Understanding Headache Pain

Understanding Headache Pain 2

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is driving a nail into your head, tightening a steel band around it, or that there is a tiny man in there playing the drums or tap dancing? Sometimes this pain can be related to unruly, uncooperative or demanding children, spouses, coworkers, or it can be related to the day-to-day grind of traffic and demands put upon us!

Everybody will suffer a headache at some point in their life. Often characterized by a sharp pain or a throbbing or pounding sensation in your head that may appear gradually or suddenly, headaches can last for several hours or for the unlucky ones, several days. Below are some supplement and lifestyle suggestions that may help you relieve headache pain.

Understanding headaches

There are two main types of headaches: primary headaches and secondary headaches.

Primary headaches come in many forms, including stress or tension headaches, cluster, organic and rebound headaches, as well as migraine headaches. These are not associated with any disease and account for more than 90% of all headache complaints.  Migraines are vascular in origin and may be preceded by visual disturbances, loss of peripheral vision, and fatigue. They can be triggered by many lifestyle factors, such as alcohol (in particular red wine consumption), poor posture, lack of sleep, stress, hunger, weather fluctuations, estrogen cycle, bright lights, strong odors and food additives.

Read more about the worst chemical food additives

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Secondary headaches are associated with a disease that can activate your head's pain-sensitive nerves. These headaches can have a wide degree of severity and their cause is very wide ranging – from medication to treat other disorders, brain aneurysm, brain malformations, brain tumors, carbon monoxide poisoning, Glaucoma, to ingestion of monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Several factors contribute to headaches for both men and women, including family history and age. Headaches are often caused by muscle tension, vascular problems, or both.  Women tend to have more headaches than men (lucky us!) due to hormonal fluctuation that occurs during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Higher estrogen levels (when you are younger) may help improve your headaches, while lower estrogen levels (after menopause) may make it worse. Estrogen level also has a strong impact on the frequency of headaches.

Relieving headaches

Most headaches can be relieved or at least made manageable by the use of over-the-counter pain medications. However, their effectiveness is often reduced through repeated use. In essence your body becomes used to them and they become less effective. As well, these types of drugs are often prone to abuse and may be habit-forming, where users can become addicts, dependent on them day to day.

Some supplements can help to relieve pain caused by headaches or reduce instances:


This simple herb looks like a tiny daisy and, in fact comes from the same plant family. Multiple studies on feverfew found some degree of benefit in the prevention of headaches and migraines. In a recent, well-designed clinical trial, 170 patients took a placebo pill or feverfew for 16 weeks. Those taking feverfew had significantly fewer migraines. It is usually taken daily to prevent, rather than treat, migraines. If you do take feverfew long-term, know that there have been some reports of rebound headaches upon discontinuing use. To avoid this potential effect it is recommended that you slowly reduce the dose over time. Ensure that if you are allergic to daisies that you avoid taking this herb.


Also a member of the daisy family, butterbur has traditionally been used to treat spasms in the respiratory and digestive tract. The leaves and root crowns contain a smooth muscle relaxant that inhibits some inflammatory substances called leukotrienes but also contains liver toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). It is important to choose a formula that is PA-free. Three clinical trials (including one in children and teens) have shown that, taken as a preventative, butterbur safely and effectively reduced the number of migraines after 4 weeks time.


5-Hydroxytryptophan is produced in your body from the amino acid tryptophan. It is used to make the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin. Research indicates that 5-HTP may prevent and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. In multiple studies, people were given 5-HTP or pharmaceutical drugs. After four and six months, 5-HTP was found to be as effective in reducing migraine severity and duration. Try taking a minimum of 600mg each day in divided doses.


Research shows that medically-supervised treatment with intravenous magnesium helps break migraine and cluster headaches (rare, severe and primarily afflicting men), particularly in those with low levels of this essential mineral. Other trials also have shown that oral magnesium may help reduce the severity of and in some cases prevent headaches. Magnesium deficiency is particularly common in women with menstrual migraines. Try taking a minimum of 600mg a day, making sure you use well-absorbed and bioavailable forms such as a combination of magnesium ascorbate and magnesium citrate.

Read more about the health benefits of magnesium


The research on riboflavin (vitamin B2) is quite encouraging for this inexpensive and safe vitamin. Preliminary trials found 400mg a day for six months cut migraine headache frequency in half and significantly decreased medication use. Another study showed that three months use led to a 50% improvement in over half of participants. Riboflavin is water soluble, which means it is not stored in the body. You must replenish the vitamin every day to maintain optimal levels.


Several studies have found that acupuncture can offer an alternative treatment that can also help patients who suffer from tension and migraine headache. Applying heat or ice, whatever suitable for you may prevent tension headache.

In addition, headache can be relieved with simple lifestyle modifications such as:

  • Reducing your stress level: Stress is a fact of life. The trick it to find ways to make it manageable because in the long run it will cause serious health problems, including insomnia.
  • Exercise: Increasing your daily exercise amount will increase blood flow and help prevent your headaches, decrease your stress level and help you sleep better. Yoga is a wonderful exercise it will improves your flexibility and balance and help you get in touch with your body and your mind.
  • Healthier eating and drinking: Pay attention to what you eat and drink and try to reduce the amount of coffee, chocolate, alcohol, processed food, and refined sugar that you ingested every day. Do not smoke!

While we may not be able to eliminate headaches (and stress) from our lives, we can hopefully minimize their occurrence and stop the tap dancing in our heads!


Image: Mislav Marohni?


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With a Ph.D. in microbiology, Dr. Gallant went on to accomplish her post-doctorate degree. Working as a research associate at the University of Vermont, Dr. Gallant did independent research on periodontal diseases and published multiple articles in a well-respected international journal in this field. With an insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding of human conditions, as a research scientist Dr. Gallant's interest in nutraceuticals was heightened. Intrigued by the challenge of translating discoveries and knowledge into something beneficial for the public, Dr. Gallant joined the Global Botanical team in September of this year. Currently in charge of the Quality Control / Quality Assurance departments, Dr. Gallant is also utilizing her research skills to investigate and develop new products for Pure-le Natural, Easy Vitamins & Minerals and Health4All, while working with other researchers to clinically investigate the quality, potency and efficacy of Natural Health Products. Dr. Claude Gallant is looking forward to assisting the Global Botanical team to better the Natural Health Products industry. In her efforts to make this world a better place, she will once again embark on writing informative and educational articles on behalf of Global Botanical for health magazines. Dr. Gallant is excited to join the “Naturally Savvy” team with articles written from a woman's perspective.