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Headaches vs. Migraines and How to Get Relief

"Migraine headaches tend to be much more complicated and tend to be much more severe than simple headaches."

Today Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist, discusses the difference between headaches and migraines, including new research that shows they may not be much different. We will go over the causes, signs and symptoms of migraines, as well as some effective all-natural tips for treating and helping to prevent those debilitating migraines.

Video Highlights

  • 4:54: Differences between headaches and migraines
  • 8:04: Top 13 things that you don’t want to say to people with migraines
  • 11:26: Symptoms of Migraines
  • 15:05: Causes of Migraines
  • 17:26: Way to get rid of headaches
  • 24:23: Conventional Medications for Migraines and Headaches
  • 25:50: Proactive all Natural Tips
  • 26:00: Anti-inflammation diet
  • 30:40: Organic fresh fruits and vegetables
  • 32:52: Foods rich in B vitamins
  • 36:01: Other natural ways to treat and to prevent migraines
  • 46:13: Wrap Up

Differences between headaches and migraines

A “headache” is kind of the catch-all term that we use for any kind of head-related pain. Technically, a headache is a nonspecific diagnosis, and most often refers to a tension headache, which we all have experienced at one time or another. According to the National Institute of Health, headaches are the most commonly reported form of pain. It is estimated that nearly everyone has experienced headaches at some point in their life, and over 50% of us have experienced a headache in this past year.

Migraines, on the other hand, are increasing in frequency but are not nearly as common as typical headaches. In the past, experts believed that migraine headaches were different than tension headaches and had separate and distinct causes. However, today it’s widely accepted that headaches and migraines actually fall on the same continuum, with some people only experiencing mild and occasional discomfort while others have more frequent, severe, and even debilitating migraine symptoms. It’s estimated that 35 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches each year. This is equivalent to almost the entire population of California. Interestingly, of the 35 million migraine sufferers each year, 66% are women. This translates to roughly 23 million women and 11.5 million men suffering from migraines.

Migraines are not just really bad headaches; they are actually much more complicated and tend to be much more severe than a headache. Some people put them in a similar category of severity to being quadriplegic. While a migraine is typically a type of intense headache, it can also be a chronic neurological disease, and is now believed to have similar underlying causes including high levels of inflammation, increased stress, and changes in the levels of important neurotransmitters including serotonin.

Top 13 things that you don’t want to say to people with migraines

  1. Oh, I get headaches too.
  2. Move around, you’re going to feel better. Do something to take your mind off of it.
  3. You should stop …
  4. You don’t look sick.
  5. It’s all in your head.
  6. You should drink some water.
  7. Oh my best friend’s aunt, coworkers’ friends, mum’s hairdresser well she tried …
  8. At least it didn’t kill you.
  9. It’s going to get better; you just have to be patient.
  10. Well, I wish I could stay home all day.
  11. You just can’t handle stress well.
  12. Isn’t that a female thing?
  13. Maybe it’s just sinuses.

Symptoms of Migraines

Migraines are more intense or severe than headaches, and more often than not have other symptoms in addition to headaches, including:

  • Pain behind one of your eyes or ears
  • Pain in your temples
  • Seeing spots or flashing lights
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Temporarily blurred vision or vision loss
  • Nausea or even vomiting
  • Experiencing headaches so severe that you seek care at the emergency room

Migraine headaches will typically affect only one side of the head. However, it is possible to have a migraine headache that affects both sides of the head.

Migraines can come with or without an “aura”, or a number of sensations a person experiences before they get the migraine. These typically occur anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes before an attack. These sensations include feeling less mentally alert or having trouble thinking, seeing flashing lights or unusual lines, feeling tingling or numbness in the face or hands, and having an unusual sense of smell, taste, or touch. Clinical studies actually report that anywhere between 25 and 50% of migraine sufferers experience a high sensitivity to odors during their migraine headaches and up to 50% report that strong smells or odors can trigger acute migraine attacks. Some of these strong odors include:

  • Perfume
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Chemical based cleaning products
  • Car exhaust
  • Gasoline

Causes of Migraines

There is a lot of research out there on the causes of migraines. Some research says that there are no specific causes, and it’s a neurological disorder. While there are numerous symptoms associated with migraine headaches, there are also a number of factors that essentially all contribute to abnormal neurological events that result in changes to our blood flow, neurological processing and how our muscles work. They include:

  • Inflammation — In addition to causing a number of other chronic health issues like muscle and joint pain, long term damage to your heart and organs, hormone imbalances and a weakened immune system, chronic inflammation also affects your arteries and your blood vessels, and can lead to altered blood flow to your brain.
  • Stress — This is also a big causal factor to the migraines.
  • Hormonal changes — Hormonal changes can also contribute to migraines. These imbalances are also sometimes affected by poor diet or another health condition.
  • Lack of sleep — We should know by now that poor sleep can lead to a variety of health issues, so this should come as no surprise.
  • Reactions to certain medications — especially those that affect nerves, hormones, and your blood pressure.
  • Family history — It is estimated that roughly 80% of people experiencing migraines have family members that also suffer from migraines.

Methods people often use to get relief

There are all kinds of different methods that people have reported being effective in dealing with migraines:

  1. Squeeze the flat area of the hand between the thumb and the forefinger for about 20 to 30 seconds. This usually helps with nausea.
  2. Go outside and just walk in the sun, or walk outside to get a little bit of fresh air to try to alleviate the migraines or headaches.
  3. Try binaural beats. Binaural beats involves wearing headphones so you're hearing two different wavelengths, and different isometric sounds that are coming in from your left and right ear. It’s supposed to stimulate and balance both sides of the brain for more homeostasis and bring you back down to a less excited state.
  4. Chew on segments of lemon or citrus.
  5. Go to a specialist to get your spine or neck adjusted to alleviate any of the pressures.
  6. Use a gallon bag full of ice and put it behind your neck and then put your feet in hot water. This will drain blood from your head and cause it to flow to your feet, taking pressure away.
  7. Eat ice-cream.
  8. Pinch the area in your ear called the daith, or the innermost cartilage fold. Some people pierce it to alleviate some kind of pressure that makes the headache worse.
  9. Reach for something sour like a pickle.
  10. Work it out; do pushups or exercise to try to get that headache or migraine to go away.
  11. Fill a sock with uncooked rice and then tie it at the ends and microwave it for one to two minutes. This is then used as a heating pad over your eyes, behind your neck or around your shoulders. It helps to stimulate blood flow and helps you relax.
  12. Use tiger Balm and tea to alleviate migraines.
  13. You can use peppermint oil, take a hot shower, wash your hair or put your head over a steaming pot with a towel and breathe in the steam. This helps to calm you down as well.
  14. Lie down and put on Spotify’s “natural remedy for migraine” music playlist.
  15. Pinch your eyebrows together, or that little area right above the bridge of your nose for 30 seconds.
  16. Take a relaxing bath.
  17. Sit still and quiet for 20 minutes, or take a short 20-minute nap.

Conventional Medications for Migraines and Headaches

Conventional doctors often quickly prescribe medications to relieve the symptoms associated with your migraine headaches. Most people, whenever they have a headache, also reach out for these meds. They include:

  • Triptan medications
  • Painkillers such as ibuprofen, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications including beta blockers which are used to alter neurotransmitter levels.
  • Sleep medications to assist when sleep is impaired due to pain

Proactive all Natural Tips

Conventional doctors are also very quick to treat the symptoms, but rarely do they take the time to treat the specific causes contributing to the migraines, because they just want to help you get your pain to stop but that’s kind of like putting a band-aid on a wound. You can alleviate some of that in the interim, but if is persistent and it keeps coming on and on then it might be wise to look into why that is happening. A number of migraine headaches may be preventable by following some of the following proactive all natural tips.

Anti-inflammatory diet

You can download Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet plan that represents the equation: Less Inflammation In + More Inflammation Out = Healthier and Happier You. Eating a diet that is high in processed foods, trans fats, sugars, and sodium is one of the biggest contributors to migraine headaches. In fact, it is estimated that nearly half of all of the migraines could be prevented just by improving the foods that you choose to consume.

There are several foods that can contribute to migraines, and this is not an all-inclusive list; not everyone will react the same way. But it’s recommended to limit or better yet just avoid these foods. Avoid refined sugar and processed, refined grain products including white flour; gluten; dairy products; breads, pastas and baked goods; alcohol, which is going to make your migraine worse; caffeine; saturated unhealthy fats such as margarine, corn oil, soybean oil and peanut oil; artificial food additives, artificial sweeteners, flavor enhancers, and preservatives and packaged foods.

Avoid MSG nitrates; don’t eat foods that have these in them. These are very dangerous preservatives added to foods as a way to enhance the flavor and prolong the shelf life of processed foods including meats like ham, bacon, salami, pastrami, hotdogs, deli meats, and sausages. Also avoid foods high in sodium including soy sauce, deli meats, olives, cheeses, processed foods, canned soups, bottled salad dressings, and of course chips.

On the other hand, there are also several anti-inflammatory foods that we recommend including as a regular part of any plan designed to reduce or prevent the symptoms associated with migraine headaches. All of these foods are included in the anti-inflammatory diet plan. Specifically we want to include the omega-3 fatty acids; nuts and seeds including chia, hemp, and flax seeds, walnuts, avocados, spinach, kidney beans, shrimp, wild caught fish such as salmon; all of these help reduce inflammation throughout the body, including in your cardiovascular system, improving blood flow, lowering inflammation, and reducing migraine symptoms.

Organic fresh fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in magnesium and other essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients, are all key in preventing migraines. Magnesium is especially important for the essential roles it plays in nearly 600 reactions throughout the body. It converts food into energy, creates new proteins from the amino acids that we eat, creates and repairs DNA or RNA, and contracts or relaxes the muscles. It also helps regulate neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout your brain and your nervous system. It provides antioxidants that help decrease inflammation, counteract the effects of toxin exposure, and balance hormones.


Unfortunately nearly half of the people in the United States and Europe alike get less than the recommended daily amount of magnesium. Some of the best natural sources of magnesium include: Spinach and Swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, quinoa, avocado, cashews and sweet potatoes.

Foods rich in B vitamins

Researchers now believe there is a direct link between vitamin B deficiency and migraines. B vitamins serve a number of functions in the body, including preventing and relieving fatigue; improving brain function including focus, memory, and mood; relieving muscle tension; and supporting the immune system. The B vitamins also provide help with depression, prevent neurological degeneration, and provide support against inflammation.

Quality sources of B vitamins are: wild-caught tuna, salmon, grass fed beef, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, turkey, hazelnuts, garlic, beans, legumes, and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale.

Supplement with Curcumin

This is an incredible inflammation fighter with all-natural components. It is actually the concentrated active ingredient found inside the turmeric. Only about 2 to 3% of the turmeric root yields this powerful curcumin. When formulated properly, curcumin canpromote amazing benefits for your body and your mind.

A large part of the inflammation-fighting effect of curcumin comes from its ability to inhibit key enzymes in the body known to promote inflammation. In fact, the active form of curcumin used in Smarter Curcumin has greater potency than regular turmeric itself.

So, when it comes to your diet, your health, and especially migraines, natural foods can provide similar benefits as medicines. Although not in the sense of prescription medication, food can provide an effective way to protect, heal, and strengthen your body.

Other natural ways to treat and to prevent migraines

Reduce stress levels

Stress causes a lot of problems, including physical, emotional, and sleep issues. It contributes to inflammation, muscle tension, aches and pains, increases blood pressure, and it’s often a major cause of migraines.

Focus on your sleep

Ensure that you get as close to 7 or 8 hours of quality sleep each night as possible.


Exercise on a regular schedule and try to mix it up with yoga, cardio, or strength training. Do this for at least 30 minutes a day, most days a week.

Focus on your breathing

Breathe as a way to decompress and relieve stress, clear your head, and regain focus. Don’t multitask. Here is a quick way to practice effective breathing: Get toy bubbles and then use the bubbles to create a big belly breath; enough to make and create the bubbles. It requires taking slow, deep, constant breaths. If you don’t have bubbles then you can use a pinwheel and just blow the pinwheel. Inhale, exhale, and blow your bubbles.

Limit your exposure to blue light

Studies show that exposure to blue light or light emitted by electronic devices, including your phones, laptops, tablets, and television, can cause eye strain. Your optic nerve is constantly stimulated, and this can cause fatigue and sleeplessness. Fluorescent lighting can do the same thing. It can bring about sleeplessness, fatigue, and headaches, including migraines. If you notice you are experiencing migraines triggered by exposure to blue light, it is really important to limit the amount of time that you spend using these devices, or under fluorescent lights. Also consider wearing blue blocker glasses or day walkers. These help protect and shield your eyes from the blue light, reduce eye strain, reduce headaches and migraines, and help you get a good night’s sleep. You can get yours and your kids’ online or at any Target or Walmart. They’re really effective if you have screen time for kids, especially at night before bed.

Essential Oils for treating migraines

Essential oils have so many uses for health benefits including helping you get rid of migraines and headaches. They have so many natural healing properties; they are natural pain relievers, they lower stress and anxiety, and they help to reduce inflammation, reduce muscle tension and joint stiffness, and they help to balance your hormones and improve circulation throughout your body. They also help decrease and prevent migraine symptoms.

A great essential oil for headaches is peppermint, which reduces pain and inflammation and works by having a natural, menthol, and cooling effect on the skin. It inhibits muscle contraction and stimulates blood flow on the head. Lavender is a really great one as well, and if you want to blend the two; lavender and peppermint together soothes stress and anxiety. Lavender can help improve sleep quality, decrease muscular tension, and has natural antidepressant incertitude qualities.

Eucalyptus is another great one. It improves blood flow, is uplifting, helps cleanse the body of toxic and harmful substances, and reduces high blood pressure and pain. Frankincense is also really great. It lowers inflammation and has numerous benefits for improving overall immune function, anxiety, and hormonal imbalance. Rosemary smells really delightful, and reduces pain through the body, helps regulate blood flow, and helps decrease withdrawal symptoms from caffeine or medications.

Essential oils are very versatile. You can use these in a number of locations; try applying them directly to the side of your neck, along your spine, on your temples, or on your pulse points. You can use it in a diffuser, or use it in your bath before night time. You can also take a nice towel and moisten it, put a couple of drops on it, and put the towel on your head. You can even put it in the freezer and use it once it's nice and cold as well.

Wrap Up

Headaches are common, and they’re actually the most commonly reported form of pain. However, all headaches are not created equal. Migraine headaches tend to be much more complicated and tend to be much more severe than simple headaches. While a migraine is actually a type of intense headache, it can also be a result of a chronic neurological disease and is now believed to have similar underlying causes, including high levels of inflammation, increased stress, and changes in the levels of important neurotransmitters including serotonin.

Common causes of migraines include inflammation, stress, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, reactions to certain medications, and a family history of migraines.

In this post we shared several tips and recommendations for you to naturally prevent and treat the symptoms contributing to and causing migraine headaches. These include: eliminating migraine-causing foods from your diet such as processed foods, trans fats, sugar, and sodium. In fact it is estimated that nearly half of all migraines could be prevented just by improving your diet. We also recommend following the anti-inflammatory diet plan; increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and B vitamins; managing your stress levels; decreasing your exposure to blue light by using blue light blocker glasses; and using specific natural essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary and peppermint oils to relieve and prevent migraine headaches.

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