The low spring sun and bright sunlight can trigger a migraine attack. According to a new report, migraines may also be caused by a lack of vitamin D, which are common during the spring period. The combination of both is therefore rather unfortunate. Earlier and more recent studies show that lack of Q10, magnesium, and B vitamins can also trigger migraines, a condition that makes life miserable for millions of people. What is important is to detect and avoid the things that seem to cause these attacks and, at the same time, make sure to compensate for the nutrients, which the cells are lacking, in order to help the nervous system, the hormone system, and the cardiovascular system function properly.
An estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from migraine headaches, which places this condition as number three on the list of most common diseases. Migraines can affect all age groups. However, most sufferers are women in the age group 35 to 55 years, and that suggests that the sex hormone balance plays an important role.
A migraine headache typically manifests itself as being a one-sided, throbbing headache. The pain is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. The headaches normally lasts from a few hours to three days. Migraines with aura also cause transient, one-sided visual disturbances, sensory disturbances, and impaired strength/paralysis and/or speech disturbances that precede the headache.
What happens in the brain during a migraine attack?
It is known that the large blood vessels on the outside of the brain dilate during a migraine attack. This dilation is most likely what causes pain in the adjacent nerve fibers. Nonetheless, changes in the electrical activity in the brain cells are what initiate and terminate an attack.
Migraine with aura causes a short circuit in some brain cells at the back of the brain, which affect our vision. A small study carried out by Professor John Detre, a neurologist, showed that people with migraine tend to have a different structure to the artery system (the Circle of Willis), which supplies blood to the posterior part of the brain that controls vision. This may explain why people suddenly feel sensitive to light and have visual disturbances during a migraine attack.
Migraines are also believed to cause inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction. The mitochondria are the cellular powerhouses that deliver energy. A migraine is often a result of hereditary and environmental factors. In the following, we will take a closer look at the link between migraines and certain nutrient deficiencies.
Around 40% are vitamin D-deficient
The sun is our primary source of vitamin D. However, at our latitude, the sun sits low in the sky during the entire winter period, which is why vitamin D deficiencies are typically seen during the cold and dark months and early spring. Our genetic makeup also influences our ability to produce and utilize the vitamin.
A 2010 study that was presented to the American Headache Society demonstrated that almost 42% of people with chronic migraine lacked vitamin D. The study also showed that the longer people had suffered from migraines, the more likely it was that their condition was linked to vitamin D deficiency. Finnish researchers have found that men with the lowest levels of vitamin D are twice as likely to have headaches, compared with those who have high levels of the nutrient.
Vitamin D counteracts inflammation
A few studies have shown that vitamin D supplements can reduce migraine attacks, but several weeks may pass before the vitamin works optimally. Scientists theorize that vitamin D has this effect because of its anti-inflammatory properties that ensure normal functioning of the brain’s immune cells (microglial cells), which prevents irritation and swelling around the neurons. They also refer to other studies that show how vitamin D prevents muscle pain, which is otherwise a common cause of tension headaches.
All cells in the body have vitamin D receptors. This is also the case with brain cells, where vitamin D is important for the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and many other functions.
|A blood test can determine your vitamin D status|
Measuring vitamin D levels in the blood
Vitamin D in the body is measured as 25-hydroxy-vitamin D. The official threshold value is 50 ng/ml, but many scientists believe that this is inadequate and suggest 75-100 ng/ml for optimal disease prevention.
Vitamin D synthesis, supplements, absorption, and utilization
During the peak of summer, if you expose your face and hands to 30 minutes of unprotected sunshine, you produce around 30 micrograms of vitamin D. Although this is far more than the recommended daily intake of the nutrient, it is less than a third of the amount (100 micrograms) that many scientists believe we should get each day.
Vitamin D is lipid-soluble, which is why we are best able to utilize the nutrient in supplement form if it is dissolved in oil inside a gelatin capsule. It takes a while before we obtain the optimal utilization of vitamin D, so a good idea is to take a supplement of the vitamin during the entire winter period and continue until the sun sits sufficiently high in the sky for us humans to be able to synthesize the vitamin. People who are not exposed to enough sunlight are advised to take vitamin D all year round.
Magnesium deficiencies are widespread and increase the risk of migraines for several reasons
Magnesium helps control around 350 different enzyme processes in the body, which are of vital importance to the transmission of nerve impulses, blood pressure, muscle contraction, the estrogen balance, and many other functions. According to an article that is published in the Journal of Neural Transmission, lack of magnesium is involved in over 50% of migraine cases and may be a result of unbalanced dietary habits, poor magnesium absorption, increased magnesium excretion due to stress, stimulant abuse, and the use of diuretics.
|Because magnesium is so important for the estrogen balance, women should make sure to get enough magnesium through their entire lifespan.|
High-dosed magnesium supplements are helpful
Supplementing with magnesium helps reduce not only the number of migraines but also their duration and severity. It even reduces the need for acute medication. This was seen in a placebo-controlled study that is published in the journal, Cephalagia, which is the voice of the International Headache Society. The study included 81 migraine patients who had 3.6 monthly attacks on average. The participants got either 600 milligrams of magnesium per day or matching placebo (dummy pills) for a period of 12 weeks. With the first nine to 12 weeks, the number of migraine attacks in the magnesium-supplemented group was reduced by 41.6%. In the placebo group, it was lowered by 15.8%.
Many researchers believe that magnesium affects a person’s sensitivity towards migraine-triggering substances, tension in the cerebral blood vessels, muscle tension and blood pressure. Magnesium also affects the fluid and estrogen balance that is often derailed in sufferers of migraine.
Finally, too much calcium from the diet (especially from dairy products) and from supplements may skew the magnesium-calcium balance, causing calcium to seep into the cells of the soft tissues. This may lead to cramping of the cells and possibly trigger an attack.
Too much and too little magnesium – be careful of both
According to the official recommendations, the dietary magnesium-calcium ratio should ideally be around 1:2. In countries like Japan, however, the ratio is closer to 1:1 because the Japanese have different dietary habits. Too little magnesium combined with too much calcium increases the risk of cramps and inflammation.
Magnesium sources and supplements
Good magnesium sources are kernels, almonds, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole-grain. Magnesium supplements are useful for preventing migraine headaches. It is necessary to get at least 600 mg daily, preferably in such a way that the dosage is divided evenly between the three main meals (200 mg with each meal). It is also advisable to take magnesium for at least three months and to continue if it works.
Some magnesium supplements are absorbed better than others are. It is easy to a magnesium supplement’s potential absorption by dropping a magnesium tablet into a glass of water to see if it dissolves within a minute or so. Fast dissolution of the tablet gives more of a guarantee that the body can absorb the nutrient. Magnesium is also available in supplement form as magnesium oil that is quickly absorbed through the skin. This may be worth trying if you have neck tension or feel a migraine attack coming on.
Supplementing with magnesium, even at high dosages, is not associated with side effects. Diarrhea may occur in rare cases, but there is always the option of starting slowly or lowering the daily dosage. What many people observe, in fact, is an improved digestive function.
B vitamins have an effect – even against migraine with aura
Our modern lifestyle with unbalanced diets, too much sugar, stress, stimulants, and medicine may deplete levels of the different B vitamins and that can also increase the risk of migraines. A study from 2009 looked at the effect of high-dosage folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 in patients suffering from migraine with aura. Over a six-month period, the patients experienced a 50% reduction compared with the placebo group that got dummy pills.
In an earlier study where migraine patients got supplements of vitamin B2, their migraine attacks were reduced by 50% after three months.
According to these two studies, it is advisable to take a strong vitamin B complex in the morning and in the evening for the best effect.
Lack of Q10 and mitochondrial malfunction
All cells in the body convert the calories from food into energy in a process that involves oxygen and coenzyme Q10. The actual combustion takes place inside the mitochondria of the cells, and is determining for our energy levels and well-being that our mitochondria function properly throughout life. The brain is particularly energy consuming. Therefore, it is believed that migraine may be a result of malfunctioning mitochondria in brain cells and lack of Q10 across all age groups.
Several studies have demonstrated that Q10 has a positive influence on migraine. In an open study where all subjects were given 150 mg of Q10 daily, 61% of the participants experienced that the number of days with migraine were reduced by 50%.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study where participants got higher doses of Q10 (3 x 100 mg) showed that there were fewer attacks and fewer days with migraine.
Children have even been seen to get migraines because of a Q10 deficiency. For instance, a study published in 2007 in the scientific journal, Headache, demonstrated that three months of supplementing with Q10 increased levels of Q10 in serum and resulted in a significant reduction of migraine attacks and their duration.
We humans synthesize most of our Q10 on our own, but our endogenous synthesis tapers off, as we grow older. People may be Q10-deficient through their entire life for other reasons, as well. It is also commonly known that cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) inhibit the body’s own production of Q10.
In the case of a Q10 deficiency and malfunctioning mitochondria, a Q10 supplement is bound to help. Make sure to choose a Q10 preparation that can document its quality. That is the only way to make sure that the body can absorb the coenzyme and help it enter the mitochondria.
Pay attention to triggering factors such as:
- Bright sunlight
- Histamine-containing and histamine-releasing foods such as cheese, red wine, pickled and smoked foods, chocolate, and monosodium glutamate
- Stress and tension
- Low blood sugar and fluid depletion
- Smoke-filled rooms and polluted air
- Birth control pills and hormone changes – e.g. puberty, PMS, and menopause
Treating the symptoms or cause
In contrast to conventional migraine medication that is often associated with serious side effects, improving your diet and supplementing with vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins, and Q10 is a natural approach that often helps against the underlying cause of the migraine attacks.
A Peikert et al. Prophylaxis of Migraine with Oral Magnesium: Results from a Prospective, Multi-Center, Placebo-Controlled and Double-blind Study. Cephalagia 1996
Hershey et al. Q10 and migraine. Headache 2007
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