If you’ve ever suffered from chronic headaches, you know that the pain can sometimes be unbearable. The pressure in your head, in the back of your neck or behind your eyes can be enough to make you want to crawl back into bed and call it quits for the day.
When headaches strike, most people try to power through and take some Advil or Tylenol to deal with the pain. But taking too many NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) over time can lead to serious side-effects, including gastrointestinal issues, heartburn, liver and kidney problems, and even, you guessed it, headaches.
Luckily, there are many integrative treatments that can help you improve your headaches without relying on medication. Here are five holistic treatments you can try.
Did you know that one of the most common causes of headaches is simply dehydration? When we’re dehydrated, the brain can temporarily shrink due to loss of fluid, and that can cause the brain to pull away from the skull, causing a headache.
Dehydration can also increase tension in our muscles, and when the muscles around the spine are tense, it can cause tension in our neck and bring on a headache.
That’s why Dr. Richard Bisceglie, a doctor of naprapathy at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says the very first thing he recommends people do when they have headaches is to drink more water.
“People are often walking around in a dehydrated state,” says Bisceglie says.
According to Dr. Gore, founder of the Center for Holistic Medicine, you should aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces per day.
Go to the chiropractor
Another cause of headaches? Muscle tension. If you often work at a computer or do another activity over a long period of time (such as driving), you may be tensing up your shoulders, causing your neck muscles to compensate in the wrong way, which can cause a headache.
“The whole theory behind chiropractic is if you have restricted mobility in one area of the neck, the muscles compensate to that lack of mobility, and when they do that, they don’t work properly,” says Dr. Mitchell Katz, a chiropractor at the Center for Holistic Medicine. “Chiropractic can potentially help with that if you restore function to the spine or the neck.”
If you are more comfortable with a long treatment, and your pain is mostly in the muscles and fascia, naprapathy can release muscle tension in your neck and shoulders. Naprapathy involves gentle manipulation of your connective tissue, which runs throughout your body and supports and connects all of your joints, muscles, ligaments and more. When your connective tissue is constricted, it can limit your blood and lymph circulation and interfere with your nerve pathways, causing pain in your head.
“I work on the connective tissue (muscles, tendons and ligaments) to rebalance them to address those tightness patterns in the upper back, back, neck, shoulders and cranium,” explains Dr. Richard Bisceglie.
If your headache is due to emotional as well as physical stress, you might want to try acupuncture. Kenji Aoki, a licensed acupuncturist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says long-term stress can affect blood circulation to the brain, which triggers migraine headaches.
Acupuncture works to affect the way that energy flows through meridians in your body, clearing away blocked energy in some meridians and restoring energy to meridians that are deficient.
Aoki says acupuncture is especially effective in treating headaches. “Usually the success rate is 90 percent. That’s higher than medication,” he says.
Long-term emotional stress can also require behavior therapy, and our integrative approach includes the physical and emotional treatment.
Adjust your diet
Sometimes, headaches can be caused by chemical, rather than physical symptoms. Recently, several studies have suggested that migraines could be caused by our gut bacteria, and that those who suffer from migraines may be more sensitive to certain foods, especially ones that are high in nitrate preservatives, such as hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, pepperoni and ham. Other foods, such as those high in MSG (such as soy sauce), and sulfates (such as in red wine), have also been known to cause headaches.
In fact, our gut is often referred to as our “second brain” because it is where many of our neurons and hormones are produced, which affect our mood and our brain function. For example, our gut produces the majority of our serotonin, and those who suffer from migraines often have low serotonin levels.
If you’re interested in having your gut bacteria levels checked, schedule an appointment with Patricia DeAngelis, MS, APRN, a functional medicine practitioner and nurse practitioner, at the Center, who can make recommendations about what foods to add or eliminate from your diet to balance out your good and bad bacteria.