A migraine is more than a headache; it is a painful, debilitating experience. Most people who suffer migraine headaches get them regularly. The Migraine Research Foundation refers to chronic migraines as a surprisingly common neurological condition (1):
- One billion people worldwide experience regular migraine headaches
- Women experience them more often than men—eighty-five percent of chronic sufferers are female
- Migraines run in families
- Migraines are the sixth most debilitating condition in the world
- Millions of people experience daily migraine headaches
- Ten percent of school-age children have recurrent migraines. While there are drugs to stop the pain, having a supply of natural migraine remedies on hand to relieve (and even prevent) them is the best option.
What is a Migraine?
A migraine differs from a regular headache in its intensity, duration, sensation, and causes. A headache usually lasts for a few hours and feels like a dull pain squeezing the head. A migraine is a severe throbbing pain, usually concentrated in the front or one side of the head and can last for several hours to days.
A headache usually occurs spontaneously, with no other symptoms. Migraines are often preceded by visual auras or “seeing stars”, extreme sensitivity to light or sound, unusually acute sense of taste or touch, and/or change of mood. Migraines can start while sleeping; headaches do not.
Other psychological changes can occur before and during a migraine, including:
- Feeling fearful
- Trouble with memory
Physiological changes that can accompany migraine include:
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or face
- Double vision or loss of vision
- Loss of balance
- Nausea or vomiting (2)
Sometimes symptoms of a migraine begin a day or two before the actual onset of a headache, such as:
- Stiff neck
- Frequent yawning
- Strange food cravings (3)
It’s not only the intense pain that makes migraines so difficult to endure, it’s the secondary symptoms that can make them debilitating. For many, migraines are flat-out incapacitating.
Headaches are caused by tension or constriction of muscles of the head and neck—hence the term “tension headaches”. There is no one definitive cause of migraines. There are, however, known triggers that singly or together will cause a migraine in someone predisposed to them.
How to Cure a Migraine
Many people turn to pharmaceuticals for migraine relief.
- Over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin may help mild or moderate migraines. However, long-term use of these can cause ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and (ironically) medication overuse headaches. (4)
- Triptans are very commonly used for migraine treatment. The way they work is by constricting blood vessels to block the brain’s pain pathways.
- Ergots are prescribed for infrequent migraine of long duration. Ergotamine comes from a type of fungus and constricts muscles and blood vessels. It is known to be toxic at high levels and comes with a list of potentially dangerous side effects. (5)
- Opioids are narcotics and addictive. In fact, prominent members of the North American medical community have conceded that there is an epidemic of opioid overuse, misuse, addiction, and death. They’ll get rid of a headache though.
- Glucocorticoids like prednisone are synthetic corticosteroids that mimic adrenal hormones to quickly reduce inflammation and depress immune system response. They are very commonly prescribed for a host of inflammatory conditions. The well-known risks of this type of drug are:
“…clinically significant and sometimes severe psychological, cognitive, and behavioral disturbances that may be associated with glucocorticoid use…The majority of patients experience less severe but distressing and possibly persistent changes in mood, cognition, memory, or behavior during glucocorticoid treatment or withdrawal,” according to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. (6)
Hence, it’s much preferable to go straight for some all-natural migraine remedies instead of the popular drugs above.
20 At-Home Migraine Remedies
The challenge of migraines is two-fold: learning how to get rid of headaches when they occur (and having a bunch of go-to migraine cures) and what triggers them for you. While you figure it out, rely on these tried and true migraine remedies to stop the pain and get you back on track!
1. Himalayan Salt and Lemon
This drink will rehydrate you, stop your migraine and alkalinize your body. Traditionally, it only contains two ingredients: salt and water, but the added lemon in this recipe makes it even more effective!
- ½ tsp. Himalayan pink salt
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 1 glass of water
All you have to do is stir your lemon juice and salt in the water and drink your pain-relieving remedy.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
If your migraine is caused by dehydration, apple cider vinegar works quickly to restore minerals and pH balance.
- Add one tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar to a glass of water.
- Mix in one tablespoon of honey.
- Drink this daily to prevent as well as treat migraines.
If you are not used to taking apple cider vinegar, start by taking one teaspoon and gradually increase the amount. During migraine attacks or when you feel them coming on, you can take two or three tablespoons.
Some people respond to the inhalation of apple cider vinegar in a steam bath to nip a migraine in the bud.
You will need:
- 1/4 cup of ACV
- Roughly 3 cups of boiling water
- 1 cup of filtered water
- Pour ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar into a large bowl, and then fill the bowl halfway with boiling water.
- Place a towel over your head so that it drapes over the bowl, trapping the steam, and hold your face over it. Make sure your face isn’t so close that it gets burned by the steam.
- Do this for 5-10 minutes, or when the water starts to cool down, breathing in and out deeply the whole time.
- When you’re done, use the towel to pat your face dry, and go drink a glass of cool water.
3. Ice Pack
Of all the migraine remedies on this list, this is the most straightforward: Ice numbs pain. Simple.
- Wrap a few ice cubes in a clean towel and place it on your temples, forehead and/or the back of your neck for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat as needed.
- You can also try alternating hot and cold compresses for about 15 minutes, as needed. For better results, add lavender and/or peppermint essential oils to the water for the compress.
4. Peppermint Oil
Simply put, peppermint oil reduces pain and relieves stress. Inhaled through aromatherapy or massaged into the temples, forehead, and back of the neck, peppermint releases tension and calms the nervous system. (7) Plus, the menthol and methyl salicylate in peppermint are antispasmodics. (8)
Peppermint works quickly and is one of the easiest natural migraine remedies to use.
- Simply drink peppermint tea sweetened with a touch of honey. Repeat as needed.
- You can also massage each of your temples with one drop of peppermint essential oil or a combination of peppermint and lavender oils. Leave it on for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Do this a few times a day until you get relief.
5. Lavender Oil
Phytochemicals in lavender put this herb in the top five essential oils for calming the nervous system and soothing pain and anxiety. Lavender is an anticonvulsive that regulates serotonin, a hormone secreted in the brain whose actions are a contributing factor in the occurrence of migraines.
Lavender oil can be either inhaled or applied topically. Two to four drops for every two to three cups of boiling water are recommended when inhaling lavender oil vapors as a headache treatment. Unlike many medicinal oils, this home remedy can also be safely applied externally without the need to dilute it. Lavender oil should not be taken orally.
6. Cayenne Pepper
Did you know that cayenne pepper can be used in migraine remedies? Actually, cayenne contains capsaicin, a potent pain reliever. In fact, this phytochemical blocks pain signals to the brain.
“Topical capsaicin acts in the skin to attenuate cutaneous hypersensitivity and reduce pain by a process best described as ‘defunctionalization’ of nociceptor fibres. This defunctionalization is due to a number of effects that include temporary loss of membrane potential, inability to transport neurotrophic factors leading to altered phenotype, and reversible retraction of epidermal and dermal nerve fiber terminals,” writes the British Journal of Anaesthesia (9)
- Mix one-half to one teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a cup of warm water.
- Optionally, add some lemon juice and honey to improve the taste as well as health benefits.
- Drink this as needed.
In addition, cayenne promotes blood flow to provide oxygen and nutrients throughout the circulatory system. One study found that capsaicin, when applied to the inside of the nostrils, can rapidly alleviate migraines. If you opt for trying this, be aware that cayenne can cause a burning sensation, so apply it with a carrier oil in very small amounts. (10)
Nuts can be a trigger for migraines in some people but can alleviate it in others. The salicin in almonds stimulates the production of melatonin, a brain hormone involved in sleep patterns. Melatonin reduces pain reception and can prevent migraines in those who regularly suffer them. In fact, salicin is also an agent in popular over the counter killers.
For everyday tension-type headaches, almonds can be a natural remedy and a healthier alternative to other medicine. Try eating a handful or two of these wholesome nuts when you feel the ache start to set in.
8. Feverfew Tea
This herb is an effective pain reliever thanks to a substance called parthenolide, a muscle relaxer, and antispasmodic compound. A British study found feverfew effective in preventing chronic migraines and reducing pain intensity when they do occur. (11)
- 1 ounce fresh or dried feverfew flowers
- 1 pint of boiling water
- Add 1 ounce of fresh or dried feverfew flowers to 1 pint of boiling one.
- Steep for 10 minutes, and then strain.
- Drink half a cup twice a day as needed.
9. Take a Bath
A virtual panacea, a warm bath is the simplest of migraine home remedies. First, the warm water is soothing and comforting. A quiet, dark bathroom adds to the feeling of relaxation. Next, Epsom salts replenish depleted minerals, especially magnesium, a deficiency of which can cause headaches and muscle tension. Lastly, the addition of essential oils reduces stress and calms down pain receptors.
Soak for at least 40 minutes in the bath—the first 20 minutes is to detoxify and relax. The second half allows the body to absorb nutrients through the skin and nose. Use the following guide for how much Epsom salt to add to the bath water. Feel free to add a few drops of the essential oil(s) of your choice: such as peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, marjoram, or basil.
- Children under 60 lbs: ½ cup
- Individuals between 60-100 lbs: 1 cup
- People weighing between 100-150 lbs: 1½ cups
- Individuals between 150-200 lbs: 2 cups
- For every 50lbs more – add an additional ½ cup of salts.
10. Fish Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids can alleviate and prevent migraine pain by reducing inflammation and nourishing the brain, promoting proper neural communication. DPA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) fatty acids in fish oil promote blood flow and heart function, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the constricted vessels in the head and neck. Fish oil and olive oil decrease the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches through these mechanisms. (12)
- 1 tablespoon of fish oil OR fish oil oral supplements
- 1 glass of orange juice
- If you are taking fish oil capsules, follow the dosing on the bottle. If using the actual oil, mix a tablespoon into a glass of cold orange juice and drink up! It’s really not as bad as it sounds.
11. Ginger Tea
Ginger root is a potent anti-inflammatory. It also has the ability to reduce nausea that can accompany migraines. Studies show that using ginger for migraines is as effective as sumatriptan, without any of the drug’s side effects. (13)
- A 2-inch piece of ginger
- A cup of boiled water
- A teaspoon of honey
- 1/2 teaspoon of lavender flowers
- A tea strainer
- Peel and grate ginger.
- Add ginger and lavender into the strainer and place in the water.
- Steep for 5-10 minutes.
- Remove strainer and add honey for taste.
Of all the traditional migraine remedies out there, butterbur is probably the least known. The root of this plant contains petals in, a substance with anti-inflammatory and vasoactive properties (regulates blood pressure through constriction and relaxation of blood vessels). It has been found extremely effective in preventing recurrent migraines. (14)
Please keep in mind that Neurology Times issued a warning in 2015 that continual long-term use of butterbur can damage the liver by virtue of its constituent pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). Look for butterbur extract that is certified “PA-free”. (15) Butterbur may, therefore, be a natural migraine remedy that should be used only occasionally.
Butterbur can be taken in several different forms, including consuming it whole or taking in a powder form. It is also available in pill form, tea or as a tincture. An effective dosage of butterbur is 50 to 75 milligrams twice a day.
Flaxseeds contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids that support neurological function and cognition. A different triglyceride exists in flax that is not found in animal products: ALA, alpha-linolenic acid. Enzymes, vitamins (especially B6), and minerals in the body convert ALA to EPA and DPA. These omega-3 fats play an active role in cell signaling and internal inflammation.
Flaxseed can be used as a home remedy in several forms, including oil and ground or whole seeds.
This often overlooked whole grain contains the anti-oxidant flavonoid pigment rutin. This phytochemical promotes vascular function, including blood circulation and the relaxation of constricted blood vessels. Additionally, rutin has anti-inflammatory properties that are effective in easing various types of pain. (16)
Buckwheat can be eaten as a comforting breakfast porridge. Because it’s gluten-free, buckwheat is an excellent flour choice that can be used as a wheat substitute.
15. Quit the Caffeine
The consumption of caffeine is a complicated matter and has a lot to do with your individual tolerance and body chemistry. It is a common trigger for migraines but can also cure them.
If you’re used to drinking coffee each day and abruptly stop, you can experience withdrawal headaches. Caffeine tolerance builds over time, so if you suffer from chronic migraines and are a daily caffeine drinker, you may consider weaning yourself from it and make note of any changes.
For some, caffeine can be a migraine cure, especially when taken with other headache medications, as it amplifies their strength. Caffeine restricts blood vessels that can block pain reception. On the other hand, this action can also cause headaches. (17) It’s a personal trial-and-error option.
16. Stay Hydrated
Because our bodies are composed mostly of water, dehydration can cause many uncomfortable reactions, including migraines (and even death, under extreme circumstances).
Dehydration results in decreased blood volume and brain shrinkage that can stimulate pain receptors in the tissue that surrounds the brain. Blood vessels alternately contract and expand, causing inflammation.
Electrolyte depletion often accompanies dehydration, which exacerbates a headache. Potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium are critical minerals to maintain hydration in the body. Coconut water is an excellent source of electrolytes.
Studies have found that people who maintain proper hydration suffer fewer migraines. (18). Don’t drink a lot of water all at once; rather, drink throughout the day. Add lemons or apple cider vinegar to stay hydrated, reduce inflammation, support digestion, and alkalinize the body. It’s also important to drink water before and after a meal to make sure it doesn’t just rush through your body.
The ancient practice of acupuncture can alleviate and prevent migraines. In fact, a 2008 study published in the American Headache’s Society Journal of Head and Face Pain found unequivocally that “TA [traditional acupuncture] was the only treatment able to provide a steady outcome improvement” in migraine treatment of the methods studied, including the use of prescription migraine drug Rizatriptan. (19)
18. DIY Scalp Massage
There’s a reason we have the instinct to rub something when it hurts. Massage therapy has been shown to be a very effective method of alleviating the frequency of migraines and improving sleep, even for weeks after therapy ends. (20)
If you suffer chronic migraines, it’s worth trying a self-massage every day and noting any changes. You know that it certainly won’t hurt you and will more than likely help.
- Gently massage your head with your first two fingers in a circular motion. While massaging, keep in mind that there are pressure points at locations like the base of the skull, middle of the forehead (between the eyebrows) and corners of the eyes that when pressed correctly help relieve pain.
- Alternatively, heat two tablespoons of sesame oil. Mix in one-half teaspoon each of cinnamon and cardamom powder. Let it cool so that it is warm but not hot. Test the temperature on the back of your hand. Then, apply this mixture on your forehead and massage. Leave it on for a few hours before washing it off.
19. Eat an Apple
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that constricts blood vessels, but its mechanism in the manifestation of a migraine isn’t fully understood. Choline (an essential nutrient) synthesizes acetylcholine; what is known is that low levels of choline in the blood—hence, acetylcholine—are associated with migraine headaches.
Apples actually increase the production of acetylcholine in the brain. (21) One Chicago study found that smelling a green apple reduced the intensity of a migraine and shortened its duration. It’s thought that the scent relieves muscle constriction, thereby alleviating pain. (22)
20. Weather-related Migraines
Since you can’t change the weather and unless you’re willing to move to a different climate, weather-related migraines are difficult to prevent.
Migraine Again suggests the following (23):
- Stay adequately hydrated.
- Remain indoors to reduce exposure to bright light, drastic temperatures, and high humidity.
- Invest in special glasses – even when you’re indoors, fluorescent lights and other bright lights can aggravate some migraine sufferers. Block indoor lights and outdoor glare with migraine glasses using a tint called FL-41.
- Check the weather forecast to plan for what’s ahead. Some weather websites have a feature for “Personalized Forecasts”, including “Migraine”. You can enter your location and it will tell you what weather conditions will be for the next few days in the context of people susceptible to migraines.
- Get a barometer – it will indicate changes in air pressure that may contribute to a migraine. There’s also an app for that.
Conventional Migraine Prevention
It’s one thing to know the migraine remedies you can rely on when a migraine hits, but prevention is always the best medicine.
There are as many drugs for migraine prevention as there are for migraine treatment. Prescribed for people who experience frequent migraines, they are taken regularly to avoid the onset of the condition. Prolonged use of any medication is fraught with risk; these are no exception.
- Tricyclic anti-depressants – regulate different neurotransmitters and have a sedative effect. (24) Side effects range from blurred vision, constipation, and low blood pressure to seizures, normal heart rhythm, sexual dysfunction and increased risk of suicidal behavior (25).
- Beta and calcium channel blockers – block stress/pain hormones that act as neurotransmitters from connecting with nerves, stopping the pain. Side effects include lupus, respiratory spasms, depression, hallucinations, headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, hair loss, insomnia, stomach cramps, blurry vision, and more. (26)
- Anti-convulsant medications – like the other drugs, this type of medication interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain. Valproate and topiramate are used to prevent migraines. Valproate is toxic to the liver and can cause brain damage in a fetus. (27, 28) Researchers aren’t sure why topiramate works to prevent migraines but they do know that it increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter, and decreases glutamate, an exciting one. (29) Side effects include drowsiness, nervousness, menstruation disruption, heartburn, nosebleed, weakness, body pain, vision impairment, chills, cognitive difficulties, arrhythmia, fever, vomiting, and other others. (30)
Natural Migraine Prevention
Natural remedies for migraines are preferable to toxic medications because they work with your body rather than against it.
The first step is to pay careful attention to what precedes a migraine for you: what did you eat? Have you been getting enough sleep? Do you have allergies? Do you drink enough water? Are you under a great deal of stress? Avoid known personal triggers and keep some home remedies for migraines ready if you feel one coming on.
It is thought that migraines are caused by a combination of factors, not necessarily by any one thing.
Common migraine triggers include:
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency
- Dehydration, hunger
- Stress (emotional or physical)
- Hormonal changes
- Lack of sleep
- Too much caffeine
- Intense exercise
- Bright or flickering light, loud noises, strong smells
- Medications (sleeping pills, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy)
- Menstrual cycle (changes to estrogen levels)
- Weather changes (lightning, barometric pressure, temperature changes, heat, and humidity) (31, 32, 33)
- Foods that contain tyramine (an amino acid that contributes to the regulation of blood pressure) (34), nitrates (cured and processed meats), or monosodium glutamate (35).
Being mindful of your own patterns can help avoid migraines or lessen their severity. When in doubt, the natural migraine remedies above will help you feel better and move on with your day as smoothly as possible.