Can Plants Help Your Headache?

Recently I had to bring my daughter to the ER for a severe migraine. For three days, she had been in so much pain, she wasn’t able to eat, sleep, or do any other normal activities such as going to work.

By the time I got her to the hospital, she needed four bags of IV fluid just to get her electrolytes back to normal. As a child, she suffered occasionally from these debilitating bouts of migraines and, as a parent, I realized this is much more than a common headache. I wished more than anything that I could take the pain away. Physicians agree, migraines are one of the worst neurological problems our population suffers from.

This got me thinking of all the other people I know that suffer from chronic headaches and migraines and what can be done to help. Interesting enough, a study done by Ball State University linked poor office conditions with an increase number of headaches and migraines. This study conducted by the University and produced by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) concluded employees who worked long hours in poor indoor environments often got headaches due to unhealthy balances of light, humidity, temperature, exposure to carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and high sound levels. Out of 4,326 workers monitored among 100 randomly-selected office buildings, 38% suffered headaches 1-3 days a month and 8% suffered daily. To simplify those numbers, that’s over 346 people out of 4,326 trying to do their jobs with head pain every day.

How plants combat these headache causing conditions:

  • Humidity: While plants may help with some unhealthy balances of light, they certainly help regulate indoor humidity. With our modern structures being more hermetically sealed to save on energy costs, humidity levels are hindered, especially during winter months. Through transpiration, the leaves of a plant will release moisture into the air and help maintain healthy humidity levels inside enclosed spaces.
  • Removal of Toxic Carbons: Besides investing in a high quality air filter, plants are aesthetically pleasing natural air filters that have been proven to reduce headache causing toxins like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide inside our buildings. Just as we need oxygen to breath, plants are taking in carbon monoxide and dioxide as nutrients and giving back more oxygen in the process.
  • Strong Odors: Strong odors are another leading trigger of headaches or migraines. Benzene and formaldehyde are some of the chemical smells you get from wood products, paint, carpets, cigarettes, or nail polish remover. All day, we are surrounded by these products in our indoor spaces. While some state and the federal government have been working on lowering the use and emissions of these commonly used chemicals, it’s only been since 2007 that some of this legislature has been passed. Research done by agencies, such as NASA, recommend having living plants in our interiors as the best natural way of removing these harmful toxins floating around our homes and office spaces.
  • Loud Sounds:  High noise levels, especially constant noise, can be a common trigger for a migraine. Using living foliage as a hedge, can help shield noise. Back in the day when telemarketing was rampart, the manager of a call center called me to install several long rows of planters between desks. It was like a classroom full of students doing nothing but dialing a number and giving the same pitch over and over. I don’t know how you could have any type of conversation when you could hear another person beside you saying the exact same thing. After two room-dividing planter walls were installed, not only did the open room look more inviting, the noise level was noticeably lower. Being his idea, the manager was happy he had fewer noise complaints and less employees calling in sick.

After the Ball University study, Professor Lagsigh Khubchandani of Physiology and Health Science, concluded, “Migraines and headaches lead to significant decline in quality of life, productivity and daily function.” He also discovered 37% of women suffered, compared to 11% of men, from these headache issues. I’ve witnessed this first hand with my daughter. If anyone is prone to head pain like her, adding plants to any indoor environment, is a great natural solution to combat environmental migraine conditions.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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