Common Types of Headaches & Ways to Prevent Them

As you probably experienced yourself, the aches and pains associated with headaches can occur in different parts of your head and may be accompanied by other symptoms as well (nausea, visual changes, etc.). The various types of headaches typically have different underlying causes, and while there are over-the-counter medications to reduce the pain, they are temporary fixes and don’t address the underlying causes.

In this post, I’ll define the most common types of headaches, typical underlying causes, triggers and some natural methods for prevention (or ways to alleviate it if a headache has already started).

Migraine Headache:

Throbbing pain (mostly on one side of the head), nausea, light-headedness, sensitivity to noise and visual changes typically occur. They tend to occur periodically. Food sensitivities are commonly the underlying cause. In adults, common foods that trigger migraines are: fermented foods, nitrites and nitrates, red wine, MSG, figs, dates, raisins, chocolate, nuts, dairy and citrus fruit. An accumulation of stressors, such as emotional distress, lack of sleep or oversleeping, overworking, an overloaded liver, dysbiosis, leaky gut, inflammation, hormonal changes/imbalances, constipation, unstable blood sugar levels, insufficient exercise, smoking (nicotine is a vasoconstrictor), can all contribute to the occurrence of migraines too. Serotonin levels may also be low if migraines occur.

Migraines are NEVER due to weather changes. If migraines occur when there is low atmospheric pressure, there is likely already existing sinus congestion of some sort. So, the low pressure exacerbates things; however, weather is not the root cause.

Cluster/Histamine Headache:

Pain occurs in and around one eye. They tend to occur in clusters over a few weeks at a time and they often occur at night. Each headache starts abruptly and lasts from 15 minutes to 3 hours.

Toxin-Induced Headache:

Moderate, pulsating headache caused by toxins (e.g. strong fumes from chemical cleaning products, lead, arsenic, etc.).

Hypertensive Headache:

Short, yet frequent, throbbing more toward the back of the head may occur with high blood pressure.

Tension Headache:

Pain feels like a band squeezing the head. The contraction of muscles results in a moderate, dull and steady pain/pressure across the forehead or base of the skull (rather than throbbing).

This is stress related, but may also be due to bad posture that strains the neck muscles. They commonly begin during the mid- to late afternoon.

Menstrual Headache:

Develops just before menstruation (can be up to 6 days before) and is associated with hormonal imbalances (between estrogen and progesterone).

Caffeine Withdrawal Headache:

Affects both sides of the head and feels like a migraine in its intensity. Typically begins 24-48 hours after the last dose of caffeine, especially if caffeine intake is daily. The headache commonly lasts for 24-48 hours. Side note - When I went off of coffee, I ended up having a headache for 3 days! Ingesting caffeine can dissipate the withdrawal headache very quickly (which also confirms that it is due to caffeine), but the cycle of withdrawal/dependency will persist.

Sinus Headache:

Pain typically behind the forehead and/or cheekbones. Related to a sinus infection. Can be accompanied by nasal discharge, watery eyes, and sinus pressure.

Recommendations for Headaches:

  • Avoid foods that you are sensitive to and avoid foods that commonly precipitate a migraine. Foods such as citrus fruit, chocolate, cheese, bacon and red wine all contain high amounts of tyramine, which can cause vasoconstriction.

  • Drink lots of pure water as dehydration often precipitates a headache.

  • Improve digestive function, balance blood sugar levels, and cleanse/support the liver.

  • Eat foods rich in magnesium, like pumpkin seeds, because magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant.

  • Avoid caffeine and stimulants.

  • Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke/other pollutants and address any environmental allergies.

  • Get ample, regular, good quality sleep to help decrease frequency of migraine attacks.

  • If the pain occurs at the back of the neck, the spine may be out of alignment causing pressure. This can be adjusted by a qualified osteopath or chiropractor. As a temporary measure to alleviate the neck pain, try putting two tennis balls in a sock and place them at the base of your skull while lying down.

  • At the first sign of a migraine, immerse your feet in a hot foot bath and place a cool cloth on the back of the neck. This can help draw the blood away from the head and reduce the pressure of the migraine.

  • Reduce stress and practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, taking time-outs, etc.

  • From a psycho-spiritual perspective, headaches manifest from self-criticism or fear. According to author Louise Hay, the next time you get a headache, it’s important to stop and ask yourself where you have made yourself wrong. Then forgive yourself and let it go. The headache will dissolve into nothingness. You can also add the following affirmation/new thought pattern in the process: I love and approve of myself. I see myself and what I do with eyes of love. I am safe.

  • If headaches are a common occurrence for you, you may also consider starting a “headache diary/log” where you keep track of when the headaches occur, how long they last, and other details in order to determine the possible causes and triggers. Play detective!

  • And, as always, with any health issue it’s wise to seek the advice and help of qualified health care practitioner(s) who can assess your unique case.


Hay, Louise L. You Can Heal Your Life. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 1987. Print.

Lessard-Rhead, Brenda, BSc, ND. Nutritional Pathology. Third ed. Richmond Hill: CSNN, 2015. 129-34. Print.

#headaches #migraines

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Milka is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist serving the Greater Toronto Area


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