Week of 10/05/2008

Dear EarthTalk: Are there natural headache remedies that can get me off of Tylenol, Advil and other medicines whose side effects can be as bad as or worse than the pain that led me to use them?

—Jan Levinson, Portland, ME

Many of us may be too dependent on over-the-counter painkillers to treat the occasional headache, especially given the side effects of such drugs. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can increase the risk of heart and circulation problems—including heart attack and stroke—and is also tough on the digestive tract. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) has been linked to nausea, diarrhea, and kidney and liver problems. Many natural health care practitioners disparage drugs for merely masking the symptoms of larger problems.

All headaches are not the same and gobbling down pain pills will not address the causes, whatever they may be. Some headaches are caused by tension; others stem from sinus congestion, caffeine withdrawal, constipation, food allergies, spinal misalignment or lack of sleep. And then there are migraines, which researchers think are neurological in nature: The brain fails to constrict the nerve pathways that open the arteries to the brain, resulting in a pounding headache as blood flows in unchecked. Assessing what kind of headache you may have can help lead the way to a solution beyond deadening the pain with a pill.

Massage and techniques such as acupressure (acupuncture without the needles) can go a long way to relieve tension headaches without the need for chemical painkillers. As to relieving migraine headaches, a number of nutritional supplements and herbs have good track records, but they should not be used without the guidance of a trusted doctor or naturopath.© Getty Images

To make tension headaches go away, the Farmers" Almanac recommends applying an ice pack to the neck and upper back, or, even better, getting someone to massage those areas. Also, soaking the feet in hot water can divert blood from your head to your feet, easing any kind of headache pain in the process.

Another all-natural headache cure is acupressure (like acupuncture, but without the needles), which promotes healing throughout the body by stimulating channels of energy known as meridians. Victoria Abreo, alternative medicine editor for the website BellaOnline, says that anyone suffering from a tension headache can employ a simple acupressure technique to help relieve the pain: "With one hand, press the shallow indention in the back of the head at the base of the skull. Simultaneously, with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand, press firmly into the upper hollows of the eye sockets, right where they straddle the bridge of the nose and meet the "t" of the eyebrow bridge." She says to press softy at first, and then more firmly, holding for three to five minutes.

As for migraines, avoiding certain trigger foods might be key to staving them off. Abreo says migraine sufferers should try steering clear of dairy products, processed meat, red wine, caffeine and chocolate. New research has shown that some people with specific dietary deficiencies are more prone to migraines.

According to Dr. Linda White, who writes about natural health for Mother Earth News, some recent clinical trials have shown three nutritional supplements—magnesium, riboflavin and coenzyme Q10—to be particularly effective at reducing the frequency and severity of migraines. Also, a number of herbs—including feverfew, butterbur, lavender, gingko biloba, rosemary and chamomile—have proven track records in preventing or stopping migraines. Since herbs can be potent and are not regulated or tested, headache sufferers should consult a trusted doctor or naturopath before using alternative remedies.

CONTACTS: Farmers" Almanac; BellaOnline; Mother Earth News

Dear EarthTalk: Are there any electric bicycles or scooters that make for a nice cheap, green-friendly commute?

—Sean Foley, Nashua, NH

s electric bikes and scooters are big improvements over the finicky mopeds of the 70s and 80s. Consumers can start greening up their commutes on such vehicles for as little as a

Bicycle commuting has long been a symbol of greener living, and it is great exercise, too. But most people are probably not up to commutes much beyond five or 10 miles one-way in the interest of time and in not arriving at work too pooped (or sweaty) to pop.

Now a number of battery-powered two-wheelers are coming on the market that won’t get you your exercise but will get you from point A to B and back with minimal environmental impact. Consumers can start greening up their commutes on such vehicles for as little as $1,500 plus about 25 cents a day in electricity costs—not bad at all when you consider that a new car costs thousands of dollars more up front and chugs mass quantities off expensive and polluting gasoline.

Many of us conjuring up images of electric bikes and scooters may envision the finicky mopeds of the 70s and 80s, but today’s offerings are much improved and quite diverse.

Those who want to go fast but stay green should check out some of the electric scooters made by Miami-based EVTAMERICA. Each of the company’s three models tops out at a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour—respectable even on the highway. "People want to go at least 40 mph," says the company’s co-owner, Fernando Pruna. "Everything built before could only do 25 or 30."

Meanwhile, eGO of Somerville, Massachusetts makes electric bikes that can speed along at 25 miles per hour in "go fast" mode, but also have a "go far" mode, which trades off speed for distance (some 24 miles on a single charge). While eGO’s bikes may look diminutive, they are known for their strength. "Our bikes are powerful enough to tow a car," says Kevin Kazlauskas, the company’s operations manager. "These are not toys, and customers aren’t treating them like toys."

Another option might be an electric scooter made by Houston-based Veloteq. These scooters only go 20 miles per hour at top speed, but they can cover up to 50 miles on a single charge, which is more than enough distance to get most commuters back and forth to work, as long as they can avoid fast-moving highways along the way. A side benefit of the speed limitation on Veloteq’s vehicles is that they are typically exempt from licensing, registration and insurance regulations in most jurisdictions—yet another way to save money over those car drivers still mired in their 20th century car commutes.

Opting for one of these new scooters or bikes over a car commute will take a big bite out of your carbon footprint, but the future promises even greener versions. The lead-acid batteries that most models use today will soon be replaced with greener and more efficient varieties, lithium ion and nickel zinc being two of the more promising formats. These new fangled batteries will make the vehicles cost more, at least initially, but they will also trim bike weight significantly and provide a lot more distance per charge. And eGo is working on a model with a small solar array behind the seat to extend the bike’s range once its electric charge starts to run low.