Essential oils, also known as volatile aromatic compounds, are liquids derived from plants through a process of distillation. These oils are highly concentrated, containing the very characteristic which gives a plant its distinctive aroma.
Among the many applications for essential oils, and the one which interests us here, is the treatment of headaches.
Pain medication, the usual remedy we all grab from our bathroom cabinets, has two main drawbacks: one, it does not treat the cause of the headache, being only designed to alleviate the symptoms, and two, it can cause unwanted, damaging side effects, such as kidney and liver damage through repeated, regular usage.
Does anyone smell a good alternative to pain medication?
If you answered essential oils, you may be onto something!
Let’s now have a look at 6 essential oils which can alleviate several different types of headaches, without subjecting us to the negative side effects of the prolonged use of pain medication:
A plant with purple flowers and a pungent aroma, lavender, as an essential oil, is helpful for reducing tension and encouraging relaxation. As such, it can be used to treat tension headaches, which typically involve a sharp pain experienced in the forehead, neck, or behind the eyes. Lavender can also be used for migraines, which are more severe headaches involving intense pain, accompanied at times by nausea and sensitivity to light.
There is also growing evidence that lavender can help treat headaches associated with anxiety disorders. Two of lavender’s main constituents, linalool and linalyl acetate, which are quickly absorbed through the skin, are thought to calm the central nervous system, which may result in a reduction of anxiety and any headaches associated with it.
Like lavender, peppermint can be used to treat different types of headaches. It doesn’t just help our breath! The menthol in peppermint is useful in clearing the respiratory tract, which helps to keep our sinuses clear. This means peppermint can be used to treat sinus headaches resulting from colds and other infections. More than just an aid for plugged sinuses, peppermint also helps relieve the digestive system, which makes it helpful for the treatment of gastric headaches (those associated with stomach aches and discomfort).
More than just a minty-smelling remedy for sinus and gastric headaches, peppermint also helps with tension headaches due to its cooling effect on the skin, which stimulates blood flow to the forehead and relaxes muscular contraction. Once the muscles have become relaxed, the tension is lessened, which could result in your headache improving.
Due to its ability to reduce muscular contraction, peppermint may also help with the more severe pain associated with a migraine headache.
Have you ever seen a stressed out koala bear? Must be the eucalyptus, right? Similar to peppermint, eucalyptus can be used effectively to treat headaches associated with infections and also tension headaches.
As an expectorant, eucalyptus is effective in clearing the nasal passageways as it promotes the expulsion of mucus build-up. Its usefulness as an anti-inflammatory has also been shown to help patients with respiratory conditions. By improving the body’s ability to clear out blocked passageways and by reducing inflammation, the sinus headaches associated with these conditions are either avoided entirely or lessened in terms of their severity.
But wait, eucalyptus does double duty as well! In a study involving patients who had knee replacement surgery, eucalyptus was found to reduce pain and lower blood pressure. The reduction in pain and blood pressure improved the overall health of the patients, making them less susceptible to tension headaches.
Not just a tasty herb used in the kitchen, rosemary has healing properties as well which can be utilized for pain and stress.
Rosemary’s analgesic (pain-relieving) properties have been exploited as a folk medicine throughout history. More recently, in a study involving past opium users, rosemary was used to treat some of the withdrawal symptoms exhibited by these individuals. It effectively reduced the pain caused by some of these symptoms. Consequently, for those suffering from headaches due to pain, such as tension headaches, rosemary could be a possible remedy.
Rosemary also has a calming and stress-reducing effect that can help alleviate headaches caused by stress and lack of sleep. In the same study referred to above, past opium users were found to have improved sleeping patterns due to the use of rosemary.
I know, you haven’t heard of this one! That’s alright, it’s worth learning about it. Native to the Mediterranean, this medicinal plant has been used for thousands of years in several European countries: you guessed it, those close to the Mediterranean!
Helichrysum’s primary benefits lie in its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. When it comes to headaches, it is the anti-inflammatory ability that interests us. By reducing inflammation, helichrysum facilitates blood flow and reduces blood pressure. Thus, when you are experiencing headache pain due to inflammation, this lesser known essential oil (unless you live by the Mediterranean) is a useful remedy.
Our last essential oil to discuss for headache remedies is a familiar one to tea drinkers the world over. This herb that does so much for our taste buds does so much for our headaches as well!
Chamomile’s calming effect makes it useful as a remedy for headaches caused by stress and anxiety. It is thought to help with several emotional states which are associated with stress, such as irritability, anger, depression, and nerves. So have your cup of chamomile tea, but if you find yourself stressed out and upset, you may wish to sample chamomile in its essential oil form as well.
Like just about every essential oil we have discussed, chamomile also helps with other kinds of headaches. It is known to calm the stomach as well as a person’s mood, so that a headache associated with stomach and overall digestive discomfort can be alleviated through the use of chamomile.
When it comes to the use of essential oils as a treatment for headaches, there is much to be gained from trying them out and little to be lost. If your headache is due to tension, stress, plugged sinuses, anxiety, digestive discomfort, or muscular pain, you may want to try an essential oil. Your body might thank you someday.