Tension headaches, which are characterized by a constant ache or pressure around the head—especially at the temple or back of the head and neck—are the most common type of headache experienced by an enormous percentage of the adult population.
It is estimated that 95% of women and 90% of men have one or more headache episodes per year, and approximately 1 out of every 6 individuals in America experience the discomfort of chronic tension headaches.
Over-the-counter headache medications, such as those containing acetaminophen, are the go-to remedy that the majority of headache sufferers reach for. Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient and most frequently used painkiller in the United States today. Each week, approximately 23 percent of U.S. adults—or 52 million consumers—use an acetaminophen-containing medicine.
But be forewarned: Each year, the use of acetaminophen causes 100,000 phone calls to poison control facilities, 56,000 emergency room admissions, 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 450 fatalities from liver failure alone. Acetaminophen is a major cause of acute liver failure, even at dosage amounts that are within the recommended levels.
What most people don’t know is that the use of acetaminophen may not be the most effective method for stopping headaches. This is because headache pain does not originate from inside the human brain. The brain is incapable of feeling pain because it has no sensory nerves. Headache pain actually originates from tension in the outer linings of the brain, the scalp and its blood vessels and muscles. Typical tension headaches usually occur when the face, neck and scalp tighten up, and this tightening is usually brought about by stress.
It, therefore, stands to reason that since headaches originate from the outer surface of the head, the remedy should be a topical one. Peppermint oil, in particular, has been used for decades to alleviate headaches. Research conducted in Germany by Dr. Hartmut Gobel suggests that rubbing peppermint oil on one’s forehead is just as effective in relieving headaches as taking a headache medication with acetaminophen.
Scientists have long known that peppermint oil, whose main component is menthol, delivers an analgesic and cooling effect when applied topically on the skin. Menthol soothes and calms the excited nerve fibers in the pain-afflicted areas and can swiftly alleviate the pain.
In 1996, researchers at the Neurological Clinic at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany showed scientific proof that peppermint oil applied to the forehead indeed reduces headache pain just as effectively as the standard dose of acetaminophen. Dr. Hartmut Gobel’s randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study also corroborated the finding that peppermint oil is as effective at relieving headaches as acetaminophen.
Peppermint oil also delivers other therapeutic benefits in addition to the relief from headaches, such as the following: It helps alleviate stress … helps relieve bloating, gas, cramping, nausea and stomach upset … increases blood flow to injured muscles, thereby providing relief from muscle tension and pain, and aiding in recovery … helps reduce irritable bowel syndrome … and helps alleviate motion sickness.
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