Q: Hello, Mr. Norris. I’m a big “C-Force” fan, and I’ve really enjoyed this series you’ve done on how certain nutrients can help treat and prevent headaches. So what about exercise and herbs? I’ve gotten a lot of relief from slow jogging. – Sonia C., Tempe, Ariz.
In Part 1, I answered a reader’s question about what foods we can eat and eliminate from our diet to help us naturally prevent and treat headaches.
In Part 2, I addressed another reader’s question about what vitamins play a natural role in relieving headaches.
In Part 3, I discussed the role certain minerals can play in helping to treat and prevent headaches.
Regarding herbs, the editors of Prevention reported that some university tests and other studies show that spice ginger might be another natural cure for headaches because it improves blood circulation. Researchers at Odense University in Denmark believe ginger blocks prostaglandins, substances that cause pain and inflammation in blood vessels. They recommend a third of a teaspoon of powdered ginger daily in oatmeal, etc.
Also, taking 100-200 milligrams daily of coenzyme Q10 with ubiquinol, a vitaminlike compound critical for cellular life that helps enzymes create energy, has been shown to reduce migraine headaches.
Feverfew is probably the most popular herb touted as a natural remedy for headaches, commonly taken in 100- or 125-milligram doses. Like so many other natural herb remedies, feverfew affects blood circulation health – relaxing blood vessels, decreasing inflammation and improving circulation within the brain.
Feverfew often is combined with magnesium and riboflavin for migraine relief. Feverfew also is combined with ginger in the product GelStat, which has had success in some headache treatment centers.
There are other contributors to headaches – for example, not eating regularly (which causes low blood sugar and alters bodily chemicals) and smoking (which increases the risks of stroke and headaches). Reducing stress, practicing relaxation and improving sleep patterns are all helpful to preventing and reducing headaches, too.
Nutrition expert and author Joy Bauer further points out, “Research shows that physical therapy, when performed by a licensed physical therapist, is effective at treating migraines when paired with acupuncture, acupressure, biofeedback or massage.”
A study in the journal Neurology also found that being overweight is linked to severity and frequency of migraines. Fitness magazine similarly reported that “physically inactive adults are at least one and a half times more likely to suffer from recurring headaches and migraines than those who exercise vigorously at least three times a week,” according to a recent Swedish study.
Intense and unusual forms of exercise can actually exacerbate headaches, but regular low-impact exercise (such as walking, swimming and low-speed cycling) has been proved to reduce frequency, severity and duration of headaches by reducing tension.
In October, Men’s Health reported that though 1 in 5 people who suffer from migraines regarded exercise as a trigger, “a new study published in the journal Cephalalgia found that 40 minutes of cycling three times a week had the same preventative effect on migraines as medication and relaxation exercises,” according to the Swedish researchers.
But don’t go crazy on a stationary bike or treadmill; slowly work up to a moderate speed and intensity. And always stretch and warm up before you exercise.
Low-impact exercise can help headaches by minimizing blood vessel inflammation via the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and because exercise reduces muscle tension and improves blood flow to the brain.
Fitness magazine offers one more suggestion: yoga. Researchers at the University of Rajasthan in India discovered that three months of yoga can reduce the frequency and overall intensity of migraines by half or more.
Gwen Lawrence, a sports yoga instructor in Westchester, N.Y., told Fitness: “The skills you build with yoga translate to better form during other exercises as well and will give you more support, and therefore stability, in your neck and skull. The end result is fewer headaches.”
As always, consult with your physician or health practitioner before changing your diet or altering your physical activity.
For a more holistic medical approach, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.