrived, my head started to throb. I felt waves of nausea. The sunlight was excruciatingly bright.
My friend took me to the hospital where I was poked, prodded, and scanned. The ER doctor, a friend of mine, said, “Good news, Tieraona, you’re not having a stroke. It looks like you’re just having a migraine.” JUST a migraine! Wow. He’d obviously never had one. Of course, neither had I. It took several days to return to normal.
For the next few years, I was plagued by migraines. But through trial and error, I figured out how to reduce migraine headaches at home, naturally. I’m happy to report that my migraines are under very good control today.
If you struggle with migraine pain but prefer to avoid conventional medications (or find that they don’t work for you), alternative migraine treatments may provide the relief you seek. Here are some of my favorite home remedies for migraines.
Magnesium is one of my most trusted migraine remedies. I use it myself and have recommended it to countless patients. Magnesium is a natural calmative, relaxing the muscles and gently dilating blood vessels. It can help get a better night’s sleep (insomnia is a major trigger for migraines) and helps us manage stress more effectively. The Canadian Headache Society gives magnesium a “strong recommendation” for migraine prevention. The recommended dose of magnesium for migraines is 400-600 mg per day.
Ginger is one of my favorite headache remedies, and there’s solid science backing the use of ginger for migraines. In one study, 100 people suffering from migraines used either 250 mg of ginger or 50 mg of the prescription migraine medicine sumatriptan for one month. The treatments worked equally well, with both groups experiencing a 90 percent decrease in headache severity within two hours of treatment. The only difference? Ginger was better tolerated.2
Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
One theory about migraines is that they are caused by mitochondrial dysfunction in brain cells. (Mitochondria are the powerhouses within our cells.) Riboflavin helps maintain normal energy production in brain mitochondria. I generally think of riboflavin for those who have extreme light sensitivity as a trigger for their migraines. Photosensitivity is actually a sign of riboflavin deficiency. At a 400 mg dose per day, riboflavin is “strongly recommended” for migraine prevention by the Canadian Headache Society. It also receives a “probably effective” rating from the American Headache Society.
Peppermint is a wonderfully simple remedy for all kinds of headaches. Massaging your temples and forehead with peppermint oil may work as well as over-the-counter pain relievers.3 You can purchase peppermint oil roll-on products, which work great. Or you can make your own. Try my recipe for Peppermint Headache Oil.
Peppermint Headache Oil
- 20 drops peppermint essential oil
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) almond, grape seed, or sunflower oil (carrier oil)
Put the carrier oil into a bottle and add peppermint essential oil. Shake well.
How to Use: Gently rub oil into temples, forehead, neck, and shoulders, being careful to avoid the eyes.
Note: Peppermint should not be used on the face of any child under the age of three.
If you’re a coffee drinker who gets migraines, you may already know that small doses of caffeine can help ease the pain. Caffeine has been shown to provide migraine sufferers with more relief than a placebo.4 This is why caffeine is added to over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, creating a formula specifically designed to treat migraine headaches. If you decide that you want to stop drinking coffee or black tea (or other caffeinated beverages) – make sure you titrate down so you don’t trigger a migraine!
Identify Your Triggers
The best way to deal with migraines is to stop them before they start. A variety of different things can trigger migraines — hormone fluctuations, bright lights, fatigue, certain foods, stress, and dehydration are just some of the many known migraine triggers. I have found that I have to drink plenty of water and wear sunglasses to keep my migraines at bay. Also, a couple nights of poor sleep is definitely a trigger. If you can identify your own personal triggers, you can work to avoid them. Keeping a journal helps me, but you can also download an app designed to help you figure out which lifestyle factors may be causing your migraines.
Try Yoga, Massage, or Acupuncture
Yoga, massage, and acupuncture have all been shown to ease migraine headaches.5 Relaxing practices like yoga may be especially useful for those whose migraines are triggered by stress. And who doesn’t love a good massage? As for acupuncture, it has a long history of use for pain relief.
Manage the Pain, Naturally
I hope these suggestions will help you in your quest for natural migraine relief. I know how debilitating migraines can be when they strike, but I also know they can be managed. Don’t give up hope!
*Note on Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
Butterbur was shown to be effective for the prevention of migraines in several clinical trials. As a matter of fact, it was given the highest recommendations by the American Headache Society, the Canadian Headache Society, and the American Academy of Neurology. However, more than 40 cases of liver toxicity were noted with the use of the herb, and the recommendations were removed. There is no question that it is effective. If you should choose to use butterbur, make sure you choose a good brand (Petadolex was the one used in clinical trials) and watch for any signs of liver harm (e.g., dark urine, yellowing of the eyes, etc.). It is no longer on my recommendation list, simply because I find magnesium and riboflavin to be highly effective for prophylaxis, as well as ginger, which can also be used for acute migraine relief.
- Grossman W, Schmidramsl H. An extract of Petasites hybridus is effective in the prophylaxis of migraine. Altern Med Rev. 2001;6(3):303-310.
- Maghbooli M, et al. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine. Phytother Res. 2014;28(3):412-415.
- Göbel H, et al. Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache. Schmerz. 2016;30(3):295-310.
- Lipton RB, et al. Caffeine in the management of patients with headache. J Headache Pain. 2017;18(1):107.
- Millstine D, et al. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ. 2017;357:j1805.