Vitamin D Deficiency and Chronic Headaches

Low vitamin D may cause migraines and other headaches. Learn more about the science behind this link and what it means for your headache treatments.

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Getting enough vitamins is an important part of staying healthy—and vitamin D is no exception. Vitamin D deficiencies may be connected to a wide variety of health problems, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Osteoporosis

And according to research, it could also be the cause of your headaches.

How Does Low Vitamin D Cause Headaches?

Many people who experience headaches—including migraines—also have a vitamin D deficiency. A vitamin D deficiency can cause migraines and other headaches through multiple pathways. Too little vitamin D can:

  • Cause inflammation
  • Make some neurons more sensitive
  • Change brain chemical levels
  • Increase formation of nitric oxide (a molecule that plays a role in nerve impulses)
  • Decrease magnesium absorption
  • Decrease melatonin

All of the above can can result in headaches.

What Does the Research Say?

Researchers found that low vitamin D was associated with headaches—when participants with the lowest and highest levels of vitamin D were compared, those with the lowest levels were more than twice as likely to have headaches at least once a week.

However, many of the participants with vitamin D deficiencies did not have chronic headaches—68% of participants were vitamin D deficient but only 9.6% of participants reported having chronic headaches. Still, participants with headaches had lower average levels of vitamin D than those without headaches.

How Do You Know if You Have a Vitamin D Deficiency?

You may have a vitamin D deficiency if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Bone pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle aches
  • Deformed bones
  • Weak and broken bones
  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia

Some people—like breastfed infants, older adults, and people with darker skin—are more at risk for developing a vitamin D deficiency. You may also be more at risk for a vitamin D deficiency if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn's disease
  • Chronic kidney or liver disease
  • Histoplasmosis
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Lymphoma
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Tuberculosis

If you're concerned about your vitamin D levels—especially through the winter months—ask your healthcare provider whether you should get tested. A simple blood test can measure the level of vitamin D in your blood and they can determine if your levels are within a normal range or if you should start a vitamin D supplement.

What Is the Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency and Headaches?

If your headaches are connected to low vitamin D levels, the treatment is to increase your vitamin D. Other than headaches, treating a vitamin D deficiency can also help other health issues and symptoms.

Vitamin D Supplements

A healthcare provider may recommend that you start a vitamin D supplement. Depending on how low your levels are, a healthcare provider will tell you how much vitamin D is recommended and how often you should take it. Taking vitamin D supplements could help reduce how common headaches are, especially for people with migraines.

The benefits and potential risks of taking vitamin D supplements for people who already have normal levels are still unclear. Make sure to talk to a healthcare provider about vitamin D supplements as it can be dangerous to take more vitamin D than the daily recommended amount of 600 IU (international units) for most adults.

Add More Vitamin D-rich Foods to Your Diet

You can also increase your vitamin D levels by incorporating more vitamin-D rich foods in your diet. Luckily, the nutrient can also be found in:

  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Fortified foods (milk, cereal, orange juice, dairy products, soy drinks, etc).)
  • Mushrooms

But some people have a problem absorbing nutrients from food due to conditions like celiac disease, short bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance. So they may not be able to absorb enough vitamin D from the food in their diet.

Get More Sun

Most of the vitamin D in our bodies comes from the sun but it can be difficult for people living in the US to make enough vitamin D through sunlight exposure in the winter months.

But there are risks—too much sunlight exposure also puts you at risk for skin cancer and aging of the skin so you may want to try supplements and vitamin D-rich foods instead of trying to get more sun.

This may not be beneficial for older adults since as you age, your skin doesn't make vitamin D from sunlight as effectively as it used to. People with dark skin may also not make enough vitamin D from the sun.

A Quick Review

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to headaches because it can affect inflammation and how your neurons work. You can increase your vitamin D levels with supplements, vitamin-D rich foods, and sunlight.

Taking supplements can reduce how often your headaches occur. However, before trying vitamin D supplements, talk to your healthcare provider about whether and how you should take them.

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  1. National Library of Medicine. Vitamin D deficiency.

  2. Nowaczewska M, Wiciński M, Osiński S, Kaźmierczak H. The role of vitamin D in primary deadache-from potential mechanism to treatmentNutrients. 2020;12(1):243. doi:10.3390/nu12010243

  3. Virtanen JK, Giniatullin R, Mäntyselkä P, et al. Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is associated with higher risk of frequent headache in middle-aged and older menSci Rep. 2017;7:39697. doi:10.1038/srep39697

  4. National Library of Medicine. Vitamin D test.

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