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Cluster Headaches – Natural Treatment Options

Cluster headaches are considered by the medical community (and sufferers) to be one of the most painful chronic conditions.  They are not as common as migraine or tension type headaches, affecting approximately 1 in 1000 people.

Only one in five cluster headache sufferers (or “clusterheads” as they often call themselves) are women.

 Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches have a distinct pattern of symptoms:

  • Rapid onset of one-sided pain (usually around the eye or the temple)
  • Pain is excruciating and lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours
  • Can happen at any time of day but often occurs 2 hours after going to bed
  • Associated symptoms can include: tearing, red eyes, puffy eyelids, stuffy/ runny nose, facial sweating, and drooping eyelids
  • Headaches occur in clusters with headaches occurring frequently over the course of several weeks, followed by a headache-free interval of 6 months to a year.  Clusters often occur in the late winter (February) and autumn.
  • Some cluster headache sufferers have chronic headaches with no headache-free intervals.

Treatment of Cluster Headaches

The bulk of medical research on headache treatments focuses on migraine type headaches and cluster headache sufferers are left to try a variety of different pharmaceuticals in an attempt to find relief from their pain.

Emerging research on natural treatment options for cluster headaches has been encouraging.  Used alone or in conjunction with drug therapies many cluster headache sufferers may find greater relief from the pain of cluster headaches.  Below is a list of some of the most promising natural treatment options currently available.

Note: Natural medicines are still medicines and should be taken under the supervision of a qualified health care professional.

chili peppers for cluster headachesCapsaicin (Cayenne pepper)

Patients at the New England Center for Headache experienced a decrease in cluster headache intensity after applying capsaicin cream inside their nostrils.

Capsaicin is the active component of cayenne pepper and acts as a pain reliever by stimulating pain sensing C nerve fibers and rapidly depleting the substances these fibers use to convey pain signals to the brain.  The capsaicin causes a burning sensation for approximately 10 minutes which must occur for the treatment to be effective.  The burning sensation will decrease
with subsequent applications.  Use the capsaicin cream on the same side as the headache for best effects.


Cluster headache sufferers often have a lower than average level of melatonin, especially during a cluster period.  Based on this observation, and the timing of cluster headaches (often occurring a few hours after going to bed) melatonin has been studied as a potential treatment for cluster headaches.  One study found the use of melatonin at bedtime for 14 days significantly reduced headache severity and frequency when compared to placebo.


Studies have shown that people with cluster headaches often have the lower than average levels of serum magnesium.  Intervention with intravenous magnesium resulted in relief of symptoms for all cluster headache sufferers assessed.  Oral magnesium hasn’t been studied but may be effective in reversing the magnesium deficiency seen in cluster headache sufferers.  You can discuss with your Naturopathic Doctor if IV magnesium, or oral magnesium, may be useful for you.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Taken daily, vitamin B2 has been shown in studies to decrease the severity and frequency of cluster headaches.  3 months of daily supplementation was needed to have an effect.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)

kudzuKudzu is an Asian plant that was first used as a medicine over 1800 years ago.

It contains antioxidants, has anesthetic effects, dilates blood vessels in the brain, increases blood flow to the brain and can improve brain acetylcholine.  Studies on the use of Kudzu in the treatment of cluster headaches are scarce, but case studies have shown a decrease in frequency and intensity of cluster headaches in a high percentage (approximately 70%) of patients studied.  Dose of Kudzu is individualized and attaining optimal dose is necessary to see any benefit.

Other Botanical Medicines

Many botanical (herbal) medicines have been used in the natural treatment of cluster headaches.  California poppy, passion flower, skullcap, valerian and Jamaican dogwood have all been used with varying success to decrease the symptoms of cluster headaches.

Studies are currently exploring other alternative treatments for cluster headaches.  One treatment that has been getting some attention is psilocybin (the active constituent in ‘magic mushrooms’).  Some benefit has been seen in case studies but more research on the appropriate dose and dispensing of this substance is needed before its use can be recommended.

If you, or someone you care about, suffer from cluster headaches it may be worthwhile for them to explore these treatment options.  Speak to a Naturopathic Doctor to determine which treatments might work for you.


The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.


Beck E, Sieber WJ, Trejo R.  Management of Cluster Headache. Am Fam Physician 2005;71:717-24,728.

Dodick DW, Rozen TD, Goadsby PJ & Silberstein SD. Cluster headache. Cephalalgia 2000; 20:787-803.

Leone M, D’Amico D, Moschiano F, Fraschini F, Bussone G.  Melatonin versus placebo in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a double-blind pilot study with parallel groups.  Cephalagia 1996; 16:494-6.

Marks DR, Rapoport A, Padla D, Weeks R, Rosum R, Sheftell F, et al. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of intranasal capsaicin for cluster headache. Cephalalgia 1993;13:114-6.

Pringsheim T, Magnoux E, Dobson CF, Hamel E, Aube M. Melatonin as adjunctive therapy in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a pilot study. Headache 2002;42:787-92.

Sewell AR, Halpern JH, Pope HG.  Response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD.  Neurology 2006;66:1920-1922.

Sicuteri F, et al. Capsaicin as a potential medication for cluster headache. Med Sci Res 1988;16:1079-1080.


Lisa Watson

Dr. Lisa Watson is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is a passionate writer and speaker and encourages her patients and readers to embrace their full, amazing, health potential. You can follow Dr. Watson on twitter at @drlisawatson or contact her at

19 thoughts to “Cluster Headaches – Natural Treatment Options”

  1. Cluster headaches are not the same as having a tumour. They are a type of vascular headache, meaning they are caused by dilation of blood vessels, leading to increased pressure on nerves. This causes the pain of cluster headaches. While we don’t know exactly what causes cluster headaches, they are not caused by brain tumours. Thanks for your question!

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post!
    I like to have people prepare their own Capsaicin cream. Using fresh capsaicin will make the cream more effective and it’s incredibly easy to do.
    Yours in health,

  3. I have just been diagnosed with Cluster Headache syndrome after two weeks of pure hell. Quite understand the “suicide condition”. This came out of the blue in early winter with headaches mostly around 4am and as they wake me they are already full blown and there is no-way I can take anything as everything I swallow comes straight out again. I went for an MRI and CT scan and discovered a tumour on the brain as well!! The Neuro says my two are not related but read the post with interest, maybe others have not had MRI’s or CT scans? Hope I can find the Capsaicin cream here in South Africa as most of the other alternatives will not be available through normal channels

  4. You can make your own capsaicin cream using cayenne pepper. Just make sure to use fresh spice as the capsaicin content diminishes with time. Best of luck Anne – I hope you find relief soon. ~Lisa

  5. I’m a 42yr young man who have been suffering from clusters since about age 27. Many cat scans and medications later I’ve settled with having Fiorcet with me everywhere i go as nothing else work. Even they sometimes take awhile to give relief. I use to tell people I’d rather be dead than look forward to attacks, so after research and finding out they nicknamed them “suicide headache” i was amazed. Very good recommendations Dr. because I’d rather have natural treatment…

  6. What type of cream do you mix the cayenne pepper with? I’ve battled these headaches for 24 years, every 18 months, 1-2 headaches a day for 6-8 weeks. Out of desperation after the meds my doc prescribed stopped working, I searched natural remedies online and I recently found that capsaicin can help with clusters. I also read mixing a tablespoon or 2 of apple cider vinegar with a small amount of cayenne can help. Well, lo and behold, the nights I drink this concoction (very small amount and I mix with a little water and drop of honey), I don’t get headaches. Pretty darn amazing! I highly recommend buying the good Bragg Apple Cider. Still tastes gross, but much better than the cheap store brand.

  7. I usually recommend a mild carrier cream like shea butter. In Canada we can also purchase prepared capsaicin products that are ready to use.
    I’m glad to hear you’ve had success with taking the cayenne in apple cider vinegar! ~Dr. Lisa

  8. I use 12-15 liters of oxygen for 12-15 minutes at on set of headache. Keep a tank by my bed. It helps slow the progression down. I also use an Ice Pack on the area of pain. Have these headaches every night for the past 6 years.

  9. My husband suffers from these terrible clusters and he was prescribed Oxygen, it needs to be 15 liters a minute and sumatriptan injection shots. They really help. I just thought I’d share for those of you needing some relief.

    Do any of you struggle with memory loss from these cluster headaches? He does. 😔 I wish there was a cure. It breaks my heart to see him in so much pain.

  10. I am so glad you have found some relief. I hope your story can help others suffering with these debilitating headaches.

    ~Dr. Lisa

  11. I want to cry when I listen to some of these posts. There are many here in much worse condition than myself. My cycle has returned and I will face it for the next 3-4 weeks. My headaches come before I go to sleep and I have found something that reduces my severity and length. Mine usually last approx 30 -45 mts. I had read this a while back searching for similar help. The simple remedy I tried was 1) a Magnesium supplement around 3 in the afternoon, 300MG and 2) a can of Regular Pepsi at room temp. Drink it as fast as you can as soon as you feel the headache coming. I dont know what is in the Pepsi, but something is. I can verify you DONOT want Alcohol! I tried and experiment to induce this headache with a beer so I could get the headache earlier and get to bed earlier…..what a mistake. It was 2.5 hrs of hell. I pray for all of you.

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