What Causes Headaches?
Headaches can make it incredibly difficult for people to manage their daily activities. They may cause nausea, heightened sensitivity to light and throbbing pain (x). Although there are prescription medications to help remedy headaches, some of them produce adverse side effects as opposed to headache relief (x).
Fortunately, some dietary supplements can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches (x). In many cases, what treats headaches for one person may provide little or no relief for another. Some treatment solutions may even make headaches worse for others. Therefore, consider working with your doctor to determine the best treatment option for you (x).
No single dietary supplement or combination of supplements has been proven to relieve headaches completely (x). This is because all headaches are different and have unique triggers. However, some supplements are effective in treating or minimizing headaches (x).
Types of Headaches
A distinct symptom of migraine headaches is their unilateral nature (x). The pain associated with migraines is throbbing or pulsating and usually worsens with minimal or intense physical activities (x). Simple activities such as walking out of the house into the driveway may worsen migraine headaches. The pain associated with migraine headaches ranges from mild to severe (x).
Other symptoms of migraine (x) headaches include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased sensitivity to light, sound and smell
- Intense pain that may even wake you up from sleep
This type of headache may last from a few hours to even a day.
Migraine headaches may be triggered (x) by:
- Hormonal changes especially by women during menses
- Emotional changes including anxiety, depression, excitement and shock
- Physical problems such as lack of sleep, tiredness, neck tension, poor posture and overexertion
- Dietary changes such as excessive or inadequate consumption of alcohol and caffeine
- Medications such as sleeping pills, hormone replacement medications and contraceptives
- Environmental triggers such as flickering lights, second-hand smoke, loud music, bright lights and temperature changes
This type of headache causes throbbing pain behind the eyes, on the cheeks, the bridge of the nose and along the top teeth (x). The pain is constant and causes the sensation of pressure on the affected areas (x). Exercise and movements usually worsen the pain. This type of headache is often caused by an upper respiratory infection (x).
This type of headache causes pressure or vice-like sensation in the head (x). Unlike other types of headaches, tension headache does not cause pulsating pain (x). In addition, the pain does not increase in intensity with physical exertion. Nausea and vomiting typically do not accompany a tension headache. However, some patients may experience increased sensitivity to light and noise (x).
Tension headaches (x) may be caused by:
- Muscle tension in the shoulders, neck or face
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Dental problems
This type of headache causes one-sided pain (x). The pain associated with this type of headache occurs on one side of the head, but in clusters, hence the name. Cluster headache is often described as piercing or stabbing and can be extremely intense (x).
The intense pain usually lasts between three minutes and a few hours, and then resolves (x). A distinct feature of cluster headache is it can occur several times in a day or week (x). Lying down usually worsens cluster headaches. This type of headache may be accompanied (x) by:
- Watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Droopy eyelids
The exact cause (x) of this type of headache is unknown. However, cluster headaches are often triggered by alcohol consumption (x). In addition, men are more likely to be affected by cluster headaches than women. Cluster headaches usually occur in people between the age of 20 and 50 (x). Other risk factors for cluster headaches include family history and smoking (x).
Mixed or Mixed Tension Migraine
As the name suggests, this headache has characteristics of both migraine and tension headache (x). The pain is usually described as dull, but constant and throbbing. It is often caused by tension on the neck or scalp (x).
Supplements for Headache Relief
This nutrient has multiple roles in the human body. It boosts metabolism, stimulates the action of enzymes, regulates ion channels and promotes nucleic acid synthesis (x). Experts (x) believe magnesium reduces headaches by preventing the aggregation of platelets and minimizing vasospasm.
Studies (x) indicate people who are prone to headaches have low levels of magnesium in their systems during the attacks. Many of them have a systemic deficiency of magnesium. Taking magnesium supplements may help lower the likelihood of having a headache (x).
Magnesium overdose may cause side effects such as diarrhea and stomach irritation (x). The healthy dosage for magnesium is 400 milligrams per day. Lower the dosage or discontinue use if you experience nausea, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. To improve absorption, consider taking magnesium with nuts and leafy vegetables (x).
Many people take melatonin to improve sleep, especially when they are stressed or have not adjusted to their sleep-wake cycles (x). Melatonin is a natural hormone with similar effects as indomethacin, an anti-inflammatory compound that treats pain, migraines and aches (x).
Studies (x) indicate people who are prone to headaches have low levels of melatonin during the attacks. Unlike other sleep-inducing treatments, melatonin is effective in treating headaches and has very few side effects (x).
The main side effects of this supplement are erratic bouts of depression, abdominal pain and daytime sleepiness (x). Discuss supplementation with your doctor if you have diabetes or if you are on birth control medication.
This vitamin is fat-soluble and plays an essential role in the human body (x). It enhances the absorption of calcium by the body, bone health, immune system and minimizes inflammation (x). This nutrient is found in small amounts in food, but it can also be obtained through supplementation. The skin also produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun (x).
Research (x) indicates vitamin D may help prevent headaches. When combined with calcium, vitamin D can significantly lower the frequency of headaches, including migraines (x). The healthy dosage size for vitamin D is 46 milligrams per day.
Visit a physician to test your current levels of vitamin D before you begin supplementing. Foods rich in vitamin D include cereals, milk, liver, fish and egg yolk (x). This nutrient prevents headaches by minimizing neurogenic inflammatory factors (x).
For the best results, use an accurate scale to measure the dosage. Overdose may cause adverse side effects, including bone loss and hypercalcemia. Other side effects include weight loss, nausea, irregular heartbeat, irritability and general weakness.
Avoid supplementing with vitamin D if you have a history of kidney diseases or tuberculosis. Do not use vitamin D supplements if you are pregnant or lactating.
This supplement has many health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants that prevent the overload of free radicals in the human body (x). In addition, turmeric may help to minimize inflammation, especially on the joints (x). This supplement also supports eye and brain health. Many even use to promote digestion (x).
Turmeric contains curcuminoids and other compounds that minimize headaches (x). It also reduces the number of free radicals in the body that are also associated with headaches (x). The right serving size for this supplement is no more than 1,000 milligrams per day.
Overdose may cause side effects such as abdominal discomfort or stomach upset. Discuss supplementation with a physician if you have a history of hypertension, blood clotting complications and diabetes. Women in maternal condition, including breastfeeding mothers, should not take turmeric supplements.
Many experts (x) believe butterbur could be a potential treatment for headaches. This supplement helps with headaches by regulating the absorption of calcium and inhibiting the inflammatory cascade associated with headaches (x).
Research (x) indicates supplementing with butterbur can reduce the frequency of headaches, especially in children and adolescents. This supplement is well tolerated by users and does not cause adverse side effects. However, it may cause increased burping.
The healthy serving size for butterbur is not more than 150 milligrams per day. Lower the dosage if you experience side effects.
This supplement has anti-inflammatory properties and may help treat pain and inflammation (x). Ginger plays many vital roles in the body. It supports joint, skin and cardiovascular health (x). It also aids in the regulation of healthy cholesterol levels in the body (x) and supports digestion and relieves heartburns (x).
Ginger has similar effects as sumatriptan (x), a common migraine medication. Studies (x) indicate ginger could reduce the severity and frequency of headaches. Unlike migraine medications, ginger does not cause adverse side effects. Overdose only causes abdominal discomfort.
The healthy serving portion for ginger is no more than 100 milligrams per day. However, expectant and breastfeeding mothers should avoid taking the supplement altogether. Consult a doctor before supplementing with ginger if you have a history of blood sugar problems.
This supplement has many benefits in the body. It may minimize the frequency and intensity of headaches by inhibiting the effects of nitric oxide in pain transmission (x). Studies (x) indicate a link between dysfunctions in vitamin B12 pathways and headaches. The recommended serving for vitamin B12 is 200 milligrams per day.
High levels of homocysteine (x) are often associated with headaches. Vitamin B6 regulates homocysteine levels (x) in the body. Lack of vitamin B6 may cause an imbalance in homocysteine levels, which may lead to headaches (x).
Supplementing with vitamin B6 may prevent the intensity and frequency of headaches (x). This supplement promotes the metabolism of serotonin (x). Low levels of the hormone serotonin in the body may cause headaches (x).
The healthy dosage size for this supplement is 50 milligrams per day. Overdose may not cause toxicity in the body, but may cause problems maintaining balance and loss of sensation in certain parts of the body. Avoid supplementing with vitamin B6 if you are expectant or lactating.
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Vitamin B9 may lower the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches (x). This nutrient plays an essential role in the regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain (x). It is almost impossible to overdose on B9 vitamins because excess levels are normally excreted through urine (x).
This is a powerful antioxidant that boosts immune function and metabolic processes (x). This product also promotes cardiovascular health (x). It prevents headaches by minimizing inflammation and improving blood flow (x).
The best serving size for vitamin E is no more than 350 milligrams per day. Side effects associated with vitamin E supplementation include nausea, skin rash, blurry vision, abdominal discomfort and vomiting. Women who are heavy and breastfeeding mothers should avoid supplementing with vitamin E altogether.
Although supplements are considered generally safe, it is crucial to consider a few things when buying dietary products:
- Always discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider before using any product
- Pregnant and lactating women should not use supplements altogether unless when prescribed by a doctor
- Supplements may not produce the same results in all people, and results may not occur right away
- Stop supplementing if the product you are using worsens your headaches
The Bottom Line
Many factors cause headaches, including depression, elements in the environment, physical exertion and lack of certain nutrients in the body (x). Headaches can be classified into various categories, including tension, mixed tension, migraine, sinus and cluster headaches (x). Supplementing with certain nutritional products may help minimize or treat headaches (x).