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General characteristics

General characteristics

The term headache is used to describe any generalised pain in the head or neck area. The headache usually arises as the result of either constriction or dilation of the blood vessels, inflammation in the surrounding tissues or muscular contraction and spasm in the muscles in the head.

This can happen for a wide variety of reasons including high and low blood pressure, anaemia, constipation, hangover, dehydration, eyestrain, tension and stress, over-exertion from physical work, intense studying, tiredness, muscle strain and tension, depression, sinus congestion, infections, fever, hunger (hypoglycaemia), dental or jaw problems, liver congestion, detoxing and special cleansing diets, kidney problems, hormonal changes (menstruation, menopause etc), food sensitivities, over/under sleeping, postural problems, some medications, neuritis, anger or emotional outbursts, toxic states in the system, blood clots, tumours, caffeine and caffeine withdrawal, overuse of stimulants, physical trauma, concussion, allergies, eye problems, poor diet and nutritional deficiencies, arthritis in the surrounding joints and arteriosclerosis.

To treat a headache successfully it is useful to have an idea of the underlying cause and remedy that in the long term, especially if they occur more regularly. General healing objectives are to keep the bowel working well and regularly (daily), keep the body properly hydrated with water, and to provide the body with proper nutrition.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Refer to particular ailments (such as sinusitis) for more specific dietary advice.

In general the diet needs to be based on fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds with an avoidance of refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods.

Eat regular meals and to avoid blood sugar imbalance.

Fibre is crucial to keep the digestion and bowels in good health and avoid constipation. Include raw and lightly cooked foods and wholegrains daily.

Dark green leaves and sour foods can help to stimulate the liver and ease a headache.

Keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of fresh water, fresh juices or herb teas.

Eat at least an apple a day, better to eat two a day.

Spicy and warming foods can help to relieve headache, especially if caused by infection or congestion of blood and mucous, so include a pinch a chilli or similar in your meals or herb teas or add a pinch to a small glass of warm water.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Refer to particular ailments (such as high blood pressure) for more specific ideas on treating the long term underlying causes of the headache.

A simple, effective pain formula could consist of the tinctures of meadowsweet, white willow, vervain and black cohosh. The first two herbs are rich in pain relieving and blood thinning salicylates (from which 'aspirin' was derived), the latter two are useful in relieving muscular and emotional tension. Use equal parts of each herb and take a teaspoon of the mix every few hours if needed in a little water.

If digestion is sluggish and nausea accompanies the headache then the liver may need help so try a formula made from blue flag, dandelion root, wood betony, holy thistle, burdock root and chamomile tinctures. Use equal parts and take a teaspoon of the mix in water with main meals, up to 3 teaspoon a day.

You could add some celery seed to the above formula also.

Rosemary has a particular affinity for the circulation of the head and can be used to treat many types of headache including migraine and digestive/liver headache but should be avoided with hot, bursting kinds of headache (when there is too much blood to the head). Apply the diluted essential oil to the head or add a few drops of tincture to water and drink or apply the crushed fresh leaves to the head.

Yarrow has a tonic action on the blood vessels and on circulating blood and fluids so is well worth including regularly if headaches are frequent.

Herbs for tension headache due to stress or anxiety include valerian, hops, st johns wort, damiana, skullcap, lime flowers, lavender, chamomile, passion flower and lemon balm.. Choose 3 or 4 of the listed herbs and combine to a formula to use in times of stress, tension and when relaxation and headache relief is needed.

Crampbark can be added to the above formula or used alone if tension and muscular spasm are involved.

Ginkgo can help a headache caused by reduced blood flow to the head.

Ground ivy can be useful when tension or congestion is the cause.

Natural healing

Natural healing

For headaches where constriction of the blood vessels is the cause try placing a warm compress over the forehead for relief. For headaches based on too much blood in the head use a cold compress. Sometimes alternating between both hot and cold compresses will do the trick. Whichever one works for your headache will give a good clue as to the actual mechanism causing your headache.
Vinegar can help ease a headache, boil equal parts vinegar and water and inhale the fumes. You could also try soaking a pad in cider vinegar and applying it to the head.
Take a teaspoon of cider vinegar in a little water with meals each day.
Essential oils of lavender, rose, rosemary, lemon verbena and mint can help if diluted in a little vegetable oil and dabbed on the temples.

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