There’s an aromatic herb that acts as a natural headache remedy and relieves the pain of tension headaches just as quickly as aspirin and over-the-counter analgesics, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches experienced by a vast cross-section of the population. Statistics show that 95% of women and 90% of men have at least one headache per year, and approximately 1 out of every 6 people in America experience the agony of chronic tension headaches.
As a result, most of us reach out for common over-the-counter headache medications, especially those containing acetaminophen, the most commonly used painkiller in the country today. On average, 7.3 billion adult Tylenol tablets are consumed annually.
But take heed; each year, acetaminophen use causes 100,000 calls to poison control centers, 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 450 deaths from liver failure alone. Acetaminophen is a leading cause of acute liver failure, even at doses that are within the recommended range.
In May 2009, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration working group released a report urging stronger warnings and stricter dose limits for drugs that, like Tylenol, contain acetaminophen — and hence may pose an increased risk of liver injury to those who use them improperly.
The ironic thing is that the use of acetaminophen may not be the most effective way to stop headaches. Here’s why, headache pain does not originate from inside the brain. The brain is incapable of feeling pain because it contains no sensory nerves.
The pain actually comes from tension in the outer linings of the brain, the scalp and its blood vessels and muscles. Common tension headaches occur when the face, neck and scalp tighten up, and that tightening is often induced by stress.
Since headaches originate from the outer surface of the head, peppermint oil has been used as a natural headache remedy to alleviate the pain.German research headed by Dr. Hartmut Gobel shows that rubbing peppermint oil on one’s forehead is just as effective in relieving headaches as taking a headache medication like Tylenol.
Researchers have long known that peppermint oil, whose main constituent is menthol, has an analgesic and cooling effect when applied on the skin. Menthol calms and soothes the excited nerve fibers in the painful region and can quickly make the pain subside.
Historians report that Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, personal friend of the emperor Vespasian, and a writer and investigator of natural and geographic phenomena, recommended applying peppermint leaves to the forehead to treat headaches.
In 1996, the leading headache researchers at the Neurological Clinic at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany showed clinical proof that peppermint oil applied to the forehead indeed reduces headache pain just as effectively as the standard dose of 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen (or 2 tablets of Tylenol). Dr. Hartmut Gobel’s randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study also proved that peppermint oil is just as effective at relieving headaches as acetaminophen.
Peppermint oil is available at Whole Foods and other health food stores.