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Salt Water for Headaches and Migraines: Is It a Miracle Cure?

Headaches and migraines are debilitating and sufferers are always on the lookout for new cures. Lately, TikTok has been buzzing about a simple remedy — salt water. With biohackers claiming it can prevent most migraines, salt water has gained the attention of migraine sufferers around the world. Does the science back it up? In this article, we’ll research the claims, explore the potential benefits and risks, and find out if salt water is a miracle cure.

Different types of headaches

There are dozens of different types of headaches. Migraines and tension headaches are among the most common conditions worldwide. Here are the most common types of headaches explained:

  • Migraines. A migraine is a severe, painful headache accompanied by a throbbing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It can also come with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light.
  • Tension headache. A tension headache is a mild to moderate headache, where pressure is felt on the temples and forehead. It is typically described as feeling like a tight band is wrapped around the head.
  • Cluster headache. A cluster headache is a severe headache, which can be one-sided and have short but frequent occurrences.

Primary headaches like migraines, tension, and cluster headaches occur on their own without any underlying medical condition. In contrast, secondary headaches result from underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure or infections.

Causes for common types of headaches

Each type of headache has unique contributing factors, including genetics, biological sex, stress, and medication use.

Migraines

Migraines affect over a billion people globally. If you have a close family member (such as a parent or sibling) who has migraines, your risk is 1.5–4 times higher compared to those without a family history.

Migraines can be triggered by emotional stress, hormonal changes, sleep disturbances, dietary factors, and environmental changes. Additional triggers include missing meals, high altitudes, weather changes, alcohol consumption, certain foods, and exposure to strong smells like perfumes and paints.

Tension headaches

The exact causes of tension headaches aren’t fully understood but are believed to involve a mix of genetic, muscular, nutritional, and environmental factors. Studies suggest that low levels of vitamin B12 and vitamin D may be linked to tension headaches. Stress can also cause tension headaches by leading to muscle tension and pain in the head and neck, as well as heightened sensitivity in the nervous system.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are a type of headache characterized by severe pain around the eye, often accompanied by a blocked or runny nose, a swollen face, and changes in pupil size. The exact causes of cluster headaches are not fully understood, but they are more likely to affect men, people over the age of 30, those who consume alcohol, and individuals with a history of head trauma or brain surgery.

Can salt water help with migraines and headaches?

Recently, TikTok videos have claimed that drinking salt water can prevent migraines and headaches. Biohackers suggest that 85% of migraines are due to sodium deficiencies.

They recommend adding a pinch of Celtic salt or pink Himalayan salt to water and drinking 10 ounces regularly to prevent fluid shifts and migraines. But is there any scientific evidence to support this ‘miracle cure’? Some users in the comments report their headaches have gone completely, while others say it hasn't helped with their migraines at all.

It's important to be aware that no scientific research supports the claim that salt water cures migraines and to be cautious when following medical advice from social media sources.

Lack of evidence for salt water for headaches

Despite these anecdotal benefits, there is no solid scientific evidence that salt water can effectively treat or prevent migraines and headaches.

One online study quoted by a TikTok health influencer suggested that increasing sodium intake to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended levels helped over 99% of migraine sufferers stop their headaches for over 6 months. However, this study had several flaws and cannot be used as a reliable source.

Participants were self-selected from a Facebook group, introducing potential bias. Without a control group, it's hard to confirm that the sodium increase was the sole reason for the improvement. Additionally, the study relied on self-reported data, which can be unreliable, and the study hasn't been peer-reviewed, raising questions about accuracy.

For migraines and headaches caused by other factors, such as stress, hormonal changes, or neurological issues, salt water is unlikely to provide relief. Consuming too much salt can increase blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.

There’s no scientific evidence that drinking any kind of salt water helps prevent or treat migraines or other headaches. Folk remedies like Epsom salt baths and salt water nasal rinses have been suggested for headaches, but none have scientific backing.

Why you shouldn't drink salt water for a headache

While drinking salt water for headaches and migraines is popular on social media, there are risks to consider. Consuming too much salt can lead to a variety of health issues, such as high blood pressure and kidney problems.

High blood pressure

Excessive dietary salt has been linked to hypertension, or high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Guidance published by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing salt intake to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Kidney issues

A high salt intake is also bad for kidney function and studies have linked high dietary sodium to chronic kidney disease and high blood pressure, which further affects kidney function.

Medication interactions

A high salt intake can also lead to electrolyte imbalances, especially in people taking medications for high blood pressure or heart failure. An excessive sodium intake in people taking diuretic medications can lead to hypernatremia (high sodium levels), which could potentially lead to seizures in severe cases.

Alternative remedies for headaches

While reported life hacks like salt water for headaches are gaining traction online, there’s no scientific basis for this hack and no reputable research to back it up. Here are some other headache remedies with some scientific research to back them:

  • Cold compresses. A cold compress placed on the head or neck area may relieve migraine pain. Studies found that measures to cool the neck can reduce pain levels in people suffering from migraines.
  • Staying hydrated. Drinking more water may improve headaches, making them less severe, shorter in duration, and less frequent. Studies have found that people who stay more hydrated suffer less from headaches.
  • Yoga. A review of five studies examining the links between yoga and headaches found that practicing yoga showed some association with short-term improvements in the symptoms of a tension headache.
  • Good-quality sleep. Longer, uninterrupted, and deeper sleep may help people who suffer from headaches and migraines. Studies have found that people with poor-quality sleep are more likely to suffer from tension headaches and migraines.
  • Exercise. Studies have found that exercise and cardiovascular exercise using large muscle groups and raising the heart rate are associated with a reduction in migraine frequency and duration and may even reduce severity.
  • Herbal remedies. In a study looking at different types of herbal remedies, the herbs curcumin, citron, and coriander were found to prevent migraines in some patients. The same study found that menthol and chamomile were useful in an acute migraine attack.
  • Ginger. In a systematic review looking at natural remedies, the results of three trials of ginger root found that ginger could relieve migraine pain, as well as accompanying symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.
  • Essential oils. Other natural remedies like essential oils can also be useful in other headache types. Smelling lavender essential oil may also be helpful in the early stage of a migraine, according to some research.

It is important to note that the evidence to support these natural remedies needs more scientific validation and further studies. So if you are suffering from headaches or migraines, you should speak to your pharmacist or other healthcare professional.

The risks of excessive salt intake on health and well-being are well documented. If you’re looking for your existing migraine or headache treatments with natural home remedies, ginger, essential oils, and herbal remedies have more evidence and are much safer. However, these remedies should not be used in replacement of medication.

Headaches and migraines can affect the quality of life and can be debilitating. Doctors can prescribe medication if deemed appropriate along with other forms of therapies. Therefore, it is best to seek advice and consult with a trained healthcare professional to help you choose the best option, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

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