Natural, powerful, time-tested relief
If you’ve ever had a migraine, then you know that it’s more than just a headache. The pain… the nausea… the sensitivity to light… it’s a living nightmare.
Migraines can knock you off your feet for hours, sometimes even days. And chronic sufferers feel the impact across nearly every facet of their lives—not just physically, but emotionally, personally, and professionally.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s often no clear cause. Or cure.
So if you’re desperate for an end to this struggle, I’m here to tell you some good news.
Because with a little trial and error, relief is within your reach. The first step, as always, is nailing down the root cause so you can work to eliminate it from your life.
We’ll talk about some common triggers you can look out for—and research-proven natural solutions—in a moment. But first, let’s differentiate migraines from run-of-the-mill headaches…
Not your average headache
Migraine pain can be intense and severe. And it’s often (but not always) focused on one side of your head. Other common symptoms include nausea and vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound.
There are several stages to migraines, and you might experience one or all of them. For some people, there will be symptoms before the headache actually strikes. This is called the “prodrome” phase—and it might include mood changes, constipation, fluid retention, cravings, or even visual disturbances like flashes of light or blind spots.
Then, even when a migraine attack ends, you may not feel fully recovered. This “hangover” (postdrone) phase can leave you feeling drained and disoriented. And sudden movements may trigger aftershocks of pain.
Of course, chronic sufferers may know when a migraine is approaching—and can try to prepare for what’s to come. But knowing your personal triggers is especially important.
For some, strong smells can be a trigger. (For me, it was always the smell of asphalt being laid in the street.) For others, migraine attacks may accompany hormone shifts, like PMS, or sleep disruptions (see page 5). But for a lot of people, the answer may not be so clear.
The truth is, many factors contribute to migraine attacks—including the examples above, as well as changes in the weather and excessive alcohol or caffeine intake.
And when it comes to a migraine attack, physically, several factors might be involved—including changes in pain pathways in the brain and imbalances in pain regulating brain chemicals, like serotonin.
But there is one key driving factor that you’ll find behind all types of headaches: Stress.
Chronic stress goes to your head
The stress that I’m talking about here isn’t necessarily big picture stuff, like death or divorce, either. It’s the everyday stressors—heavy traffic, work pressure, dealing with a pandemic that just doesn’t want to go away—that really contribute to chronic migraines.
This type of chronic stress leads to muscle tension, teeth grinding and jaw clenching, and a much stiffer posture. All of which combine to make headaches—of any kind—much, much worse.
Luckily, though, this is one factor where the right coping strategies can make a world of difference. So, adopt some relaxation techniques. Make time for pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, dancing, playing cards, reading a book, or playing with a pet or grandchildren. Or aim to set aside even just 10 minutes daily for meditation, yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing techniques.
I also encourage you to exercise. Indeed, exercise is my favorite tool for stress management. And the fact that it’s also an effective treatment against migraines shouldn’t surprise you at all.
In fact, a recent study highlights the positive effects of
regular physical activity for migraine relief and prevention.
Exercise is the best medicine
As part of a 2011 study, Swedish researchers compared the migraine preventing power of exercise to relaxation techniques and medication.
The researchers separated 91 migraine patients into three groups: One group exercised under the guidance of a physiotherapist for 40 minutes three times a week. Another group performed relaxation exercises. And the third group took a migraine drug called topiramate.
The study lasted for three months. Researchers evaluated migraine status, quality of life, aerobic capacity, and exercise levels before, during, and after the study period—with additional follow-ups after three and six months.
In the end, all three groups saw a decline in migraines, and there was no difference in prevention between the three approaches.1
In other words: Regular exercise and relaxation techniques ward off migraines just as effectively as topiramate—a prescription drug with common side effects that include blurred vision, clumsiness, dizziness, unusual tiredness or weakness, and memory, speech, or language problems. So, in my view, natural approaches are the far superior choice here—as they deliver powerful benefit, with no (side effect) strings attached.
Obesity nearly doubles your risk
Of course, another benefit of consistent exercise is that it can help keep your weight in check—and it just so happens that weight plays a major role in migraine risk, too.
Researchers looked at data from nearly 4,000 adults with an average age of 47 years. Of these subjects, 188 struggled with migraines, suffering an average of 41 days each year from an attack.
Turns out, obese subjects—those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher—were 81 percent more likely to wind up with migraines than normal-weight subjects.2 And the more obese the subjects were, the greater their risk. This connection was especially prominent among white women under the age of 50.
Now, these results don’t necessarily mean that losing weight is an effective way to reduce migraines. Nor do they mean that obesity is a definite cause.
But research certainly points in this direction: A 2019 meta-analysis of ten studies featuring nearly 500 patients showed that weight loss is associated with significant drops in migraine frequency, pain intensity, disability, and duration of attacks.3
Researchers aren’t positive why this is—but chronic inflammation almost certainly plays a role. That’s because, as I often report, inflammation is the No. 1 root cause of most illnesses and chronic conditions.
Plus, like I’m always telling you, there aren’t many conditions that losing weight won’t help to reverse. That brings me to the next—and arguably most important—key migraine prevention strategy: Dietary changes.
Kick fake sugar to the curb
Whether you’re trying to shed some pounds, stop migraines, or both, kicking processed foods to the curb is critical. Nitrites—found in processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs—and monosodium glutamate (MSG) are particularly notorious migraine triggers.
But one common mistake that dieters often make is using artificial sweeteners. And this is a particularly BIG mistake for migraine sufferers.
Of course, refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup are poison. But artificially sweetened beverages and snacks are not the healthy alternatives that they’re made out to be. And here are two of the worst offenders…
1.) Aspartame (Equal—the blue packet, NutraSweet)
Aspartame is virtually everywhere—you’ll find it in over 6,000 foods and beverages around the world. Research shows that diet soda containing aspartame is linked to higher incidence of strokes, heart attacks, and vascular disorders.
And guess what a migraine is: a vascular condition. These headaches occur when a blood vessel to your brain constricts and then immediately opens up too wide. So needless to say, aspartame is bad news.
Lab studies on animals have also shown that aspartame can cause seizures and brain tumors. Other studies have linked aspartame with mood disorders, and yes, migraine headaches.
That’s because, in addition to vascular disorders, aspartame seems to affect levels of brain neurotransmitters like serotonin, tyrosine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. And anything that can affect brain chemistry is something you want to stay away from—whether you suffer from migraines, or not.
2.) Sucralose (Splenda—the yellow packet)
Splenda has been linked with migraine headaches in humans—among many other problems. Animal studies have also suggested a higher risk of anemia, male infertility, brain lesions, kidney disorders, miscarriages, and even death.
Long story short: These are two sneaky triggers that you can start avoiding TODAY. But to really pack a punch against migraine attacks, what you’re adding to your diet is just as important as what you’re removing…
Fill up on fish
A recent study looked at the impact of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on chronic migraines in 182 adult subjects.
The patients all received meal kits featuring fish, veggies, hummus, salad, and breakfast items. Then, they were each randomly assigned one of three diets for the next 16 weeks:
- One diet boosted intake of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA to 1.5 grams per day, while keeping the omega-6 linoleic acid at roughly seven percent of energy intake.
- The second diet also boosted EPA/DHA to 1.5 grams per day, but lowered linoleic acid intake even more significantly.
- The third diet served as the control, and kept linoleic acid at around seven percent, with an EPA/DHA intake of less than 1.5 grams per day—which is more in line with the average American diet.
Unsurprisingly, increased EPA/DHA intake boosted patients’ blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. But here’s the really important part: Both intervention diets also improved scores on the Headache Impact Test (HIT-6), compared to the control diet.
Unfortunately, the effect wasn’t large enough to be statistically significant. But the improvements in migraine frequency were a whole different story…
Subjects on the diets high in omega-3s suffered 1.3 fewer headache hours daily, and two fewer headache days monthly.
In subjects who followed the second diet (which was high in omega-3s, low in omega-6s), results were even better: These patients suffered 1.7 fewer headache hours daily, and four fewer headache days monthly.4
Finally, both intervention groups had shorter, less severe migraines compared to controls.
Now, if you ask me, these results speak for themselves. But it’s still worth noting that current migraine drugs on the market don’t even perform this well. (Recently approved treatments cut monthly migraine days by only two to two-and-a-half days, compared to placebo.)
In other words, consuming more omega-3s could potentially work twice as well at preventing migraines than pharmaceuticals. (And it’s almost certainly cheaper.)
So—start enjoying wild-caught fish and seafood as part of your healthy, balanced diet. I often recommend opting for oily, dark, lean fishes like salmon, tuna steak, mackerel, herring, and sardines, as they contain the highest levels of EPA and DHA. I also recommend supplementing with three grams (3,000 mg) of EPA/DHA daily.
But that’s not all you can do to help gain some natural migraine relief…
Cut migraines in half with melatonin
There’s also a growing body of evidence pointing to the role of melatonin—a sleep hormone secreted by the pineal gland—in managing a wide range of headache disorders. All the way from migraines to cluster and tension headaches.
Most of the clinical research on melatonin and migraines has focused on prevention. In fact, one study showed that taking melatonin for two to six months cut migraine frequency in both kids and adults. And a good 75 percent of these patients had their migraines reduced by half—if not more—by the end of the trial.
In addition, another trial showed that a 3 mg dose of melatonin was as effective of a 25 mg dose of amitriptyline (a tricyclic antidepressant) when it came to warding off migraines.5 And these results make a lot of sense, when you think about it…
Research has already connected circadian rhythm disruptions to cluster headache and migraines. Poor melatonin production also paves the way to disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia, and delayed sleep phase syndrome.
And all of these sleep disorders are linked to headaches. That’s why I’ve added melatonin as part of my natural migraine relief strategy for many of my patients.
I recommend a starting dose of 3 mg at bedtime. You can slowly increase the dosage in increments if need be, just never exceed 20 mg. A little experimentation over time will help you find the dosage that works best for you. (But if you’re waking up groggy, you’ve taken too much.)
Don’t skimp on vitamin D
In addition to fish oil and melatonin, you also can’t afford to skimp on vitamin D—and that’s especially true as we round the bend into a colder, darker season.
In yet another study on migraine patients, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, researchers found that every single patient was deficient in vitamin D. And those with chronic migraines (defined as headaches on more than eight days each month) had even lower levels of D than those with episodic migraines (headaches on less than eight days a month).
Translation: People with the lowest level of vitamin D had the most migraines.6
Plus, another study of 65 migraine patients showed that those who took 1,250 mcg (50,000 IU) of vitamin D weekly had a 16 percent decrease in headache frequency compared to those who didn’t take any vitamin D at all.7
In a similar study, when doctors added vitamin D to standard drug treatment for migraines, the number of migraine attacks over a six-month period dropped by as much as 85 percent—from an average of seven attacks, to an average of one.8
Clearly, adequate vitamin D intake can help prevent and treat headaches. The trick, as always, is making sure that you’re getting enough.
Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D 25 OH blood levels every six months. Your number should be between 80 and 100 ng/mL. But if you’re like the vast majority of people, it’s probably much lower than that—and you’ll need at least 125 mcg (5,000 IU) of vitamin D3 per day to reach optimal blood levels.
If your levels are deficient (below 30 ng/mL), or if repeat testing shows your levels aren’t budging, I suggest increasing your dose. I personally take 250 mcg (10,000 IU) of vitamin D3 daily, and so do many of my patients. Doing so is perfectly safe with regular monitoring.
Cannabis to the rescue
Last, but certainly not least, is my current favorite natural pain reliever: Cannabis (also referred to as marijuana).
The fact is, marijuana is more than just a recreational drug. And if you really want to get some relief without pharmaceuticals, research shows that inhaled cannabis could cut headache and migraine pain in half.
In this study, researchers looked at data from nearly 2,000 patients who used a monitoring app close to 20,000 times to track symptoms before and after cannabis use. They found that self-reported headache severity dropped by 47.3 percent with cannabis use. And self-reported migraine severity dropped by 49.6 percent.9
Concentrated products like cannabis oil delivered even greater benefits. But, importantly, there wasn’t any notable difference between high-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high-cannabidiol (CBD) strains. (Those are marijuana’s two main cannabinoids—the former is what gets you “high,” while the latter has no psychoactive effects.) Meaning you have options, depending on what works best for you.
Today’s medical-grade marijuana is potent and quality-controlled. And it’s available in many different forms, ranging from the traditional flower to my personal favorite, pure CBD oil.
So if street drug stigma has been stopping you from experimenting with this particular option, I encourage you to work with a licensed practitioner, and to try a dosage and form that you’re comfortable with. You really have nothing to lose (except for a lifetime of chronic pain).
Smart supplementation is key
Now, while I have outlined many supplements for migraine relief and prevention already, I do have one last combination to share—and it’s one I’ve been prescribing (with great success) for decades:
- Feverfew—50 mg, three times per day
- White willow bark—400 mg, three times per day
- Magnesium—300 mg, twice daily
I often recommend taking this trio together for continual relief.
The bottom line is, whether you can successfully pinpoint your own migraine trigger, you don’t have to consistently suffer—and you don’t have to succumb to dangerous prescription drugs, either. Because as research shows, and as I’ve outlined here, healthy lifestyle choices and smart supplementation can help tremendously.
SIDEBAR: When your migraine turns serious
Most headaches are nothing to worry about. But I understand how they can be quite ominous. So, go to your doctor or visit an emergency room if your headache:
Is sudden and severe;
Accompanies a fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness, or difficulty speaking;
Follows a head injury, fall, or bump;
Gets worse despite rest and treatment.
- Varkey E, et al.Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: A randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls.Cephalalgia, 2011; DOI: 10.1177/0333102411419681
- Peterlin BL, et al. Episodic migraine and obesity and the influence of age, race, and sex.Neurology. 2013 Oct 8;81(15):1314-21.
- The Endocrine Society. “For migraine sufferers with obesity, losing weight can decrease headaches.” Science Daily, 03/23/2019. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190323145207.htm)
- Ramsden CE, et al. “Dietary alteration of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for headache reduction in adults with migraine: randomized controlled trial.”BMJ2021;374:n1448.
- American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 65th Annual Meeting. Abstract S40.005. Presented March 20, 2012.
- IannaccheroR, et al. P060. Vitamin D deficiency in episodic migraine, chronic migraine and medication-overuse headache patients. J Headache Pain. 2015; 16(Suppl 1): A184.
- MottaghiT, et al. Effect of Vitamin D supplementation on symptoms and C-reactive protein in migraine patients. J Res Med Sci. 2015 May; 20(5): 477–482.
- CavirA, et al. “Effect of vitamin D therapy in addition to amitriptyline on migraine attacks in pediatric patients.” Braz J Med Biol Res. 2014 Apr; 47(4): 349–354.
- Cuttler C, et al. “Short- and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Headache and Migraine.”The Journal of Pain, 2019; DOI:10.1016/j.jpain.2019.11.001