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Almonds for headaches instead of aspirin? Doctors recommend better alternatives

Headaches can often weigh you down. But are almonds the answer as a graphic much shared online claims? We asked the experts.

This article is more than 2 years old

  • A graphic shared online in South Africa claims to have the “remedy” to headaches. It suggests eating “10-12 almonds, the equivalent of two aspirins”.

  • But experts told us they hadn’t heard of almonds being a substitute for aspirin and didn’t know of any scientific evidence to support the claim.

  • There are other proven and reliable options for a headache, ranging from medication to just a head massage or drinking fluids. It is important to establish what may be causing your headache.

Headaches can be a debilitating part of everyday life, whether it be mild headaches, ice-pick headaches or full blown migrainesAlmondCheck

They can signify something as simple as dehydration, or they can be a sign of something worse, such as a stroke, tumour or blood clot.

But a graphic shared on Facebook in South Africa claims to have the “remedy” to headaches.

It suggests eating “10-12 almonds, the equivalent of two aspirins” to treat headache. 

Are almonds really a miracle cure for headaches? Or is there something better than aspirin? We investigated.

No evidence almonds can directly manage headaches 

The almond, a tree nut native to the Mediterranean region, could offer a number of health benefits as it contains different vitamins, minerals and fibre. But we couldn’t find any evidence that almonds can be used to treat headaches. 

If anything, they might be triggers for some people’s headaches.

So we reached out to a few experts about the claim.

Dr Elliot Shevel, a maxillofacial headache specialist at the Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Dr Prakash Kathan, a neurologist at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, also in Johannesburg, both told us they hadn’t heard of almonds being a substitute for aspirin and didn’t know of any scientific evidence to support the claim.

Shevel thought there was “certainly no harm” in “trying it” and Kathan noted that almonds could possibly help indirectly, as they contain the mineral magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency has been linked to migraine headaches, although according to the US’s National Institutes of Healthresearch on the use of magnesium supplements to prevent or reduce symptoms of migraine headaches is limited”.

Treatment could exacerbate headache symptoms

Experts group headaches more broadly into chronic headaches, occurring at least 15 days per month, compared to less frequent headaches, suffered by many people from time to time. 

Chronic headaches include a variety of subtypes, such as chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache and hemicrania continua, affecting only one side of the head.

Migraines cause “severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation” and are “often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound”, according to the US-based Mayo Clinic

Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, are widely available and are often taken for occasional headaches.

Specialist neurologist Dr Lize Steyn, based in Midrand, South Africa, said migraine patients were usually nauseated when they had a migraine and she thought almonds would be the “last thing” they would want to eat during “acute” episodes. 

But experts also gave us advice on how to ease or even prevent headaches, without the use of either aspirin or almonds.

‘Diagnose exactly where the pain originates and treat the underlying problem’ says headache specialist

Medication was not the only option for patients suffering from migraines, headache specialist Dr Elliot Shevel said, because “it is only symptomatic treatment and doesn’t stop the headaches from recurring”.

Shevel does not prescribe pain killers at his clinic because he aims to diagnose where the pain originates “and treat that anatomical structure so that the headaches no longer occur”. 

“This means that people no longer have to rely on medications, whether they contain aspirin or whether they are almonds,” he said. 

Aspirin not the only relief for headaches

Dr Kay Karlsson, medical gastroenterologist and director of the endoscopy unit at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, advised that the painkiller paracetamol could be used in place of aspirin for headaches that were getting worse or for patients who could not take aspirin.

She also said that treatment would depend on the cause of a headache, so for a tension headache “a head and neck massage may work” and for dehydration, “just drinking fluid can help”.

Karlsson warned against withdrawal headaches, where “the headache is actually caused by being off the drugs – and using them again just perpetuates the cycle”.

Neurologist Lize Steyn also advised that alternative options were available, such as occipital nerve blocks, physiotherapy and botox, “in particularly resistant cases”.

Occipital nerve blocks are injections of local anaesthetic and steroids, injected around the nerves of the scalp, which reduce traffic in the nerves and can lessen the symptoms of migraines and other headaches.

Botox, or botulinum toxin, is a neurotoxin often used to remove wrinkles cosmetically, but can also treat chronic migraines, as the botox injections block the release of chemicals involved in pain transmission.

But neurologist Prakash Kathan reminded us of a golden rule – it is important to be guided by a doctor when taking any pain medication for chronic headaches.

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