Dear Pharmacist: I’m prone to tension headaches, but during the holidays, they’re constant. I take ibuprofen and sometimes hydrocodone. Can you help me? — J.R., San Jose

Answer: Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Millions of people get them. The trigger could be an argument, poor posture, lack of sleep, overworking yourself, chronic pain, eyestrain, skipping a meal or grinding your teeth. One main reason is muscle tightness.

An occasional tension headache is no big deal, but if they’re chronic (defined by more than 15 per month for three months solid), I can see why you take that medicine!

Termed CTTH (short for chronic tension-type headaches), these can cause depression even if you are a happy-go-lucky person. While painful, these headaches differ from migraines because they don’t have the nausea, halo or any type of aura. This makes them much easier to manage — compared to migraines, where you have to discover the “migrenade” and eliminate it. The term “migrenade” is my word for a trigger that you eat, inhale or create that goes off in your body like a grenade, causing your migraine. There are no real “migrenades” in CTTH, so you can usually eliminate or at least manage these much quicker. The reduction of stress or ending an unhappy relationship can help.

Here are some supplements that may help you become headache free:

Rhodiola: Perfect for people with a lot of mental stress, emotional conflict or anxiety. As you know, that can cause tension headaches. Because rhodiola removes ammonia and lactic acid from your blood, it could help with muscle fatigue. Shoot for about 100mg per day, taken anytime before lunch, as it may be slightly stimulating.

Magnesium: Simple solution for tight muscles, a common trigger for CTTH. Magnesium relaxes your muscles. If you read my “Drug Mugger” book, over 200 prescription medications mug it from your body, leaving you at risk for muscle aches, migraines, depression, high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias. Some forms of magnesium will give you diarrhea. Choose high-quality brands.

Arnica cream: You can buy this at health food stores. It helps soothe muscle aches and relax tight muscles. When the ingredients found in this beautiful flower extract get into your cells, they temporarily shut down a metabolic pathway called NF Kappa B. That pathway is known for spilling nasty pain-causing chemicals termed “cytokines.” You can have your massage therapist rub it on too.

Hops: Known also as Humulus lupulus, this herb can reduce histamine levels. These are cytokines associated with headaches. Hops also helps you to fall asleep, and we know insomnia is a trigger for CTTH (and migraines). When I say hops, I mean the supplement form or tea, not beer! Hops is known as a flavoring agent in beer. I offer natural and pharmaceutical treatment options for dozens of types of headaches in my new book, “Headache Free” available in January. See my website for details:

This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For more information about Suzy Cohen, visit her website at

Recommended for you