Headaches, migraine, and relevant supplements
Most people have experienced a normal headache, while migraines are far more complex. Although the pain can be caused by a number of factors, essential nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, fish oil, and coenzyme Q10 may play a vital role according to a review article that is published in Current Pain and Headache Reports. The authors describe how certain nutrients affect underlying mechanisms that may prevent or mitigate different types of headaches.
Around 96% of the world’s population has tried having a regular headache at some point in life. Eleven percent of the adult population suffers from migraine attacks that normally occur as a throbbing pain in one side of the head. The pain is often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light. Migraine with aura is combined with transient visual disturbances, sensory disturbances, and difficulty with speech.
Migraine is believed to caused by unwanted brain processes that relate to systemic inflammation, the nervous system, the circulatory system, and other underlying mechanisms. It is also believed that defects in the mitochondria (the energy-producing powerhouses in cells) may play a role. According to new theories, a combination of sensory stimulation and a lack of local energy reserves may activate the trigeminovascular system, where neurons affect blood vessels in the brain.
In their review article, the authors mention the fact that specific nutrients can improve mitochondrial function, and that other nutrients can regulate inflammatory processes and the cardiovascular system. Different nutrients generally seem to have a positive effect on the prevention and treatment of headaches and migraine.
Mitochondria need B vitamins, magnesium, and Q10 to produce energy. Several studies show that supplementation with these nutrients can have a positive effect on migraines. The authors refer to a study where daily ingestion of 400 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) for three months reduced migraine attacks by over 50 percent in half of the patients.
According to a meta-analysis, high-dosed vitamin B3 supplementation in the form of nicotinic acid (50-200 mg) has a positive effect, and different theories suggest that it is because it supports energy turnover and blood vessel function. It may be necessary to take vitamin B3 in a dose that is large enough to cause a harmless flush of red, warm, or itchy skin on the face – better known as a niacin flush.
Supplementation with Q10 (3 x 100 mg per day) can also help prevent migraines, especially in cases where the migraine is caused by mitochondrial defects and an impaired ability to synthesize and utilize Q10. Make sure to choose a high-quality Q10 supplement with documented bioavailability to ensure that the Q10 molecules reach the mitochondria in the cells.
Dysfunctions in the immune system and inflammatory processes
Migraine is considered to be a type of brain neuroinflammation that arises when the immune cells trigger the production of cytokines. Different proteins may also stimulate neurons and cause pain. Several studies reveal that vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect. Moreover, vitamin D and DHA (one of the two omega-3 fatty acids) have numerous functions in the brain and nervous system. For example, it has been reported that for each 5 ng/mL increase in vitamin D levels in the blood, there is a 22 percent reduction in migraine attacks. It is therefore important to have optimal blood levels of the nutrient. They should ideally be higher than 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L). It is also important to take into account that it takes some time for vitamin D and fish oil to work optimally in the body.
Nervous system dysfunctions
Interactions between magnesium and calcium are of vital importance to the transfer of nerve impulses. Magnesium is situated in the calcium channel of the cell membranes where it makes sure that only a tiny amount of calcium enters the cells in soft tissues such as the brain. In the case of a magnesium deficiency, the nerve cells risk being flooded by calcium ions, which overstimulates the cells and may trigger a migraine attack.
Magnesium also has several functions in the nervous system and is needed to activate vitamin D. Multiple studies show that magnesium supplementation can prevent and mitigate migraine attacks. Daily doses of up to 600 mg of magnesium have been used for this purpose.
It also appears that supplementation with vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) alone or in combination with folic acid and/or vitamin B12 can prevent migraine with aura in adults. This may be because vitamin B6 improves the effect of magnesium, but it can also be because the three B vitamins (B3, folic acid, and B12) regulate blood levels of homocysteine, a compound that can be toxic to the brain when consumed in large doses.
When preventing and treating headaches and migraine, one should also pay attention to:
- Maintaining the right fluid balance
- Having stable blood sugar levels
- Avoiding migraine-triggering (histamine-containing) foods such as cheese, pickled herring, smoked salmon, red wine, and monosodium glutamate
Shadi Ariyanfar et al. Review on Headache Related to Dietary Supplements. Current Pain and Headache Reports 2022
Jonathan Prousky and Dugald Seely. The treatment of migraines and tension-type headaches with intravenous and oral niacin (nicotinic acid): systematic review of the literature. Nutritional Journal 2005.
Stephanie Carter. CoQ10 Targets the Cause of Migraine Headaches. Life Extension Magazine 2019
Izabela Domitrz and Joanna Cegielska. Magnesium is an important Factor in the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Migraine – From Theory to Practice. Nutrients 29 January 2022
Ioannis N. Liampas et al. Pyridoxine, folate and cobalamin for migraine: A systematic review. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica. 2020
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