Natural Relief for Migraine Headache Symptoms

relief of migraine headache

Migraines are much more than headaches and can wreak havoc on your life. Those who suffer with migraines know too well how a migraine can interfere with family time, work, social and travel plans. Though many migraine triggers are predictable and once understood, to some degree avoidable, there are also random and severe migraines that seem to come out of nowhere. There are solutions within naturopathic medicine that can help reduce triggers, symptoms and frequency and provide natural relief for migraine headache problems.

Many migraine patients have been told there is no cure and the best approach is to find rescue medications to use early and as needed. Naturopathic doctors have been treating migraine patients with lifestyle and gentle natural medicine approaches to good effect for decades. While naturopathic approaches may not stop all migraines, you can expect a reduction in number of headaches, severity of pain and duration of discomfort. As a neurological ailment, migraines impact the whole person, not just the head, so it follows that treatments are based on whole-person assessment, understanding and treatment. 

Types of Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches impact about 12% of the population, including children. More common between the ages of 18-44, migraine headaches often run in families. Incidence can be intermittent,  perhaps once or twice a month, but many people have intractable ongoing head pain every day. Most people with migraines are unable to focus on school or work or social interactions when struck with a migraine.

Vision disturbances before or during attacks takes place in about one fifth of all migraine sufferers. Throbbing pain alongside sensitivity to light and sound are also common. Migraine headache pain is often on only one sided and is characterized by intense painfulness. Some people have digestive disturbances or changes in body temperature during a migraine headache. Emergency room visits as well as use of pharmaceuticals is more common for those who endure migraines compared to  people who do not have migraines. 

There are many other kinds of headaches like cluster headache, tension headaches, head pain from the neck being out of alignment, hormonal headaches, headaches that follow head injury and headaches related to digestive disturbances. Migraine headaches are usually more long lasting, more intense and oftentimes more challenging to treat that other kinds of headaches. 

Migraine Headache Causes

What causes a migraine headache? There are many theories that revolve around shifts in blood flow, nerve conduction and muscular reactions. There can be any number of triggers, including inflammation and alterations in neurotransmitters in the brain. Stress in all its manifestations can be another common trigger. Alterations in hormones related to the menstrual cycle and other manifestations of imbalanced hormones can be the culprit for many people. Head injury or previous viral infections may in play. 

Poor and inadequate sleep, and insufficient fluid intake can cause migraines. We see some people develop migraines as a side effect from medication. Some are sensitive to environmental exposures or have residual migraines that begin after a viral or bacterial infection. Some people develop migraines due to constipation and others yet from hypertension. We are seeing an uptick in migraine headache patients due to eye strain and too much time in front of the computer. Some people feel that changes in barometer and humidity can trigger a migraine. Some people suffer from migraines related to pregnancy.

Natural Relief for Migraine Headache

Licensed naturopathic doctors are perfectly suited to help you prevent occurrence and treat your migraine headache. NDs work to identify and treat the underlying cause of your migraines. From the list above, you can see that no two people with migraines are the same, and therefore treatment plans will need to be highly personalized. NDs will take time needed to understand your health history, family history, the nature of your headaches and to contextualize that information within the rest of your overall health– physical, emotional and cognitive. NDs use the Therapeutic Order to help ensure that the most gentle, effective treatments are used first, and aim to stimulate and support your innate healing capacity.

A highly individualized naturopathic medicine roadmap for getting rid of migraines is based on patient history, physical exam and laboratory findings, as pertinent.

An additional upside to naturopathic medicine prescriptions for migraines is that they highlight healthy overall lifestyle, which can improve additional health complaints and quality of life. And, naturopathic medical approaches carry low-to-nil side effects. 

Treatments for relief of migraine headache may include any or all of the following:

relief of migraine headache

Analysis of dietary intake. Many people with migraines have food allergy or food sensitivity. When offending foods are removed from the diet, the incidence, severity and duration of the headaches often decreases. Migraineurs might be sensitive to a specific food such as soy or salt, or a group of foods such as nuts or dairy, high histamine foods. 

Other chemicals and additives in prepared foods such as monosodium glutamate, nitrates, nitrites, or artificial sweeteners,  like aspartame can also be triggering. Yet others may have a migraine set off by alcohol or caffeine. Your naturopathic doctor can help you identify food sensitivities by careful assessment of a diet diary, by using an elimination and re-introduction diet, or by making use of laboratory testing. It can be challenging to give up a beloved food or food group, but patients often find that having less pain is indeed a strong motivator.

In general, an anti-inflammatory diet is recommended characterized by plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from nuts and wild caught fish, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Reducing overall inflammation throughout the body can help to decrease incidence and severity of migraines.  

It is also important to normalize blood sugar levels as high or low blood sugar can trigger a headache. The anti-inflammatory diet is helpful here, as is remembering to eat at regular intervals and introducing intermittent fasting or the elongated the overnight fast, which have been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity and improve glycemic control which in turn help to balance overall blood sugar levels.

Proper hydration. The actual amount of fluid necessary varies from person to person based on size, activity level, and other dietary considerations, but for many people, being adequately hydrated is essential to the prevention of migraine and can make a notable difference. 

Botanicals and supplements. A number of botanical medicines have been associated with a reduction in number of migraines, for instance, the herbs, Gingko (Gingko biloba,) Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and Butterbur (Petasites hybridus), have each been associated  with a reduction in occurrence of migraine. Note that unprocessed butterbur may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) that can cause liver damage, so look for PA-free butterbur products. 

Diffused essential oil of lavender, has shown evidence  of reducing migraine incidence. Other essential oils may have similar impact.

Numerous nutritional supplements have also shown evidence of efficacy in the prevention of migraines. Riboflavin, CoQ10, B vitamins, and magnesium are on the top of the list.

Stress reduction. This has been shown to be a cornerstone of the prevention and treatment of migraine. Regular exercise, mindfulness meditation, biofeedback, massage therapy, enjoying a hobby, being in nature, and time with loved ones, and gratitude all go a long way to unwinding from the stressors of everyday living that for some, are direct triggers for an attack. 

Environmental toxins. For some migraine patients, removing environmental toxins will be part of the equation. Household and personal care products, smoke, air pollution, and other environmental exposures can be ongoing migraine triggers. Trying to replace those items as you can in your home and avoiding other exposures as much as possible,  can help to reduce migraine incidence. See the INM series on Low Toxin Living for further information. 

If you are impacted by too much screen time, consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses. Similarly, if you are triggered by sunlight, invest in a pair of UV blocking sunglasses to wear when outdoors. 

Hydrotherapy. Some patients will benefit from a short (5-minute) hot foot bath at the onset of a migraine. Others do well with ice packs to the head. A combination of these treatments also works for some patients. 

Having enough and good quality sleep has been studied for how it impacts frequency of migraines. Naturopathic doctors have  to help you fall and stay asleep.

Acupuncture. Some naturopathic doctors are also licensed acupuncturists and acupuncture has been assessed for its capacity to reduce frequency of migraines and to lower the use of migraine medication. For those uninitiated, tiny needles are placed at specific sites on your body and help to balance overall function and blood flow. You may need frequent visits to establish see enduring results.  

Structural integrity. Making sure that skeletal alignment is correct will be another key area for some migraine patients. All naturopathic doctors are trained to correct and support structural integrity by using spinal manipulation, massage therapy, physiotherapy and more. Or your naturopathic doctor might refer you to a chiropractor or osteopathic doctor who works in the cranial field, who can further help you bring your spine and musculoskeletal areas into optimal alignment for the prevention of migraine headache.  

For migraine sufferers there is hope by integrating a range of approaches from the naturopathic medicine toolbox. Working with a licensed naturopathic doctor can help you uncover root causes of your migraines and offer steps to remove and reduce triggers, improve overall nutrition, target deficiencies, lower inflammation, and correct for structural imbalances, all of which give you more control over your health and hopefully, fewer migraines. Find a licensed naturopathic doctor here.

This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

Amy Rothenberg ND, DHANP is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg’s writing can be found on, Better Nutrition’s Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, andThe Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

Dr. Rothenberg is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg's writing can be found on, Better Nutrition's Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.