Natural Treatment for Cluster Headaches

April 10, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 6 Comments

Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?

In a study “Secretion, Pain and Sneezing Induced by the Application of Capsaicin to the Nasal Mucosa in Man,” researchers found that if we cut a hot pepper and rub it inside our nostrils, our nose will start running, hurting, and we’ll start sneezing (capsaicin is the burning component of hot peppers). Why would anyone do this experiment? Anyone who’s handled hot peppers knows if it gets up your nose it causes an intense burning sensation. However, the researchers noted, “this phenomenon has not been formally investigated.” So they decided it “appeared worthwhile to study the effects produced by the topical application of capsaicin in the human [nose].” It appeared worthwhile because… it had never been done before.

So they took some medical students, dripped some in their nose and the poor students started sneezing, burning, and snotting — describing the pain at about eight or nine on a scale of one to ten. No surprise, but here’s the interesting part: What happened when they repeated the experiment the next day? You’d think they might be sensitized to it, still all irritated, so it might hurt even worse, but no–it hurt less. Then they did it again the next day and the next. By day five it hardly hurt at all, they didn’t even get a runny nose. Day ten, and still nothing.

Were they permanently numbed? No. After a month or so the desensitization wore off and they were back in agony whenever they tried rubbing it in their nose. What the researchers think is happening is that the pain fibers, the nerves that carry pain sensation, dumped so much of the pain neurotransmitter (called substance P) that they ran out. Day after day of this, the nerves had exhausted their stores and could no longer transmit pain messages until they made more from scratch, which took a couple weeks. This gave researchers an idea.

There’s a rare headache syndrome called cluster headache. It has been described as one of the worst pains humans experience. Few, if any, medical disorders are more painful. It’s nicknamed the “suicide headache” because patients often consider taking or have taken their lives over it.

It’s thought to be caused by arterial dilation putting pressure on the trigeminal nerve in the face. Treatments involve everything from nerve blocks to Botox to surgery. But that same nerve goes down to the nose. What if we cause the whole nerve to dump all its substance P?

Same as before, daily capsaicin was applied in the nose and by day five, they could hardly feel it any more. As seen in my video, Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?, what the wimpy medical students rated as an eight or nine on the pain scale, those used to the violence of the cluster headache attacks rated a three or four. So, after having achieved desensitization, what happened to their headaches?

Cluster headaches are one-sided headaches; there’s only pain on one side of the head. Those who rubbed capsaicin in the nostril on the opposite side of the head had nothing happen. They started out having around 40 attacks a day, and a month later the headaches were still going strong. Those that rubbed capsaicin in the nostril on the side of the head where the headaches were, cut the average number of attacks in half, and in fact half the patients were cured–the cluster headaches were gone completely. All in all, 80% responded, which is at least equal to if not better than all the current therapies out there.

This extraordinary effect reminds me of the findings in Lavender for Migraine Headaches.

Headache sufferers may additionally want to experiment with avoiding potential triggers such as aspartame (see my video Diet Soda and Preterm Birth). Saffron may also help with headaches (Saffron for the Treatment of PMS), and so might avoiding certain parasites (Pork Tapeworms on the Brain and Avoiding Epilepsy Through Diet). A note of caution, though: Pregnant migraine sufferers seeking natural remedies should be wary of advice they may get (Dangerous Advice From Health Food Store Employees).

Those eating healthy diets are less likely to be on pain medications in general (Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants). See, for example:

Might the consumption of hot peppers also successfully desensitize the gut? Find out in my video, Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Indigestion.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Soumayadeep Paul / Flickr

Dr. Greger’s New Nutrition DVD Now Available

April 8, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 2 Comments

Volume 18The newest volume of my Latest in Clinical Nutrition DVD series is now out. Order on my website or through Amazon (all proceeds go to the 501c3 nonprofit charity that keeps thriving). It can also be ordered as a video download.

The current batch of videos from volume 17 on just ran out, so starting this month and running through June, I’ll be rolling out the videos from this new DVD, volume 18. The DVDs give folks the opportunity to sneak-preview videos months ahead of time, watch them all straight through, and share them as gifts, but there is nothing on the DVDs that won’t eventually end up free online at If you’d like the works–40 hours of video–I have a special on my complete DVD collection.

Here’s the list of chapters from the new volume 18 DVD — a preview of what’s to come over the next few months on

     1. Blood Type Diet Debunked
 2. Why Do We Age?
  3. Caloric Restriction vs. Animal Protein Restriction
 4. California Children Are Contaminated
  5. How Many Cancers Have Been Caused by Arsenic-Laced Chicken?
   6. Taxpayer Subsidies for Unhealthy Foods
   7. Preventing Asthma With Fruits and Vegetables
    8. Treating Asthma With Fruits and Vegetables
     9. Treating Asthma With Plants vs. Supplements?
    10. Treating Asthma and Eczema With Plant-Based Diets
    11. Cholesterol Feeds Breast Cancer Cells
    12. Statin Cholesterol Drugs and Invasive Breast Cancer
   13. Cancer Risk from French Fries
    14. Fish and Diabetes
    15. Diabetes and Dioxins
    16. Pollutants in Salmon and Our Own Fat
    17. Walnuts and Artery Function
    18. Debunking Egg Industry Myths
    19. Eggs and Arterial Function
    20. Alpha Gal and the Lone Star Tick
    21. Tick Bites, Meat Allergies, and Chronic Urticaria
    22. Appropriating Plant Defenses
    23. Xenohormesis - What Doesn't Kill Plants May Make Us Stronger
    24. Plants as Intellectual Property - Patently Wrong?
    25. Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants
    26. Fruits, Veggies, and Longevity - How Many Minutes Per Mouthful?

Order my new DVD at or through Amazon. It can also now be ordered as a video download.or as video downloads at

All the proceeds from DVD, download, and book sales go to the 501c3 nonprofit charity that keeps alive and kicking.
DVD Subscription
If you were a regular supporter, you could be watching the new DVD right now! I come out with brand new DVDs every nine weeks. If you’d like to automatically receive them before they’re available to the public, please consider becoming a monthly donor.

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New Hires
After running more than 500 applicants through a gauntlet of tests and trials, we now have three new full-time staff on board, Tommasina Miller on social media, Katie Schloer overseeing logistics, and Elizabeth Tov as Keynote specialist, along with six new part-time researchers! Please join me in welcoming everyone to the dream team.

This does put us over our projected budget for the year, but with so much new talent on board I’m hoping we’ll be able to grow the audience sufficient to make up the difference. now exists solely on donations from viewers like you. Everything on the website is and always will be free for all, for all time. We refuse to accept ad revenue or corporate sponsorships to retain our independence. If you value the public service provides and would like to do your share and chip in, you can make a tax-deductible donation using a credit card, through Paypal, or by sending a check made out to “” to me at 700 Professional Dr., Gaithersburg, MD 20879.

New Way to Support
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Speaking Tour
As you can see on my list of speaking dates, I’ve cut my travel schedule in half this year so I can concentrate on research. I can’t wait to share my findings, but alas it will be more online than in person this year. In 2015, though, I’m presenting on two wellness cruises–how fun! One with Victoria Moran and Dr. Will Tuttle leaving from New York City in February and one with Drs. T. Colin Campbell and Neal Barnard leaving from Miami in March. I hope you can join me at sea!

May your springtime be a season of renewal and farmer’s market deliciousness,

-Michael Greger, M.D.

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