You’ve probably heard of studies showing how healthy it is for you to get plenty of sunlight and, in the absence of that, how using a high-quality tanning bed or taking vitamin D supplements can help supply what your body needs.
But there are just as many studies that report how extensively a vitamin D deficiency can damage your health in ways you’ve probably never even imagined. One of those adverse effects is an increased risk of headaches.
A study from Finland addressed this point, as it analyzed data from about 2,600 men between the ages of 42 and 60 from 1984 to 1989.
According to Live Science, from the men’s blood samples, 69 percent of them were found to have low vitamin D levels, which were defined as below 20 nanograms per milliliter, or ng/ml (50 nanomoles per liter). This is actually a serious deficiency state, as optimal levels are between 40 and 60 ng/ml.2
The researchers wrote, “Chronic headache occurring at least on a weekly basis was reported by 250 men, and men reporting chronic headache had lower serum vitamin D levels than others.”
Those with the highest level of serum vitamin D had a 116 percent lower risk of chronic headaches, and men with the lowest vitamin D levels were twice as likely to have frequent headaches (defined as at least one a week) as men with the highest levels.
The researchers weren’t sure which came first, the low vitamin D levels or the headaches. They conjectured that if you have a headache, you’re not likely to spend as much time outside, so they didn’t get the sunlight they need.
Beyond Headaches: Health Problems Linked to Low Vitamin D
Beyond frequent headaches, Science Nordic offered a short list of health conditions that may occur when people don’t get enough vitamin D: “Cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, poor semen quality, depression and osteoporosis.”3 An in-depth review of 1,706 studies published between 2000 and 2010 concluded:
- Solid evidence says optimized vitamin D levels strengthen bones and reduce overall mortality
- It’s likely that vitamin D also has a beneficial effect on the muscles
- Scientific evidence suggests vitamin D can help prevent cancer, diabetes and obesity
What Else May Be Causing Your Headache?
Headaches come in many forms, with many causes, as sufferers know well. Some are caused by tension, while others may be brought on by:
- Artificial fragrances
- Bright lights
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Poor posture
- Weather changes
- Menstrual periods
- Loud noises
- Poor eating habits
- Alcohol, especially red wine
Genetics and fluctuations in hormones such as estrogen are two explanations for migraines. Research has also linked migraines to deficiencies in vitamin D, riboflavin, CoQ10 and magnesium.
Sunlight, Its Absence and What to Do to Make Up for It
Ideally, instead of opting for vitamin D supplements, sensible sun exposure is the best way to get all the vitamin D your body requires. While some foods, such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, contain vitamin D, it’s difficult to get enough from dietary sources alone.
As mentioned, a vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) level between 40 and 60 ng/ml is thought to be ideal for optimal health and disease prevention.
You may need to get approximately 5,000 to 6,000 IUs of vitamin D per day from all sources — sun, supplements and food — in order to reach and maintain a healthy blood level of 40-60 ng/ml.
Keep in mind that the specific dosage is still a very loose guideline, because people vary widely in their ability to respond to vitamin D. Some may need 8,000 IU a day to reach optimal levels, for instance.
Vitamin-D deficiency is extremely common, not only in Nordic countries but also in sun-drenched areas because people spend so much time indoors.
So, it’s important to take steps to alleviate the problem, especially if low (or extremely high) temperatures make it unpleasant to expose your skin to adequate amounts of sunlight.
If you aren’t sure you’ve been getting enough vitamin D from the sun, there’s a blood test that can reveal your levels definitively (25(OH)D or 25-hydroxyvitamin D).
The Main Question in Relation to Headaches: How to Get Rid of Them
For people who get headaches, frequently or infrequently, discovering the cause is an important part of determining how to get rid of them.
Tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches (which are usually rare and brief, with pain around your eyes) are the three most prevalent types. The latter two are the most intense and painful.
While around 5 percent of the population has cluster headaches, about 13 percent of headache sufferers in the U.S. have migraines.
Unfortunately, migraines are still largely misunderstood in the medical community, in large part because the symptoms are so diverse. Some people describe throbbing or searing pain, either on both sides of their head or on just one side.
People who have migraines sometimes experience “auras” when they are just coming on. Healthline describes the visual disturbances known as ocular migraines:
“Ocular headaches can develop with or without the accompanying pain of a classic migraine. During an ocular migraine, or migraine with aura, you may see flashing or shimmering lights, zigzagging lines or stars. Some people describe psychedelic images. It may also cause blind spots in your field of vision.”4
Auras are often confused with retinal migraines, which, while rare, can be accompanied by vision loss in one eye. If you experience this symptom for the first time, having it checked out by a doctor is a good idea to ensure it’s not some other serious condition.
Food Allergies and Headaches
Food allergies and intolerances can also trigger headaches. Common culprits include food containing nitrites, such as hotdogs or lunch meat, and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), often found in processed foods and fast foods as a flavor enhancer.
Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharine and sucralose (brand name Splenda), are also a known cause. The use of glyphosate on wheat crops has been associated with headaches, too, not to mention celiac disease.
Adding coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to your supplementation regimen may have a tremendous effect on lessening the severity and frequency of your migraines. It impacts every cell in your body, but especially your brain and heart.
It’s important to understand that a lot of medications, including hormone replacements, antacids, birth control pills, diabetes drugs and statins to lower cholesterol, may cause a depletion of CoQ10 throughout your body,
Magnesium is a mineral that, when lacking in your body, can set off a headache. In fact, it’s estimated that around half the people with recurrent headaches are actually magnesium deficient. So, increase your consumption of green leafy vegetables, which are rich in bioavailable magnesium. Spirulina is another good source.
Be aware that, like so many other compounds your body needs, medications may block this mineral. Taking an Epsom salt bath can provide magnesium sulfate, which absorbs into your body through your skin, or consider supplementing with 400 to 600 milligrams of magnesium (magnesium threonate) per day.
Additionally, taking 400 mg of vitamin B2, aka riboflavin, will also provide an uptick in another important mineral and may help prevent the onset of a migraine, according to one study.5 Ideally, you’ll want to balance riboflavin with the other Bs by taking a “B complex” with it. Other supplements that help provide what your body needs and may help prevent headaches include vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid.
One way to find out if something you’re eating is at the bottom of your headache problem is to try eliminating potentially offending foods from your diet, one by one, for a period of a few weeks. Called an elimination diet, you then re-introduce the foods one at a time to see if your headaches reoccur. This is one of the quickest ways to see if something you’re eating on a regular basis is the culprit.
Tending to Your Emotional Health May Relieve Headache Pain
Stress, cortisol and thyroid hormone also play a role in headaches and migraines, making stress relief and addressing your thyroid function essential components of a more comprehensive plan. Selenium and ashwagandha are two helpful supplements as they both support thyroid function.
Another “trick” to keep in your bag for relieving headache pain and frequency is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). Clinical trials have shown that EFT is able to rapidly reduce the emotional impact of memories and incidents that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, your body can often rebalance itself and accelerate healing of both emotional and physical problems.
Dramatic results for headaches were demonstrated by Greek researchers, whose study involved 35 people receiving treatment for frequent tension headaches at a headache clinic. After eight weeks, those who had been taught how to do EFT on their own and tapped twice a day reduced the frequency of their headaches by 62 percent and the intensity of the headaches by 60 percent.6
This was from performing EFT on their own; it’s likely if they worked with a skilled EFT practitioner the results may have been even more impressive. If you are currently struggling with headaches, please realize that using EFT and other mind-body tools to relieve the pain can help free you of toxic prescription and over-the-counter painkillers.