7 Natural Headache Remedies That Work

These simple, everyday tweaks may help you ease the pain.

Black man does yoga in a sunny room

Medically reviewed in December 2020

Updated on November 19, 2021

If you’re all too familiar with the dull throb or stabbing pain of a headache, you’re not alone. Headaches are very common. In fact, nearly half of adults worldwide have experienced one (or more) within the past year.

Headaches come in several forms, with the most common ones falling into a few categories:

  • Tension headaches, the most common type, are often linked to stress. They’re marked by pain on both sides of the head, sometimes described as a tight band around the temples. They can last for a few hours or up to several days.
  • Cluster headaches, which are less common, are characterized by head pain with signs and symptoms on the same side of the head as the ache. These include drooping of the eyelid, narrowing of the pupil, redness of the white part of the eye, and runny nose. The pain typically lasts from 15 to 180 minutes. The pain may subside but then return in clusters of up to eight attacks per day for a period of days, weeks, and even months.
  • Migraine headaches typically occur on one side of the head. The pain is often described as pulsing or throbbing. Additional symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to lights and sounds.

When symptoms strike, a headache sends most people straight to the medicine cabinet. But pills aren’t the only solution. These natural approaches may help you find relief—or even avoid headache pain in the first place.

Modify your diet
If headaches are a regular occurrence, try adding foods to your diet that are rich in magnesium (including green vegetables and whole grains) and riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2 (found in low-fat dairy and eggs). Some evidence suggests that these nutrients may help prevent or ease headache pain, but more research is needed to confirm their benefit.

A review of studies published in 2019 in The Journal of Headache and Pain, meanwhile, suggests that boosting intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon or in fish oil supplements, may also help keep headaches at bay.

It’s also a good move to eliminate known migraine trigger foods—like caffeine, alcohol, red wine, chocolate, and aged cheeses—from your diet. A good rule of thumb is to be sure your overall diet is healthy and balanced, with a good mix of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats from fish and vegetable sources.

Stay hydrated
Not drinking enough water can bring on a headache or migraine. If dehydration is the cause of your head pain, research has shown that upping your fluid intake can help you find relief within 30 minutes to 3 hours. Staying hydrated may also help you avoid headaches to begin with.

You may be familiar with the guideline of drinking eight cups of water each day, but some people may benefit from increasing this level even further. Check with your healthcare provider (HCP) about a hydration habit that makes sense for you.

Use heat or cold therapy
Depending on the type of headache you get, you may find relief by using a heat pack or cold compress. People who get migraines tend to prefer cold therapy, while heat may be more beneficial for tension headaches.

Use heat or cold in moderation, for no more than 15 minutes at a time, a few times a day. Place a towel or cloth between the source and your skin, and make sure you don’t fall asleep with any type of heating pad on.

Grab a yoga mat
Yoga is thought to help ease headaches by relieving stress, one of the major causes of headache pain. A 2019 review of research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine suggests that yoga can help reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of tension headaches. Sign up for a weekly yoga class in your neighborhood or try yoga workouts you can do at home.

Talk to your HCP about an herbal remedy
Some herbs can be an effective alternative or complement to prescription or over-the-counter pain relief:

  • Ginger helps soothe migraine symptoms by working as an anti-inflammatory. One 2013 study suggested that the use of ginger powder may be just as effective as a commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drug called sumatriptan in treating migraine pain. Results from a 2018 study recommend that ginger may be a beneficial addition for treating migraine attacks, though it’s been less promising in studies in preventing migraines.
  • Peppermint oil, rubbed onto the temples and forehead, may also provide relief from headaches. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help soothe the pain and ease the tight muscles associated with tension headaches.

Before you try any herbal remedies, alternative treatments, or over-the-counter medications, speak with your healthcare provider (HCP) to discuss any potential side effects or harmful interactions they may have with other medications you may be taking. Ginger, for example, may lower blood sugar levels and raise blood pressure. Many herbals and over-the-counter medications can interact with blood-thinning medications, rendering them less effective at preventing blood clots.

Explore acupuncture
The small, thin needles used in this ancient form of Chinese medicine may offer benefits when it comes to migraine relief. A 2020 review of studies published in Neurology and Therapy found that acupuncture may help reduce the frequency and duration of migraines without the side effects of medication. Further research is needed to determine how to incorporate acupuncture effectively into an overall migraine treatment plan.

Get better sleep
Studies have found that not getting enough sleep or having poor sleep habits can trigger migraines and increase the frequency of tension headaches. You probably know to aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. You can help make shut-eye a priority by building good sleep habits like these:

  • Stick to a consistent sleep-wake schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends and holidays.
  • Establish a nightly wind-down routine. Relax by reading a book, listening to soft music, or taking a warm bath before bed.
  • Create a sleep-inducing environment. Keep your bedroom cool and dark, use it only for sleep and sex, and keep digital devices out.
  • Avoid things that can keep you up at night. That includes large meals, caffeine or alcohol, and those hard-to-put-down devices.
  • Be mindful of your daytime routine. Habits like staying physically active, getting sunlight exposure, and avoiding naps during the day can help ensure a better night’s rest.

If you have persistent headaches that are interfering with your day-to-day life, start by talking to your HCP. Together, you can come up with a plan to diagnose any potential underlying issues, eliminate remaining headache triggers, and discuss your best options for treatment. 

Correction: A previous version of this article cited research from 2011 indicating that taking feverfew may reduce the severity and duration of a migraine. This line has been removed, based on a 2015 Cochrane review indicating low-quality evidence for the efficacy of feverfew for migraine relief.

Article sources open article sources

World Health Organization. Headache disorders. April 8, 2016.
National Headache Foundation. Hot and Cold Packs/Showers. Accessed November 12, 2021.
Razeghi Jahromi S, Ghorbani Z, Martelletti P, Lampl C, Togha M. Association of diet and headache. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2019 Nov 14;20(1):106.
National Headache Foundation. Diet for People with Headache Disorders. Accessed November 12, 2021.
Teigen L, Boes CJ. An evidence-based review of oral magnesium supplementation in the preventive treatment of migraine. Cephalalgia. 2015;35(10):912-922.
Schoenen J, Jacquy J, Lenaerts M. Effectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraine prophylaxis. A randomized controlled trial. Neurology. 1998;50(2):466-470.
Maghbooli M, Golipour F, Moghimi Esfandabadi A, Yousefi M. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine. Phytotherapy Research. 2014 Mar;28(3):412-5.
Bhering Martins L, Dos Santos Rodrigues AM, Fernandes Rodrigues D, Dos Santos LC, Lúcio Teixeira A, Versiani Matos Ferreira A. Double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of ginger ( Zingiber officinale Rosc.) addition in migraine acute treatment. Cephalalgia. 2019 Jan;39(1):68-76.
Göbel H, Heinze A, Heinze-Kuhn K, Göbel A, Göbel C. Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache. Der Schmerz. 2016 Jun;30(3):295-310.
Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010 Aug; 68(8): 439–458.
Anheyer D, Klose P, Lauche E, Joyonto Saha F, Cramer H. Yoga for Treating Headaches: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2020 Mar;(35)846–854.
Urits I, Patel M, Putz ME, Monteferrante NR, Nguyen D, An D, Cornett EM, Hasoon J, Kaye AD, Viswanath O. Acupuncture and Its Role in the Treatment of Migraine Headaches. Neurology and Therapy. 2020 Oct;(9)375–394.
Kim J, Cho SJ, Kim WJ, Yang KI, Yun CH, Kyung Chu M. Insufficient sleep is prevalent among migraineurs: a population-based study. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2017 Apr;(18)50.
Houle T, Butschek R, Turner D, Smitherman T, Rains J, Penzien D. Stress and sleep duration predict headache severity in chronic headache sufferers. Pain. 2012 Dec;153(12):2432-2440.
Sleep Foundation. Sleep Hygiene. Updated August 14, 2020.

More On

10 Minute Meditation for Migraines

video

10 Minute Meditation for Migraines
Self-Help for Headaches

article

Self-Help for Headaches
Next time you get a nagging headache, try a little fingertip therapy. You might feel better more quickly. Your temporalis muscle: With your index a...
8 Surprising Migraine Triggers

slideshow

8 Surprising Migraine Triggers
See if you recognize any of these unusual triggers.
What Is a Breakthrough Migraine?

video

What Is a Breakthrough Migraine?
COVID-19-Tips to Reduce and Prevent Migraines

video

COVID-19-Tips to Reduce and Prevent Migraines