Zinc supplements reduce migraine headaches
- together with two other nutrients
Migraine is a chronic neurological disorder that can ruin your quality of life and cost you many sick days. Migraine medicine does not necessarily work for all patients and many people get side effects. Therefore, prevention is a better strategy. According to a new study published in Nutrition Journal, zinc supplements have the potential to significantly reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. You can also read about two other nutrients that reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks and what it is that triggers them. The most important thing is to find and address the different causes. Diet and lifestyle have a profound impact.
Migraine is a chronic neurological disorder that affects around 10-20 percent of the world’s population. It typically appears as a violent, one-sided headache, often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity towards light and noise. An attack can last anywhere from four to 72 hours. Migraine headaches cause more sick days than any other disease.
It is assumed that the pain occurs due to swelling of the large, sensitive blood vessels on the outside of the brain. However, what makes the attack start and stop are alterations in the electric activity in the brain’s nerve cells, the so-called neurons. Local inflammation may also play a role.
Zinc reduces migraine headaches through several mechanisms
According to the scientists that conducted the new study, no research has shown that zinc supplements are able to reduce or attenuate migraine attacks. That is one of the reasons why they wanted to take a closer look at this relation. First of all, some studies have revealed that migraine patients lack zinc. Secondly, zinc is involved in around 1,000 enzyme processes, some of which are relevant for neural signaling. Thirdly, zinc is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells against free radicals and oxidative stress, which means zinc has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Eighty patients in the ages 20-60 years took part in the double-blinded, randomized study. All patients had been diagnosed by an experienced neurologist in accordance with the criteria used by the International Headache Society.
One group of patients got very large quantities (220 mg) of zinc as zinc sulphate for eight weeks, while the other group got placebo (lactose). Zinc levels in the blood were measured at baseline and after the study was completed. The patients were instructed to continue eating the same diet as always. Over the following eight weeks, the participants were asked to report at regular intervals how man migraines they experienced, how long each attack lasted, and the severity of the symptoms. The scientists observed that zinc supplementation had a positive and significant ability to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. However, zinc did not have any positive influence on the severity of the headaches, their duration, or symptoms like nausea, and noise and light sensitivity. Still, the researchers are uncertain about the optimal zinc doses and believe this deserves closer attention.
Zinc sources and supplements
You get zinc from foods like oysters, liver, meat, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, kernels, and beans. Zinc from animal sources has better absorption in the body than zinc from plant sources. The reference intake (RI) level for zinc is 10 mg. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the safe upper intake level for zinc for adults and pregnant women is 25 mg per day. It is safe to take even greater quantities for a short period of time. Prolonged intake of zinc in excessive quantities may however interfere with the body’s iron and copper uptake.
Migraine and Q10
Studies suggest that migraine is a disease or dysfunction of the cellular powerhouses – the so-called mitochondria. In order to make energy, the mitochondria need coenzyme Q10 but studies reveal that around 30 percent of migraine patients have too little Q10 in their blood.
A study of female migraine patients showed that daily supplementation with 400 mg of coenzyme Q10 can reduce pain through lowering two compounds in the blood. One is called CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide) and is produced by the neurons. The other is a cytokine named TNF-alpha and is an inflammation marker.
After three months, the women who had taken Q10 had significantly fewer migraine attacks than the women who got placebo. Any attacks that they suffered were much shorter and less painful. The study is published in Nutritional Neuroscience and supports earlier studies.
It is difficult for the human body to absorb Q10. Therefore, always make sure to take pharmaceutical-grade Q10 supplements with documented bioavailability. The body is only able to absorb around 100 mg of coenzyme Q10 at a time so it is better to split a larger dose into several smaller amounts that you take at different times during the day.
Migraine and magnesium
Magnesium is important for mitochondrial cell signaling, which must be carefully regulated in order not to cause cellular stress and inflammation. High-dosed magnesium supplements can prevent migraine by preventing neurons from being flooded by calcium ions. A meta-analysis from 2016 (Chiu et al.) showed that magnesium supplementation has a positive impact both in terms preventing migraines and reducing acute attacks. Magnesium supplements can reduce the number of migraine days by 22-43 percent.
In various studies, participants have been given up to 600 mg of magnesium daily, which one can easily split up into three doses of 200 mg each. Magnesium supplements with magnesium oxide should be avoided. This magnesium source is primarily used as a laxative and is not absorbed in the digestive system.
Beware of other factors that can trigger migraine headaches, such as:
Hedieh Ahmadi et al. Zinc supplementation affects favorably the frequency of migraine attacks: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutrition Journal 2020
Dahri M et al. Oral Q10 supplementation in patients with migraine: Effects on clinical features and inflammatory markers. Nutritional Neuroscience 2018
Stephanie Carter. CoQ10 Targets the Cause of Migraine Headaches. Life Extension Magazine 2019
Anna E. Kirkland et al. The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients 2018, 10 (6),730;doi:10.3390/nu10060730
Mauskop A, Varughese J. : Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of Neural Transmission 2012
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