Headaches, I have noticed, often stem from a need related to personal boundaries and stress. Before treating a headache, I think it’s important to identify the source of the physical reaction, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual. These parts of ourselves are equally important to pay attention to and address in order to bring about a healed situation.
Stress. We all know this one, but it’s still a huge problem in our fast-paced, work-oriented lives. A stress-related headache is your system taking the situation into its own hands to put up the boundaries, and an attempt to forcibly stop you from trying to please the world and take some time for yourself. If you get regular headaches from stress, look at what you can change in your life that brings you stress. Often stressors are hidden in things we have accepted as a part of our lives, and we don’t even realize the amount of stress and damage they are doing to us. Make it a goal to be less stressed (through taking actions, not just thinking about it!), and you may want to consider taking some adaptogenic herbs over time to help you transition to being a calmer, more centered person. Adaptogenic herbs are those that help the body adapt to stressors and respond in a calmer way. Each adaptogenic herb has secondary actions as well, and some of them work better when combined with other specific herbs, so it is important to understand the herbs and the condition fully before just going out and buying them all to solve your problems. Examples of adaptogens are jiaogulan, holy basil, ashwagandha, reishi, eleuthero, rhodiola, schizandra, maca, and many others.
Hormones. Fluctuating hormones can cause headaches and migraines, especially in women in connection with the hormonal changes during the menstrual moon cycle. While this factor is mostly physical, I feel it is also our spirit’s call for the red tent. Taking time out to rest, take a bath, journal, do art, drink tea and other quiet, gentle, self-nourishing activities for one to three days a month is something our culture is sorely lacking. Stress also has been shown to have the effect of dysregulation on the endocrine system. Xenoestrogens, foreign estrogens that attach to our estrogen receptor sites, may also play a role, as it has been demonstrated that a high baseline estrogen in women may cause a steeper drop in estrogen premenstrually, triggering migraines. Eat a diet high in phytoestrogens (plant estrogens such as is found in whole soy and other foods) and beneficial bacteria (found in fermented foods such as miso, homemade saurkraut, and sourdough) to protect yourself, and avoid exposure to xenoestrogens (found in many products such as deodorants, “feminine hygiene” products, plastics, pesticides, cosmetics, etc- educate yourself and read the labels!) as much as possible. Xenoestrogens are toxic and carcinogenic and you should avoid them anyway! Noticing and reducing trigger foods, commonly coffee, sugar, msg, canned meats, alcohol, dairy, and others, can also help tremendously for some women. Hormone-related headaches and migraines can be difficult to understand and treat. Again, herbs are specific, but here are a few examples that are used for hormonal modulation, PMS, migraines, and moon cycle-related headaches: vitex, motherwort, feverfew, butterbur, lavender, jamaican dogwood, ginger, and many adaptogens, listed above.
Illness. Again with the boundaries and stress. Stress inhibits the immune system response, and, both over time and immediately, weakens it. If you feel yourself coming down with something, notice your stress levels and see if you can modify it immediately. Take a “mental health” day, eat nourishing foods, drink lots of water, and lock your door against illness by taking virus-busting herbs such as ginger, garlic, elderberry, turmeric (combine with black pepper to increase bioavailability), rosemary, and hyssop. Breathe in anti-microbial essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, and rosemary. Killing the cause should kill the headache. For building the immune system long-term, consider astragalus, jiaogulan, echinacea, and medicinal mushrooms like maitake and reishi, and reduce general stress levels.
Dehydration. Often a simple cause of headaches is we have forgotten the water who mothered us. Drink more water with a grateful heart, and with an effort to drink clean water that has been purified of chlorine, fluoride, and other toxins, and not bottled in plastic.
Nutrition. Don’t skip meals. Eat small amounts often. Eat an organic, varied diet of nourishing whole foods. Avoid processed “foods”, additives, colorings, preservatives- anything artificial or excessively manufactured. If you struggle with eating issues, think about what might be causing it. Do you have enough time to make healthy foods and eat in a relaxed way? Is your digestive system healthy? Take three deep breaths before you eat. Having the body in a parasympathetic or relaxed state is physically necessary for proper digestion. Starting with a bitter food, such as greens, or taking a bitter herb like gentian, stimulates and activates the digestive juices. Digestive tonics and carminatives, such as fennel, ginger, rosemary, peppermint, lemon balm, pepper, basil, caraway, and chamomile, are excellent herbs to try if you easily have an upset stomach. Often a cup of warm ginger tea is all I need in the morning to help me feel like eating and prevent a headache.
Allergies. Environmental and undiagnosed food allergies are a common cause of regular headaches. If you think this could be a causing factor, I encourage you to try eliminating likely food allergens (dairy, sugar, gluten, etc) for a month and then slowly add one back into your diet at a time. Mast cells get overloaded and cause allergic reactions typically after you have tried the food again a few times, so eat the suspected food many times over the course of a week before marking it safe and adding in another potential allergen the following week. This process is not easy, but it has turned around many people’s lives and improved their quality of life tremendously!
Sleep. Make sure you are getting enough sleep! Most of us aren’t. Allot enough time for a good amount of sleep, at least 8 hours. If you have trouble sleeping, identify the reason. Probably stress. In addition, make sure you are getting enough magnesium, and are not exposing yourself to too much light before bed and while sleeping. Herbs that help sleep and relaxation are lavender, california poppy, valerian, hops, chamomile, and many more. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) can help stop cyclical thinking that can keep you up at night.
Pharmaceuticals. Often a side effect of taking pharmaceutical drugs is headache. Another common side effect is death. Every person’s needs and situation is unique. If you can treat things naturally by all means do, and if you can’t, do what you have to do. If you are taking drugs, make sure you research any herbs you might consider taking, for possible interactions VERY well in addition to consulting your doctor. Some herbs and even foods can increase the potency of the drugs or have other ill-desired results when taken with drugs.
Exercise. Make sure you are getting enough exercise and are stretching often! Headaches can result from compression and stagnancy in the blood, muscles, bones, joints, and organs. Regularly exercising and stretching gets fresh oxygen and energy moving through the body.
So there’s my run-down on headaches for now! Hope this helps someone. Please message me if you have any comments or questions! Thanks for reading.