A cure for the common headache

Next time you have a headache, don’t reach for the Tylenol. Instead, try supplementing with a little extra vitamin D.

If that sounds like strange advice, hear me out. A new study from Norway shows that low levels of the sunshine vitamin might be a smoking gun behind non-migraine headaches.

As it turns out, the same areas of the brain involved in vitamin D metabolism are also implicated in headaches–which suggests that vitamin D may play a role in this condition.

And this latest study’s results bear that connection out.

In fact, they show that headache incidence might be as much as 20 percent higher in people with the lowest levels of vitamin D. (Researchers found no association, however, between D status and migraine headaches.)

Previous reports have already linked high latitude with headaches. (Keep in mind that the higher north or the lower south of the equator you live, the lower your ability to make vitamin D of your own accord without supplementation.)

So this isn’t exactly the first study to look at a possible link between vitamin D and headaches. But it has particular relevance because it is one of those long term epidemiologic studies, looking at over 11,000 participants.

The researchers divided subjects according to smoking status, and also made adjustments for several other confounding factors that can affect both D levels and headache frequency. These included age, gender, BMI, and chronic disease status.

Ultimately–among non-smokers at least–the strong link between low D and headaches persisted, even after further adjustment for factors like physical exercise, alcohol consumption, and education level.

Personally, I was a little surprised that there were so many factors that influenced the amount of vitamin D found in your blood. I often thought it had more to do with absorption or digestion.

But I know that from now on, I’m going to assess my patients with low vitamin D a little differently.

My prescription, however,  will remain the same. For chronic headaches–and a whole lot more–5,000 IU of D3 a day could be just what the doctor ordered.

“Association Between Headache and Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D; the Tromsø Study: Tromsø 6.” Headache. 2012;52:1499-1505.