Types of Headaches and Natural Relief

a woman with a serious headache rubbing her temples

To be human, it seems, means to have headaches. If the $4 billion Americans spend on over-the-counter (OTC) pain pills is any indication, a lot of us fend off headaches fairly regularly.

Figure out which kind of headache you are experiencing, and find the right relief.

No matter what kind of headaches you get, headache experts find that clean living can go a long way in heading off future headaches. You’ve heard it before, but it doesn’t hurt to review it: Get regular sleep and exercise, eat healthy meals, and if you have stress, try practicing yoga, meditation, or biofeedback-assisted relaxation.

Types of Headaches

  • Tension Headaches

    About 80 percent of headaches are tension headaches. These generally respond well to OTC pain medications such as acetaminophen or aspirin. Although a tension-type headache isn’t disabling—most people can keep doing what they need to during the day—it’s annoying.

    Stress is the biggest cause. It also helps to be mindful of other potential triggers:

    • too little sleep
    • dehydration
    • caffeine overuse
    • skipping meals


    • Vitamin D

      It’s possible that your headaches aren’t from stress, but instead due to vitamin D deficiency. Research checking blood levels of vitamin D and noting headache frequency of each person found that being in the low vitamin D group showed strong crossover with also being in the high-frequency headache group.

      Vitamin D deficiencies rank as one of the more common vitamin deficiencies, especially in the fall and winter. This is because vitamin D can be made by the skin by the action of sunlight. It’s prudent to focus on dietary (and perhaps supplemental) sources of vitamin D, at least for the non-sunny parts of the year.

    • Topical Peppermint Oil

      A pleasant-smelling way to relieve tension headache pain comes in the form of topical peppermint oil. When people with tension headaches apply peppermint oil or placebo, the peppermint group gets relief. The topical peppermint even relieves headache pain as well as aspirin and other OTC pain relievers

  • Migraine Headaches

    Disabling pain that interferes with daily living is one of the things that define a migraine. Women are three times as likely as men to get migraines. OTC pain relievers help ease the pain, but many people with migraines end up needing prescription medication.

    Find Triggers by Keeping a Diary

    A headache diary with notes about your headaches and your diet can reveal patterns and connections with your migraines. What triggers a migraine varies quite a bit, but these are good starting points:

    • oversleeping
    • undersleeping
    • skipping meals
    • alcohol
    • emotional stress

    A headache diary will also reveal any connections to your menstrual cycle. So-called “menstrual migraines” strike each month around the time of a woman’s period due to falling estrogen levels.

    Common Food Triggers

    With most food triggers, you’ll know within a couple of hours if there is a connection, although chocolate and caffeine can take longer to trigger a headache.

    • red wine
    • draft beer
    • aged cheese
    • garlic
    • onion
    • chocolate
    • caffeine


    • Feverfew

      The herb feverfew can ease the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine attacks. Keep in mind that it’s not an instant cure.

      Take this herb daily for at least four to six weeks before expecting protection against migraines.

    • Magnesium

      In addition, research shows that many headache sufferers run low when it comes to the mineral magnesium.

      For women with menstrual migraines, taking magnesium supplements every day for a week or two prior to each month’s period can reduce the number of headaches.

    • B Vitamins

      B vitamins also deserve consideration when it comes to migraine prevention.

      Those who experience frequent migraines can reduce their occurrence and severity with daily supplementation of folic acid (5 milligrams) combined with vitamin B6 (80 milligrams).

    • Yoga

      An eight-week meditation and yoga program led to fewer and shorter migraines in a group of adults. The migraines also tended to be less severe, and participants felt a greater sense of control over their headaches.

      The adults attended eight weekly classes to learn mindfulness-based stress reduction. They also practiced on their own for 45 minutes at least five additional days per week.

      “Stress is a well-known trigger for headaches, and research supports the general benefits of mind/body interventions for migraines,” said Wake Forest University professor Rebecca Wells, MD.

  • Other Types and Causes

    • Caffeine Withdrawal

      Caffeine addicts can get a headache about a day after their last dose. A cup of coffee will solve the problem.

    • Cluster Headaches

      Cluster headaches have most of the pain around one eye, have a rapid onset, and reoccur in clustered groups for days, weeks, or months until a remission period. Smoking is a risk factor for these headaches and they are more common in men.

    • Dehydration

      Dehydration can trigger a headache. Remedy by drinking water.

    • Eyestrain

      Too much computer work can trigger a headache. Resting your eyes several times an hour and possibly getting prescription glasses geared toward computer use can solve the problem.

    • Rebound Headaches

      Taking OTC painkillers too often can result in a “medication overuse” or rebound headache. Avoid this trouble by limiting analgesic use to no more than twice a week.

    • Sinus Headaches

      This headache develops as a result of a sinus infection. The pain is centered around the eyes and cheeks, and worsens when bending over. These headaches are rare; many supposed cases of sinus headache are migraines.

    • Thunderclap Headaches

      A sudden and severe headache, often described as the worst headache possible, could signal a life-threatening condition, such as a stroke or aneurysm; seek immediate medical attention.

Click to See Our Sources

"Effect of vitamin D deficiency on the frequency of headaches in migraine" by T.J. Song et al., Journal of Clinical Neurology, 7/18

"Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache" by H. Göbel et al., Der Schmerz, 6/16

"The role of magnesium in pathophysiology and migraine treatment" by S. Dolati et al., Biological Trace Element Research, 8/20

“Treatment of menstrual migraine: Evidence-based review” by S.J. Tepper, Managed Care

“Vitamin D deficiency in patients with chronic tension-type headache: A case-control study” by S. Prakash et al., Headache, 7/17

“Vitamin D deficiency mimicking chronic tension-type headache in children” by S. Prakash et al., BMJ Case Reports, 2016

“Meditation May Mitigate Migraine Misery,” Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, 9/11/14


Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH

Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, is an evidence-based, integrative medicine journalist with more than 20 years of research and writing expertise, She received her Master of Public Health from OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

She is the author or co-author of numerous books, including Life After Baby (2012), The Green Tea Book, 2nd edition (Penguin, 2008). User’s Guide to Healthy Digestion (Basic Health Publications, 2004), The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002), User’s Guide to Glucosamine and Chondroitin (Basic Health Publications, 2002), The Common Cold Cure (Avery, 1999), and The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).

Her work was recognized for excellence as a 2001 finalist for the Maggie Awards (Western Publications Association award honoring editorial excellence in magazines west of the Mississippi River).