Natural Ways to Help Migraines: The Best 15 Alternative Strategies
The best migraine treatment plans are often multi-pronged, involving a mix of medications, lifestyle choices, and natural remedies. Here we’ve gathered 15 of the top natural ways to help migraines, from getting a better night’s sleep to herbal supplements and soothing tech.
As you explore possible alternative treatments for migraines, remember the best strategies vary for each migraineur and specific natural remedies may interact with certain medications. Always talk with your doctor about safe alternative therapies, and track your responses so you pinpoint treatments that genuinely improve your quality of life.
Discover 15 natural ways to help migraines
Explore simple, natural methods to help avoid and manage migraines.
1. Sleep is a natural way to help migraines
Poor sleep is a known headache trigger, and research shows that improved sleep minimizes headache frequency and severity. A 2019 review of several studies involving sleep interventions for migraine and tension-type headaches found a significant drop in headache frequency and intensity among patients following sleep hygiene instructions.
And a 2010 study from researchers at Missouri State University found a biological link between inadequate REM sleep and migraine pain. In the study, REM sleep deprivation caused increased production of specific proteins that initiate and sustain chronic pain.
So if you have trouble sleeping or have insomnia, follow these tips for healthy sleep:
- Set your circadian rhythm with natural light.
- Exercise daily (but not close to bedtime).
- Create a peaceful bedroom used exclusively for sleep and intimacy.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
Too much sleep may also be a sign of a sleep disorder or sleep apnea, and can trigger migraines. If you find you are sleeping a lot and still feeling tired, talk with your doctor to discuss possible interventions on top of a healthy sleep routine.
2. Mindfulness and meditation can help relieve migraines
Migraine patients benefit from lowering stress levels and keeping stress levels stable over time. Stress can trigger migraines, as can a sudden decrease (or “let down”) in stress. A 2014 study found that patients had an increased risk of headache the day after they reported a drop in stress levels in their migraine tracking diaries.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an effective stress management strategy when practiced regularly. A 2016 study found that MBSR reduced perceived pain levels among patients with chronic headache. Another study found that patients who practiced MBSR experienced 1.4 fewer migraines per month.
Read Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by Linda Lehrhaupt and Petra Meibert, or take an MBSR class to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.
3. Narrow band green light is a safe and non-invasive way to help migraines
When a migraine is in full swing, your focus turns from prevention to comfort and management so you can work, read, or relax. While natural light and full-spectrum light intensifies pain for migraineurs with light sensitivity, a very narrow band of green light has been shown to minimize the worsening of headache by light.
That’s because these specific green light waves produce smaller electric signals in the brain than red, blue, yellow, and other green light waves — and larger waves are translated into more pain. The Allay Lamp emits only this precise band of green light that soothes the brain, helping you to read, work, meditate, or spend time with family during an attack.
4. Yoga can help migraines naturally
In addition to improving flexibility and building strength, a gentle yoga practice can help manage your migraines. A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that migraine patients who participated in a yoga program, in addition to conventional medical treatment, experienced fewer and less intense migraines than their counterparts who received medical treatment alone.
Migraineurs should avoid intense and inverted yoga poses, which can aggravate symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the best style yoga for you, and let your yoga teacher know you have migraine so they can suggest alternate poses when needed.
This yoga for migraine video from Yoga with Adriene is a gentle jumping-off point for a new yoga practice.
5. Pressure points can help relieve migraines naturally
Pressure point massage can reduce headache symptoms, including the pain and nausea of migraines. Unlike acupuncture and reflexology, you can learn to use this alternative therapy yourself.
To get started address these pressure points:
- The muscle between your thumb and forefinger: Massage this muscle for several minutes in a circular pattern and then switch to the other hand.
- Shoulders: Many people carry tension in their shoulders. Ease this tension through massage and pressure.
- The occiput: The area where your head meets your neck is another site of tension build-up. Using your fingertips, gently massage the back of your neck and the base of your head to reduce pain and stress.
6. Ginger can help migraines
Though more research is needed, in one study powdered ginger appeared to be as effective at reducing headache pain as a common prescription migraine medicine, sumatriptan. You can easily incorporate powdered or fresh grated ginger in many recipes to add a delicious kick. Or, you can try this comforting recipe for turmeric-ginger tea.
7. Water helps migraines
Dehydration is a trigger for approximately one-third of migraine patients, and research has found that increasing water consumption (up to about 10 cups a day) can prevent headaches or reduce their severity. Keep a glass or bottle of water on hand to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
Bonus benefit: Recent research has found that even mild dehydration can reduce cognitive function. Drinking more water can help keep you sharp.
In addition, here are a few other drinks that help headaches.
8. Magnesium is a natural way to help migraines
Research suggests magnesium deficiency is more common among migraine sufferers, and magnesium supplements are commonly prescribed for migraineurs. Magnesium helps prevent neuron overactivity and hypersensitivity, both of which contribute to the development of chronic migraine.
Intravenous magnesium is a medical practice commonly used to treat acute migraine attacks. But you can talk with your doctor about increasing your magnesium with supplements or through your diet. Foods with high magnesium levels include:
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, and collard greens)
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts)
- Pumpkin seeds
Here are a few other foods that can help migraines go away.
9. Acupuncture to help migraines
Acupuncture practitioners insert thin needles into the skin to stimulate precise points around the body. A randomized trial published in the Journal of the American Medical - Internal Medicine found an association between true acupuncture treatments and fewer headaches among migraine patients without aura. And there is a substantial body of research confirming acupuncture as an effective treatment for chronic pain and nausea. If you’re interested in trying out this natural remedy, ask your doctor to recommend a trusted acupuncture practitioner.
10. Biofeedback can be a natural way to relieve migraine symptoms
Similar to mindfulness, biofeedback aims to help migraineurs learn to relax and lower their stress load. However, biofeedback includes working with a practitioner who attaches electrodes that may measure your heart rate, muscle tension, skin temperature, or even brainwaves.
You then learn relaxation techniques, including deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, as real-time results show which strategies work best. To get started, just ask your migraine-care doctor for biofeedback practitioner recommendations.
11. Omega-3 fatty acids can help migraines
A 2017 scientific research review concluded omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of migraines. Though more research is needed, the benefit likely comes from the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s. Common sources of omega-3s include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines), walnuts, and ground flaxseed.
12. Coffee or tea helps migraines
Beverages such as coffee or tea (hot or iced) contain caffeine, which can reduce headache pain. But caffeine should be used sparingly (only once or twice a week) according to the American Migraine Foundation because overuse can trigger headaches.
13. Chocolate can naturally help migraines
In addition to small amounts of caffeine, cocoa may also reduce inflammation in an area of the brain associated with migraine. But stick to small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate and track your response because chocolate is a common trigger and overconsumption is unhealthy.
14. Warm or cool compresses help migraines
Direct heat from warm packs can help lessen the pain of tension-type headaches as warm compresses can soothe the tense muscles that can aggravate migraine pain. Alternatively, cool compresses can reduce the sensation of pain.
Be wary of temperature extremes, however, which can cause discomfort and increased tension. As always, experiment with new management strategies and track your response in your headache diary.
15. Essential oils might help migraines
A small 2012 study found that inhaling the scent of lavender during a migraine attack helped reduce symptoms. Studies have also found that peppermint oil (applied topically) is more effective than a placebo for tension headaches. Other essential oils, including rosemary and sage, may help lower stress levels — which has known positive benefits for migraineurs.
The best things for migraine relief vary
People coping with migraines know that triggers, symptoms, and even effective treatments can vary widely between patients. The same is true for natural migraine remedies.
Additionally, the best therapies may vary by headache type. For example, people with migraine, cluster headaches, and brain trauma are often highly sensitive to light and benefit from narrow band green light therapy. And magnesium may be most effective for the treatment of migraine with aura and menstrual migraines.
Work with your migraine-care doctor, and don’t give up! Use a migraine diary to track your response to different conventional and alternative treatments. Your most effective strategies will come into focus as you record your responses in detail.
Tips for instant migraine relief
Here are therapeutic strategies that work fast and you can easily try on your own:
- Pressure point massage. Try the different locations mentioned above, or gently massage areas where you carry the most tension.
- Warm or cool compresses. Use tap water to warm up or cool down a washcloth and press it to your forehead or the back of your neck. A warm shower is also an effective way to relax your shoulder muscles.
- Narrow band green light therapy. Sitting with a precise band of green light wavelengths can soothe light sensitivity relatively quickly. Turn off overhead lights and close the curtains to block light waves that produce pain. Then turn on your narrow band green light therapy lamp and relax or continue with your day.
- Coffee or tea. Caffeine reduces inflammation and works quickly. Brew yourself a cup of coffee or tea if you need instant migraine relief. Caffeine is helpful for hypnic headaches, which produce sudden headache pain at night.
Use these natural ways to help migraines
It often takes a blend of traditional and natural strategies to manage migraines. With the go-ahead from your doctor, explore some of these natural therapies to find new ways to minimize the pain and disruption of migraines. Next up, learn how to manage your migraines.