Painkillers will do the trick for the occasional headache, but if you're slammed with them on a weekly or even daily basis — as 45 million Americans are — you need a better solution. Here, proven strategies that can ease, and even eliminate, chronic headache pain
Crack open a window
When a home is well-sealed, indoor levels of mold, perfumes, smoke and other irritants can skyrocket, worsening headaches for one in four sufferers, according to research at Johns Hopkins University. An easy Rx: Open a few windows to air out those pollutants. Keep them open long enough for a refreshing breeze to sweep out stale smells. Repeat as necessary to circulate some fresh air throughout your home, study authors say.
Sneak in some ginger
Add 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ginger to your daily diet, and you could tamp down even chronic headaches within one week, say researchers at Connecticut’s Manchester Memorial Hospital. Credit ginger’s active ingredient, gingerol. Danish studies suggest this powerful anti-inflammatory that is chemically similar to aspirin blocks the formation of pain-triggering compounds called leukotrienes in the brain.
Tip: Use ginger to add a zesty dash of flavor to stir fries, rice dishes, soups, casseroles and dipping sauces, grate it over ice cream, or steep it to make a tea.
One in three headaches are triggered — or made worse — by blasts of sunlight, say UCLA researchers. The reason? When bright light hits the delicate retinas in your eyes, it activates your brain’s pain nerves. To stay ache-free, slip on shades before you head outdoors on bright days, even if you don’t think you need them.
Sniff tangerine essential oil
Spend one minute three times daily relaxing and inhaling the tangy, sweet smell of tangerine essential oil, and you could reduce your risk of tension headaches in as little as one week, say Stanford University researchers. Tangerine’s aromatic compounds soothe the central nervous system, relax tight neck and scalp muscles, plus boost your brain’s production of a pain-soothing compound called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), says Hyla Cass, M.D., author of Eight Weeks To Vibrant Health. Look for it in health and whole foods stores.
Avoid herbal slip-ups
If you use prescription pain medication to tame your worst headaches, check with your doctor or pharmacist before trying any herbal remedies. Surprising University of Utah research suggests that some of today’s most popular herbs — including ginkgo, ginseng, St. John’s wort and valerian — can counteract prescription pain meds, leading to nasty headache flare-ups.
Warm up before working out
According to Columbia University researchers, up to one in four headache-prone women are hit with brain pain within five hours of exercising if they jump into vigorous workouts without warming up. The culprit? Rapid changes in blood flow can trigger painful swelling of brain blood vessels. To prevent the problem, do your first 10 minutes of exercise at a leisurely pace, then gradually pick up the speed, Columbia researchers suggest.
Eat more vegetarian meals
When women pile their plates with fruits, vegetables, legumes and 100-percent whole grains, their headache frequency is reduced by 70 percent, and their attacks are 66 percent shorter and less painful, say doctors at California’s Loma Linda University. “These healthy carbs contain hundreds of natural anti-inflammatories that quickly lower the amount of headache-triggering inflammation your body produces,” says Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Sip mullein leaf tea
Drink 16 ounces of this herbal brew daily and you’ll tamp down blood vessel and scalp muscle inflammation, reducing your risk of headache flare-ups in as little as 10 days, say Stanford University researchers. Credit mullein’s rich supply of natural anti-inflammatories. Look for mullein leaf tea in whole-food stores and well-stocked department stores like Walgreens. It can taste a bit bitter, so sweeten to taste with sugar or honey.