- Diet and lifestyle factors contribute to deficiencies that may cause headaches.
- Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to the frequency and intensity of headaches.
- Choosing food high in certain vitamins and supplementing when needed can help decrease headaches.
When you’re dealing with a pounding headache, finding relief is typically the first thing on your mind. Unfortunately, the methods we use to crush the pain are often temporary, leaving us waiting for the next headache to strike.
One way to get ahead of the pain is to examine your diet and lifestyle and see if there are any obvious signs of deficiencies. INSIDER talked with several experts to uncover what may be contributing to the frequency and severity of your headaches.
A vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increase in headache frequency
Vitamin D is actually a hormone produced by the kidneys. Most of us get our intake of vitamin D through food, supplements, or being outdoors and soaking up the sun. But if any of those methods are lacking, you may find an increase in headache frequency and intensity.
That’s because vitamin D deficiencies are related to a larger number of monthly days with headaches. However, Dr. Clare Morrison of MedExpress told INSIDER that it’s important not to overdose on vitamin D, as excessive intake can also cause health problems.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends 600 IU (International Units) of vitamin D for adults ages 19 to 70. Adults 71 and older need 800 IU’s. Good sources of vitamin D include sunlight (but make sure to limit exposure to avoid increased risk of skin cancer), supplements, fatty fish, and foods fortified with vitamin D such as dairy products, orange juice, and cereals.
How to get enough vitamin D without the sun
A magnesium deficiency can contribute to headaches
Magnesium helps the body regulate nerve and muscle function, maintain blood sugar levels, and regulate blood pressure. Dr. Sara Crystal, MD, Neurologist and Headache Specialist, and Cove medical advisor, told INSIDER there is good evidence that magnesium deficiency can contribute to migraines. That’s why she said many people find magnesium supplements helpful in treating these symptoms.
Since magnesium is considered a natural “relaxer” of the muscle and nervous system, Morrison said it’s not surprising that a lack of this mineral causes muscle tension, cramps, insomnia and widespread pain, including headaches. Good food sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, fortified foods like breakfast cereal, milk, and yogurt.
Dehydration could be the culprit when it comes to your headaches
We’re surrounded by drinking water, yet many of us don’t get enough of this important fluid during the day. And some people don’t drink any fluids for hours and hours, which registered dietician Julie Stefanski MEd, CSSD, LDN, CDE told INSIDER can be a contributing factor in headaches.
“If you fall in this category, consider setting the alarm on your phone or computer to cue you to drink,” recommended Stefanski. She said to focus on drinking eight ounces of water several times per day. “Everyone has different fluid needs, but you should aim for at least 64 ounces of fluid as an adult,” she explained.
Read more: 11 signs of dehydration you might be missing
A deficiency in vitamin B2 has been linked to migraine headaches
Although all of the B vitamins play a role in protecting you from headaches, vitamin B2 (also known as Riboflavin) seems to stand out the most.
“Eating foods high in vitamin B2 or supplementing with a quality vitamin may help improve mitochondrial energy metabolism and therefore, decrease the incidence of migraine headaches,” she explained.
The recommended intake of B2, according to the NIH, is 1.3mg for males and 1.1mg for females ages 19 and up. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the recommended daily allowance is 1.4mg for pregnancy and 1.6mg for lactation. You can find B2 in foods like eggs, kidney, liver, lean meats, milk, green vegetables, and fortified grains and cereals. Higher doses may be recommended if you suffer from migraine headaches.
In fact, all the B vitamins are important for preventing headaches
“All of the vitamins in the B complex, including folic acid, are beneficial for the nervous system, as they help reduce levels of homocysteine,” explained Morrison. She said too much homocysteine could cause migraines.
However, as with any nutritional supplement, it is important not to take excessive doses.
A sodium deficiency can cause headaches
If you sweat a lot during exercise or other strenuous physical activity, you may be dealing with a lack of salt, which Morrison said can cause headaches.
The good news is you can easily manage this by eating something salty or drinking electrolyte containing beverages. Salt deficiency can also be caused by taking long-term diuretics and by certain medical conditions.
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