Ouch, My Head Hurts!

Headaches are an all-too-common pain in the face and head that a majority of the population, 96%, experience in their lifetime.

In my previous post and video, I reviewed all the main points about headaches.

Topics covered included:

  • Classifications of headaches (primary and secondary)
  • Common types of headaches (tension, migraine, and cluster)
  • Causes of headaches
  • When headaches are serious (the “SNOOP” acronym)
  • Functional medicine tests to consider if the contributing factors of headaches are not clear

In this article and video, I’ll review the common causes of headaches and the naturopathic and functional medicine approaches aimed to soothe an achy head based on these specific triggers.

Knowledge of these aspects about headaches can help to guide you and your physician as to what may be aggravating the ache in your face and head. This will result in a more personalized treatment protocol that addresses the problem from its root for lasting relief.

For my community members, stay tuned for more information on using essential oils for headaches to be posted in your membership vault and essential oils database.


Knowing the Danger Signs of Serious Headaches

Naturopathic and functional medicine share the core philosophy to find and address the root cause of health issues, rather than only alleviating symptoms. Headaches signal an underlying imbalance, and if they are reoccurring, finding their origin is paramount for sustained relief.

One thing that’s equally critical is to rule out a medical emergency. Although most headaches are not a cause for concern, some are serious and need prompt intervention. Critical issues such as extremely high blood pressure, internal bleeding, traumatic injuries, infections, and toxins have specific warning signs that will accompany a headache. These can be remembered by the acronym “SNOOP”:

  • S: Systemic illness or condition (e.g., fever, history of immune deficiencies, or pregnancy)
  • N: Neurologic signs or symptoms (e.g., confusion, dizziness, numbness, weakness, seizures, and/or bulging eyes)
  • O: Onset is new or sudden (especially if age over 50)
  • O: Other associated features (e.g., head trauma, substance use, headache awakens from sleep, and/or it is precipitated by coughing or exertion)
  • P: Previous headache history with progression or change in characteristics

Once a headache is deemed not acutely dangerous, moving onto addressing the underlying imbalance and personalized interventions can ensue.

Conventional Treatments for Headaches

As one is addressing the origin of chronic headaches, it can take time for the body’s neurological pathways to rewire. During this process, sometimes immediate relief from the discomfort is needed to get through the day.

Over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, aspirin, and Excedrin migraine are used as conventional treatments for acute headaches. For more severe types, such as migraines, prescribed drugs and medical procedures may be recommended. These include:

  • Beta-blockers (a type of blood pressure medication)
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Botox injections

Although these interventions can provide pain relief, they are often not sustaining and can come with unwanted side effects.

In the following sections, we’ll highlight some of the most common causes of headaches and natural approaches to address them.


Addressing the Root Causes of Common Headache Types


Common Causes and Natural Solutions for Headaches

Some common triggers of primary headaches can include:

  • Lifestyle factors: e.g., lack of sleep, alcohol and nicotine use, caffeine withdrawal, and/or too little or too much physical activity
  • Missing meals: resulting in low blood sugar and neurological stress
  • Dietary triggers: some of the most associated ones are alcohol, food additives (e.g., dyes, colorings, and aspartame), monosodium glutamate (MSG), caffeine, nitrates and nitrites (found in processed meats), and aged cheeses (high in the compound tyramine, a breakdown product of an amino acid)
  • Food groups: one of the most common are histamine-containing or forming foods, especially if the headaches are allergy or sinus related (e.g. fermented foods, alcohol, aged cheeses, citrus, legumes, and processed meats)
  • Muscle tension and poor posture
  • Chemical exposures
  • Hormonal imbalances: hormones interact with brain signaling molecules and have receptors located in the brain.

Dealing with Food and Environmental Triggers

Food and environmental exposures are often contributors to many headaches. Both allopathic and integrative practitioners will seek to identify these aggravations. Whereas conventionally avoidance for the long-term is often recommended, a holistic approach would aim to modulate the immune response to these triggers to enhance resiliency.

Optimizing tolerance would entail balancing gastrointestinal immunity to address sensitivities to food and enhance one’s digestive health. Also, supporting the body’s detoxification processes and balancing the neurological response to these exposures should be implemented as much as possible.

In order to accomplish this, the gut-brainliver link must be addressed via healing a “leaky gut.” The barrier of the intestinal lining can become permeable (“leaky”) from these triggers and other factors and induce immune activation. As a result, compounds can be released systemically rather than effectively processed by the gastrointestinal tract and liver. This causes inflammation in the body and leads to irritation in the nervous system and brain.

Dietary patterns, lifestyle factors, probiotics, and other supplements can be used to promote better gut-brain-liver health and seal the “leak.” These include:

  • decreasing toxic exposures by eating organic foods, purchasing non-toxic personal care and cleaning products, and filtering our home environment (i.e., water filters, air purifiers, and diffusing essential oils)
  • doing movement that is nourishing
  • being mindful of liver-harming medications
  • drinking coffee (to assist with liver support, but take caution, as it can aggravate headaches for some people)
  • getting adequate sleep
  • enhancing stress reduction
  • eating nutrient-dense, plant-powered, and gut-loving fermented foods (e.g., yogurt, kimchi, etc.)
  • taking probiotics as needed
  • utilizing specific nutrients and herbs as indicated (milk thistle being most evidence-based for liver health)
  • using various essential oils, which act as antioxidants to protect the liver from cellular stress and inflammation, support the microbiome, and aid digestion (see my essential oils database)

Other lifestyle factors to help take care of yourself and avoid triggers for common headaches include:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Stretching
  • Implementing ergonomic work set ups
  • Getting massages and chiropractic adjustments as indicated

Nutrition and Nutrients for Brain Health

Feeding your brain with nutrient-dense foods can lower inflammation, decrease oxidative stress, and support neurotransmitter production. This can lessen the chance of head pain.

Eating proteins alongside healthy fats and carbs in regular intervals can also nurture the brain and balance blood sugar. This means not skipping meals or fasting. Not only does low blood sugar stress the brain, it also causes havoc to hormones, leading to headaches.

Research also has found that “supplementation with magnesium, carnitine, riboflavin, niacin, CoQ10, vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and alpha lipoic acid have prophylactic and therapeutic effects on migraine patients.”


Supplements for Headaches

Melatonin and feverfew are two additional supplements that have scientific evidence for efficacy in migraine and primary headaches.


Mind-Body Approaches

Mind-body approaches have been shown in some studies to alleviate headache symptoms. These include:


Summary on Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Approaches to Headaches

Headaches are a real pain. The good news is that eating a nourishing diet, practicing mind-body stress relief, implementing lifestyle interventions, and using personalized supplementation will do wonders for many to alleviate them.

However, the best interventions for re-occurring headaches aim to address the specific cause.

If addressing the common triggers isn’t enough, functional testing may be indicated to assess physiological issues, such as hormone imbalances.

Just taking a supplement because it has evidence for alleviating a symptom is not likely to help in the long-term or provide lasting relief. Furthermore, if it’s not indicated, it could cause additional issues and side effects.

It is my hope that this information can help ease the pain in your head and guide you and your doctor to a personalized wellness protocol for your specific needs.

Share your experiences below.

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Many blessings.



  1. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/integrative-medicine-treatment-for-headaches
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554510/
  3. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9639-headaches
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8088284/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29571016/
  6. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/what-is-headache-hygiene/
  7. https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s10194-019-0984-1
  8. https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-histamine
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5012937/
  10. https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13104-020-05181-4
  11. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/feverfew#migraines
  12. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/relaxation-techniques
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27106030/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22517298/

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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)

This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.

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