Natural Treatment for Tension Headache, herbs, supplements, vitamins, alternative therapy
April 22 2018 by Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Headaches are among the most common medical problems. Some people have frequent episodes, while others hardly ever have them. Both chronic and recurring headaches may be painful and distressing but rarely reflect a serious medical condition. However, a change in the pattern or nature -- for instance, from rare to frequent headache, or from mild to severe -- could signal a serious problem and calls for prompt medical attention.

Simple things to rule out first before looking for more complicated reasons
Headaches can be a clue that you're doing something in your daily life that is causing stress or harm to your body. Lifestyle causes can include: Not eating enough, dehydration, poor posture at a work station, and eyestrain.

Cause of frequent headaches
Emotional or physical stress, genetics, hormone level fluctuations, weather changes, glare / flickering lights, premenstrual syndrome, lack or excess sleep, missed meals, alcohol, chocolate, birth control pills, menstruation all can cause headache. Chronic tension or cramping of the neck muscles is also a common cause.

Drugs such as antibiotics (tetracycline, Bactrim) corticosteroids, Accutane, tamoxifen, Tagamet are also known to cause frequent headache.

Most chronic cases are muscle tension headaches, migraines, or head pain with no obvious cause. Many are related to problems with the eyes, nose, throat, teeth, and ears. Most chronic headaches attributed to eyestrain are actually tension headaches; a new, severe pain in or around the eyes may signal high fluid pressure (glaucoma) in the eye and is a medical emergency. High blood pressure may produce a throbbing sensation in the head, but high blood pressure rarely causes chronic headaches. Estrogen is likely in involved in migraine headaches.

Natural herbs that cause headache
If you take a lot of supplements, consider stopping them for a week or two to see if any of them are the cause of the headache. For example, Trimethylglycine supplement in high dosages can cause headaches.
Certain natural herbs that cause it include licorice root in the form of pills or tea.
Pregnenolone hormone could cause it.

Migraine headache treatment and relief
Wake up at the same time each morning.
Exercise at least 3 times a week. Exercise stimulates endorphins. People who are sedentary have a higher risk of developing frequent headaches. Cephalalgia, December 2008.
The findings suggest that a lack of exercise may be a risk factor for developing non-migraine headaches.
No smoking, no caffeine after 3 pm.
No artificial sweeteners.
No MSG (monosodium glutamate).

Reduce or eliminate red wine, cheese, alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine.
Try a gluten free diet.
Try to lose weight. Being overweight or obese may increase the likelihood of having severe headaches and migraines. Cephalalgia, 2008.

Nutrients and herbs potentially helpful in migraine headache natural treatment
I am currently not aware of any herbs or supplements that are a headache cure but some may offer good relief.

Petasites also known as butterbur.

5-HTP may be helpful
Serotonin is a brain chemical involved in mood, appetite control, sleep, and a number of other important functions. Many antidepressants, such as Prozac, and other medicines have their effects by influencing levels of this brain chemical. Interestingly, there is an over the counter nutrient called 5HTP, which stands for -5-hydroxytryptophan, that also influences serotonin levels. When you take a
5-HTP pill, it makes its way to the brain where it can be converted into serotonin. In addition to having a role to play in mood disorders and weight control, 5-HTP has been found to be helpful in headaches. In a study conducted at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, 65 patients with chronic tension-type headaches were treated with 5-HTP or placebo for 8 weeks. In comparison with the group treated with placebo, there was no statistically significant change in the number of days with headache or in headache intensity in the group treated with 5-HTP; however, there was a significant decrease in the consumption of pain killers. During the 2 weeks after treatment, there was a significant decrease in the number of days with headache and reports from patients indicated that they were pleased with the benefits from 5-HTP. Previous studies have also indicated that 5-HTP may be helpful in the prevention or reduction in severity of migraine-type headaches.
   Dr. Sahelian comments: 5-HTP is appropriate for those who have headaches associated with mild depression and poor appetite control. The daily dose is best limited to less than 50 mg. Take a break from use two days a week and one week per month.

Email - Just thought I'd thank you for your advice on 5-HTP and chronic headaches. I have had these periodically for much of my adult life. I am now 55. They seem to come in cycles, it will be each day for a few weeks, then they mysteriously will go away for a few months. I have NEVER found anything that will remove them, and I've tried lots -- Fish oil, Evening Primrose, Vitamin C, B-complex, E, calcium, magnesium - in large doses beyond just regular amounts; over-the -counter drugs; caffeine; no caffeine, anti-histamines, avoidance of foods, etc. Ginkgo, feverfew, etc. With this headache pain, which always starts early in the morning (and sometimes goes away by evening, only to be back again the next day) there would be stiffness down the back of my neck and shoulders; mild depression, fuzzy and backward thinking; tiredness, sadness, lack of motivation and self-esteem; loss of creativity (hard to cope with as I am artistic by nature and trade;) any aches and pains seemed amplified. This took chunks of time out of my life and made me unproductive beyond the basics. I also get restless legs, which I have had since childhood tho not always at the same time as the chronic headache. I have one daughter (out of 4 children) who experiences very similar symptoms but more migraine headaches, plus more depression and occasional anxiety attacks and sleep problems. Different forms of mental problems run in my mother's side of the family -- Bipolar, Anxiety, Obsessive / compulsive, Depression, in several relatives. HOWEVER, we tried 5-HTP and both of us found a very marked and rapid difference. I opened a capsule of 50 mg and took it sublingually. In about 45 minutes it made such a difference! My mood brightened, energy was boosted, and most of the pain in my neck and shoulders and head went away. I took another 50 mg. All pain and other symptoms were soon gone. That was the first day. Since then I have used only 50 mg, some times splitting it into 2 doses. I am mindful of warnings not to overdo taking 5-HTP, also I don't want it to stop working, or build up a tolerance, or an increased need. I intend to only use it when I am in these cycles, and only the smallest dose necessary. Sublingual method works best for this. My daughter took 150 mg, divided, the first day, and 100 or 50 mg on subsequent days. She will, I think, need to experiment a bit, BUT--she had had a migraine for three days and the first day's dosage removed it so that she was migraine free the next day. She has tried several migraine remedies, and 13 anti-depressants over a few years, which gave her bad side effects and never helped the problems. So you can see that we are excited about 5-HTP! I did a lot of reading about it and information on serotonin deficiency, and how this can be genetic. We intend to be prudent with its useage, so it can continue working well for us, as it is the ONLY thing that has helped. I myself have had this headache come and go for 30 years, so I am happy to find something that made a difference. And, as a parent, I am thrilled to have found something that can help my daughter not experience such disturbing symptoms.

Feverfew may help a small percentage of users. One Feverfew capsule 3 to 4 x/day for one month, then decrease dosage to 25 mg of dried herb twice daily.

Kudzu herb may be helpful in cluster headaches.

Magnesium is a mineral that can help some people with headaches.

CoQ10 supplement
Efficacy of coenzyme Q10 in migraine headache prophylaxis: a randomized controlled trial.
Neurology. 2005.
Riboflavin, which improves energy metabolism similarly to coenzyme Q10, is effective in migraine headache prophylaxis. We compared CoQ10 (3 x 100 mg/day) and placebo in 42 migraine headache patients in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. CoQ10 was superior to placebo for attack-frequency, headache -days and days-with-nausea in the third treatment month and well tolerated; 50%-responder-rate for attack frequency was 14% for placebo and 47% for CoQ10.

Melatonin may reduce migraine headaches in some users.
Magnesium mineral is worth trying at 200 to 400 mg a day.
Biofeedback is worth trying.
Aspirin may help in acute migraine headache.

Chinese herbs
Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013. Phytochemical and Pharmacological Review of Da Chuanxiong Formula: A Famous Herb Pair Composed of Chuanxiong Rhizoma and Gastrodiae Rhizoma for Headache. Chronic headache such as migraine and nervous headache has become one of the most common locations of pain and one of the most difficult diseases to recover due to its numerous causes and inconvenience to keep acesodyne administration for a long time. However, there are a series of treatment theories and herbal formulas for this disease in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), in which Da Chuanxiong formula (DCXF), a herb pair composed of Chuanxiong Rhizoma, Chuanxiong in Chinese, and Gastrodiae Rhizoma called as Tianma in China, is a greatly classic representative. This formula has been used for headaches via dispelling wind pathogen and dissipating blood stasis for many years in TCM. In recent years, the efficiency and representativeness of DCXF have garnered many researchers' attention.

Exercise your head
An exercise program that helps retrain the muscles of the head, neck and shoulder area reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of tension headaches. The exercises are easy to perform and take little time, and are effective. Many people treat such headaches with over-the-counter pain relievers, putting themselves at risk for experiencing "rebound" headaches when the medication is stopped. A craniocervical training program (CTP), in which a person performs a series of exercises to restore effective control of the muscles in the head, neck and shoulders, could be helpful against tension headaches. Researchers randomized 81 tension headache sufferers to six weeks of physiotherapy including massage and other techniques (the control group), or to the same physiotherapy program plus CTP (the experimental group). People in the craniocervical training group underwent 15 minutes of instruction on the technique, which involves flexing the head and neck with light resistance supplied by a latex band. They were then told to perform the exercises at home for 10 minutes twice daily. During the six-week program, headache frequency, intensity and duration fell in both groups, with no significant between-group differences. However, headaches had worsened among people in the control group by six months after the end of the exercise program. At the end of the exercise program, 52 percent of people in the control group experienced a 50 percent or more reduction in headache frequency, but just 35 percent had this amount of reduction in headache frequency six months later. In the CTP group, however, 82 percent saw a reduction of 50 percent or more in headache frequency at the end of the exercise program, and 85 percent saw this reduction six months later. Six months after the program, people in the CTP group were taking 65 percent less medication than they were before the study, while the control group showed no reduction in painkiller intake. Cephalalgia, 2006.

Headache diagnosis
Usually a doctor can determine the cause from the patient's medical history and a physical examination. However, occasionally blood tests may be needed to detect an underlying illness. Only rarely are chronic headaches caused by brain tumors, brain injuries, or lack of oxygen to the brain. If the doctor suspects a tumor, stroke, or other problem with the brain, computed tomography (CT) scanning or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered to provide images of the brain.

When is it serious or indicates trouble and requires medical attention:
Suddenly developing frequent headaches after age 50.
A headache that is severe or feels like the worst one you've ever had.
Pain that continues to increase, or pain that worsens when you cough or move.
Headaches that cause changes in mental function or personality.
If they develop after a head injury.
Headaches that wake you from sleep or that interfere with daily life.
Those accompanied by other symptoms, including painful red eye, fever, neck stiffness, confusion, blurry vision, numbness, weakness or seizures.

Medical treatment of headache

Excedrin migraine medication
Beta blockers
Tricyclic antidepressants
Triptans - There are several triptan drugs designed for treating migraine headaches -- and if one doesn't work, another might.

Headache research
A type of movement therapy designed to promote relaxation may help chronic headache sufferers deal with their pain. The study of 33 adults with frequent tension-type headaches or migraine found that the therapy -- known as the Trager approach -- appeared to reduce bouts of head pain and help patients cut back on medication. The Trager method, named for its founder, Dr. Milton Trager, is a mind-body type of movement therapy that aims to reduce the tension that people unconsciously hold in their bodies. It involves massage-like sessions in which a practitioner certified in the technique gently moves and stretches the muscles and joints to try to relax the body. Patients are also taught sequences of movements to do at home. The Trager approach is promoted for treating lower back pain and other musculoskeletal woes, but the new study is the first to evaluate its effectiveness against chronic headache.

Endometriosis -- caused when tissue that normally lines the uterus grows at other sites -- may produce more than pelvic pain. It seems to increase the risk of migraine headache. Previous reports have linked endometriosis with a variety of disabling conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Cluster headache - When high doses of the drug verapamil are used to prevent cluster headaches, a severely painful type of headache, about one in five patients will develop some form of cardiac irregularity. Some of the trade names that verapamil is sold under include Calan, Verelan or Covera.
Sinus headache
Migraine headache:
   Certain weather conditions indeed appear to increase the risk, but people still tend to overestimate weather's influence on their headache. The most common conditions people believed caused their migraines included rain, bright sunshine, high humidity and hot temperatures.
   Research involving male-to-female transsexuals lends further credence to the theory that sex hormones, such as estrogens,  are involved in migraine generation. It is well known that migraine headaches are more common in women than men. Questionnaires were sent regarding headache symptoms and frequency to 50 transsexuals who had recently undergone sex reassignment surgery, all of whom were taking hormonal therapy. Thirteen (26 percent) fulfilled criteria for migraine or probable migraine, similar to the number of cases of migraine in genetic females that would be expected. In contrast, the expected number of cases of migraine headache in genetic males is significantly lower.
    People who suffer from migraine headaches appear to express more genes that produce platelets, the specialized components in blood that are involved in clotting.

Headaches in children and teens
Overweight children who have headaches are likely to find them more disabling than do leaner headache sufferers. However, heavy children who loseweight while undergoing headache treatment have a greater reduction in headache frequency than their peers whose weight remains stable or increases. Headache, 2009.

Many teenagers with chronic headaches may see the problem wane as they get older. Between 1 percent and 2 percent of middle-school-age children suffer chronic daily headaches -- meaning they have headaches on at least 15 days out of the month. The head pain may come in the form of migraines, less-severe tension-type headaches or some combination of headache types. Neurology, 2009.

In a study of 25 children and teenagers with migraines or chronic tension-type headaches, Dr. Mark Connelly of Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri found that symptoms tended to flare up on days when it rained or when humidity was higher than normal. Dr. Mark Connelly has published this trial in Headache, 2009.

Teenagers who are overweight, get little exercise, or smoke may be more likely than their peers to have recurrent headaches.  Neurology, 2010.

Natural treatment of headache in children
Neurol Sci. 2017. The use of nutraceutics in children's and adolescent's headache. There is little research in this area and hence no official guidelines about use of nutraceuticals in migraine's prevention in children and adolescents. The most used nutraceuticals for adolescent's and children's headache prophylaxis are: magnesium, coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, butterbur, feverfew and melatonin. Further Randomised Controlled Trials are needed for a better effectiveness evaluation in nutraceuticals' use for migraine treatment in child and adolescent.

Headache natural treatment emails
I am wondering if there is anything among the herbs and supplements that has the effect of vaso-constriction. I ask because I am subject to headaches (not migraines, most likely) that are greatly helped by the prescription medication Imitrex, which is a triptan and thus a vaso-constrictor. Id rather not depend on Imitrex for that relief. Is there anything in the realm of herbs and/or supplements that might have a similar action.
   A. Rather than focusing on any specific herb that has vasoconstricting potential, it is best to approach headache treatment in a more comprehensive way.

Certain supplements give me a headache, and I am noticing a commonality among them. GABA, Suntheanine (L-theanine) 5-HTP, and Tryptophan each give me a headache within 2 hours of taking them. I take the very highest quality grades, so I cannot write these headaches off to inferior or substandard ingredients. I also have problems with the food additive MSG. However, I have found that Lemon Balm, Passionflower, Hops, and (low doses of) Valerian have no negative side effects. Same thing for B-vitamins and trace minerals: I feel much better when I have above-average amounts of these. Should I interpret this to mean that I do not do well with amino acids?
    A. Different amino acids have different functions and effects, and therefore they cannot be all clumped together in the same category, they have different benefits and side effects.