Herbal Remedies for Headaches

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Ginkgo can help stop headaches. If one or two leaves are taken daily, it reduces the number of migraines.

Everyone knows that feeling: the throbbing, the tension, the pain and discomfort. No matter what the cause, headaches can have a variety of effects and can be either mild or severe.

Headaches can be debilitating, but there are a variety of herbal remedies to treat them. By taking preventative natural medicines or treating headaches with herbs, you can ward off or successfully treat painful headaches -- either light or intense ones.

About Headaches

Headaches can be classified into two main categories: general tension headaches and migraine headaches.

Tension headaches are bilateral, relatively mild attacks of head pain. Migraines are usually accompanied by changes in vision, sensitivity to light, and sometimes nausea. They are thought to be related to abnormal dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the brain.

A variety of factors can trigger either type of headache, including hormonal changes, stress, and allergies to food and sunlight.

Herbal Remedies for Headaches

Feverfew is notorious for its ability to prevent and stop headaches. If one or two leaves are taken on a daily basis, it reduces the frequency of migraines, and if one does occur, it tends to be less severe than normal. Feverfew may work in several ways: It limits the secretion of compounds that cause inflammation, it prevents blood vessels from constricting, and it prevents the neurotransmitter serotonin from being released from certain cells. Feverfew accomplishes all this with minimal side effects.

One of the active ingredients in feverfew is called parthenolide. Research indicates that taking 250 mg of this substance per day as part of an extract of the whole leaf on a continuous basis is the minimum dose needed to reduce the number of migraines you have, as well as their severity. It usually takes four to six weeks before effects are noticed. Feverfew is best taken in capsule form or as a fresh leaf. Ginkgo biloba may also be of assistance if you have migraines. It improves circulation, decreases inflammation, and inhibits the production of a substance called platelet-activating factor that may be linked to migraines.If you have frequent headaches, it is important to identify what might be causing them. Keeping a diary of foods and reactions may help. Food allergies and sensitivities often trigger an attack; eliminating them may eliminate most painful headaches.The pain of tension headaches can be diminished with herbs that have sedative and antispasmodic properties. The sedative herbs will relax you, decrease anxiety, and help you feel calmer. The antispasmodic herbs will relax muscles in the head and neck and can also help relax muscles that line the arteries, preventing them from constricting and reducing blood flow to the brain. To get both sedative and antispasmodic effects, use valerian, skullcap, lemon balm, and passion flower. Make a tea or tincture of these herbs at the first sign of a headache and drink a cup or two. You can also include herbs such as lavender and mullein. On the other hand, if you're looking more for muscle relaxation, add chamomile, rosemary, or mint.Do not use feverfew if you are pregnant or nursing. Eating raw feverfew leaves may occasionally cause mouth sores; you may prefer to dry them and put them in capsules. The side effects of this herb are usually mild -- occasional gastrointestinal upset or nervousness.Classifying your headaches and noting possible triggers can help you avoid getting them; so can taking herbal remedies. But, if you do happen to get a headache, taking herbs may help ease the pain and provide some much-needed relief.

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Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology.  He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy.  He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies.  This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.