Chronic headache is a common problem that can have major consequences for productivity and quality of life. Unfortunately, it’s hard sometimes to track down the cause of chronic headaches. New research suggests a potentially easy fix for your chronic headaches: vitamin D.
Low Vitamin D Is Common
Vitamin D levels should be easy to maintain. After all, it’s the only major vitamin that our body is able to synthesize for itself. All we need is sun.
But that can be a problem. As people increasingly spend more time indoors for work and recreation, we see more and more instances of low vitamin D levels. In fact, about 30-50% of Americans suffer from chronically low vitamin D levels. In addition, people often experience seasonal drops in vitamin D through the winter months. Men may spend nearly half the year with low vitamin D levels. Women may spend as much as 250 days a year with low vitamin D levels. That study was conducted in Auckland, New Zealand, which is significantly closer to the equator than Detroit. Here in Detroit, the seasonal dip for vitamin D levels is likely deeper and may be even longer.
Linking Low Vitamin D to Headaches
The new research showing vitamin D levels are related to chronic headaches comes from a re-examination of data from an older study, the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD). This study gathered large amounts of data from 2600 Finnish men aged 42-64 in 1984-1989, including (in most cases) data on vitamin D levels and headaches.
Many of these men had low levels of vitamin D: 68% tested low serum vitamin D. Only a relatively small portion of the men (9.6%) reported chronic headaches, defined as at least weekly headaches. To gauge the potential link between vitamin D levels and headaches, researchers divided the population into quartiles by their vitamin D levels and compared the headache risk among the groups. They found that not only were those with the lowest vitamin D levels twice as likely to report chronic headaches. Men were also more likely to report headaches if they were tested outside the summer months when vitamin D levels were highest.
Try Vitamin D for Your Headaches
If you experience chronic headaches, there’s nothing wrong with making sure you are getting enough vitamin D. Most of us in the Detroit area are probably deficient at this time of year. Ideally, the best way to get your vitamin D is to get sun exposure. Even in January on a cloudy day, there are still a couple of hours around noon when the sun is intense enough that your body will produce vitamin D. And on a cloudless day in January, there’s enough sun to stimulate vitamin D production for nearly six hours a day.
Which is not to say that any of us really want to get out in short sleeves this week to get our vitamin D. So when the weather isn’t suitable for getting sun exposure, turn to food for your vitamin D. Fatty fish are the best natural source of vitamin D: tuna, mackerel, and salmon, for example.
Otherwise, fortified food or dietary supplements can be used to get your vitamin D levels up.
But what if vitamin D doesn’t help with your headaches? Consider other potential causes. One neglected cause of chronic headaches is TMJ. TMJ can cause many types of headaches, including tension headaches and migraines. If your headache isn’t responding to typical care, talk to a TMJ dentist to find out if that’s the cause.