Alternative treatments for migraine headaches can help you reduce symptoms, with or without medication.
Prescription medication is a common treatment method for people who live with severe migraine headaches. But there are alternative options available.
You may also find relief through natural remedies. Many of these alternative treatments can be used to prevent migraine episodes or reduce headache symptoms.
Do you experience occasional or frequent migraine headaches? And are you looking for a holistic way to treat them? Here are 13 treatment options to consider using to treat or prevent your next migraine episode.
Before trying any of these natural migraine remedies, you may want to speak with a medical professional. They’ll help you determine any potential risks and help you determine which ones may be most effective for you.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of alternative medicine in which thin needles are administered into specific body parts. And evidence suggests it can relieve migraine symptoms.
“For migraine, an acupuncturist will typically arrange the needles based on various pressure points on the head. This specific placement may help to alleviate [the] pressure that causes migraine tension and pulsations,” says founder of KaraMD Dr. M. Kara.
Nurse practitioner and migraine health coach Courtney Beck FNP-C adds that it also helps to activate your body’s natural healing and anti-inflammatory responses by releasing pain-reducing endorphins.
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Some essential oils for migraine prevention and relief include:
“These oils can target migraine [symptoms] because they help to reduce inflammation and relax the muscles, both of which are important factors for pain relief,” adds Kara.
Although studies suggest that aromatherapy can heal migraine symptoms, Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of telehealth app Clearing, created for people living with chronic pain, warns of concerns about essential oils instigating migraine and potential toxicity with improper use.
Essential oils aren’t to be consumed and should be used as aromatherapy, or you can mix them with a carrier oil before applying it to your skin or adding it to the bath.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
Taking an over-the-counter magnesium supplement can help to restore low levels to relieve migraine tension and ward off future headaches. Beck notes that magnesium threonate, glyconate, or malate are the best options for migraine relief.
You may also consider eating foods high in magnesium such as nuts (especially almonds), seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
“Magnesium is an essential nutrient found in the body, but low levels can cause nausea, fatigue, and muscle contractions that might lead to the onset of migraine [attacks],” explains Kara.
Hascalovici notes that
Butterbur is an herb made from the leaves of a shrub. Beck explains that butterbur has anti-inflammatory and vessel dilation properties. “This helps with blood flow, increasing oxygenation, and relaxing muscles, which is known to help with decreasing pain.”
Beware: Using butterbur can lead to hepatotoxicity (liver damage). Other side effects may include diarrhea, stomach upset, and allergic reaction.
As a safety precaution, a 2019 study recommends avoiding butterbur with pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA).
Herbs aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way as medications are, so there might be concerns that the product you’re using doesn’t meet standards for lack of contamination or quality of the product.
As time goes on, more research suggests that cannabis offers several potential healing benefits, including migraine relief. A
“Cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinoids Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabis are all linked with favorable outcomes when it comes to migraine and headache treatments,” adds Hascalovici.
While there are a number of similarities between the two types of cannabinoids there are also many differences. CBD is nonintoxicating compared to THC, which is intoxicating, giving you a high sensation.
Hascalovici notes that the benefits aren’t always consistent due to variability with strains, product quality control, and regulation. Benefits may also differ due to the form of cannabinoid you choose.
It’s important to note that cannabis is illegal in some states, and you’ll test positive for THC if you use it. If you have concerns about drug testing, consider choosing a CBD isolate, which legally contains up to 0.3% THC
“[A] migraine can interfere with sleep, and poor sleep can lead to migraine, as the body is unable to go through its normal ‘rest and refresh’ processes without adequate sleep,” says Kara. “Melatonin is a well-known natural sleep aid that can help promote restful and quality sleep, which in turn can help with migraine.”
Beck adds that melatonin also has neurological benefits like a prostaglandin inhibiting effect, which may help to decrease pain.
A study from 2019, which consisted of 100 participants, suggests that diamine oxidase (DAO) supplementation may significantly reduce migraine attacks.
DAO is used to reduce symptoms to help those with a high level of histamine in their body which may trigger migraine attacks, also known as histamine intolerance.
“Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), are often used in combination with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antiemetics in acute settings to treat migraine,” adds Hascalovici.
Ginkgolide B comes from the Ginkgo biloba plant, which has strong antioxidant properties.
Kara says this is important for migraine headaches, as “oxidative stress and free radical damage may be a factor that causes the onset of migraine [episodes]. The antioxidant value of this herb can help combat that stress in the body.”
Like other botanicals, Hascalovici notes that quality control, consistency, breeding, and regulation are important factors to consider for clinical use.
Everybody is different, so everyone will have their own unique migraine triggers. Identifying and avoiding yours — whatever they may be — can help to prevent their onset.
“Certain food and drink triggers, like processed food items or caffeine, can cause migraine [attacks] by causing inflammation, dehydration, and issues with circulation,” says Kara.
Hascalovici says that lesser-known triggers can include:
- too much sleep
- weather changes
- intense exercise
- chewing gum
- skipping meals
- perfume or fragrances
Beck says that finding your personal migraine triggers can be challenging, but it’s an important step toward symptom relief. “Elimination diets along with lab testing can be very beneficial to figuring out what your body doesn’t like along with what you could be deficient in,” she says.
Hascalovici recommends keeping a headache journal as well to help you manage and keep track of your migraine episodes.
“Similar to acupuncture, trained massage therapists can target pressure points and nerve areas on the head to relieve migraine pressure,” says Kara. “Massages can help circulate blood flow which is also important for migraine treatment.”
Beck says other health benefits of massages and massage therapy may include:
- lymphatic drainage
- tension relief
- lower stress hormones
“Drinking the proper amount of water each day is essential for many areas of our health as it keeps the organs and systems in the body functioning properly,” says Kara. “Dehydration can often lead to fatigue, nausea, and headaches or migraine [attacks] which is why proper hydration is so important.”
Try to drink water throughout the day to prevent migraine onset. According to Hascalovici, hydration practices, including fluid administration via IV, may be used clinically to alleviate dehydration-related migraine.
As mentioned earlier, migraine attacks and sleep have a complicated relationship. But getting better quality sleep could help to prevent and manage headaches.
“Natural sleep aids as well as lifestyle changes, like limited electronic use and breathing exercises, can help promote restful sleep and lead to a variety of health benefits,” says Kara.
Managing your stress plays an important role in migraine prevention and treatment.
“Excess stress can lead to increased inflammation and poor hormone production, both of which can be factors in causing migraine attacks,” says Kara.
“Since stress management impacts multiple migraine development triggers or pathways, it can be a powerful element of an overall migraine management approach,” adds Hascalovici.
Medication can help treat or reduce migraine symptoms, but it’s not the only option. Alternative migraine relief and holistic migraine prevention are possible with herbal meds and natural remedies like:
- essential oils
- diamine oxidase (DAO)
- Ginkgolide B
- avoiding food triggers
- massage therapy
- improving sleep
- managing stress
If your migraine symptoms don’t ease up with holistic remedies, consider speaking with a therapist or medical professional to figure out the best treatment plan for you.