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Headaches may be caused by too little vitamin D

Headaches may be caused by too little vitamin DResearch conducted over the past decades reveals that vitamin D plays a major role in the brain and nervous system. Now, a Finnish study published in Scientific Reports links vitamin D deficiencies to chronic headaches. Vitamin D deficiencies are becoming increasingly common because we spend too much time indoors. Even during the summer period, it seems that we are unable to produce enough vitamin D because of our exaggerated use of sun cream. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D and it is therefore important that you expose yourself to enough sunlight to ensure adequate vitamin D synthesis (without getting burned.)

Chronic headaches typically occur 15 days out of a month, and in many cases, people have had daily headaches that have lasted for months or even years. Although chronic headaches come with a human and socio-economic price tag, we are normally looking at benign conditions such as tension headaches, migraine headaches, overconsumption of medicine (especially headache pills), or the aftermath of a concussion. What matters is to treat the underlying cause. If the chronic headache is a result of a vitamin D deficiency, it is easy to deal with. If the headaches are seasonal, they are also easy to prevent.

The less vitamin D, the more headaches

Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to many types of brain disorders such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. The Finnish study looked at 2,601 middle-aged and older men and revealed that 68% of the participants were vitamin D-deficient. What is more, the 250 study participants who suffered from frequent headaches had the lowest vitamin D levels. Their risk of chronic headache was twice that of those who had higher vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D in the blood is measured as 25-hydroxyvitamin D. The official threshold level in Finland and Denmark is 50 ng/ml. The study showed that the Finnish participants who suffered from frequent or chronic headache had vitamin D blood levels that averaged 38.3 ng/ml.

Headaches are more common in the winter

According to the study, headaches occurred more frequently during the winter period. This is no coincidence, as people at northern latitudes are only able to synthesize vitamin D during the summer period where the sun sits sufficiently high in the sky. However, for some reason, many people are also vitamin D-deficient during the summer period.

Vitamin D deficiency and poor utilization of the vitamin may be caused by

  • Lack of sun exposure
  • Excessive use of sunscreen
  • Having dark skin
  • Eating a low-fat diet without oily fish, eggs (and other good vitamin D sources)
  • Vegetarian and vegan diets
  • Too much calcium from dairy products and supplements
  • Alcoholism
  • Overweight and diabetes
  • Old age and thin skin
  • Prolonged use of cholesterol-lowering drugs and certain other types of medicine

How is vitamin D able to counteract headaches?

All cells in the body, brain cells and nerve cells included, need vitamin D to carry out a host of different functions. It is possible that vitamin D counteracts headaches by activating certain genes, strengthening the cardiovascular system, controlling blood pressure, or regulating minor types of inflammation.

It is possible to use sunscreen and still produce enough vitamin D

Our ability to synthesize vitamin D hinges on the strength of the UVB rays from the sun. Excessive use of sunscreen, however, filters out the UVB radiation. If a person has sensitive skin or is at increased risk of burning, it is always prudent to use sunscreen. Still, according to Leif Mosekilde, a professor at Århus University in Denmark, the skin does not synthesize vitamin D if sunscreen with a sun factor above 8 is applied correctly to the skin. A good idea is therefore to expose the body to 15-30 minutes of unprotected sun before applying sunscreen. That way, it is possible to produce enough vitamin D (without burning).

How much vitamin D do we synthesize?

It is estimated that a person dressed in light summer clothing is able to synthesize around 30 micrograms of vitamin D in about 10-20 minutes, depending on the amount of UVB exposure, skin type, the presence of chronic diseases, and use of medicine that may interfere with the body’s vitamin D synthesis. This is more than the reference intake (RI) for vitamin D, but leading scientists worry that the RI is not able to cover the body’s actual need for the nutrient, especially considering the fact that our ancestors in the southern hemisphere used to produce far more.

Healthy summer sun and supplements

Vitamin D has the potential to prevent an array of diseases and conditions. If you do not expose yourself to enough sunshine during the summer period, it may be advisable to take a vitamin D supplement. Most people living in the northern part of the world can benefit from taking high-dosed vitamin D supplements during the winter period where the sun is not sufficiently powerful to enable vitamin D synthesis in our skin. Vitamin D is lipid-soluble. We should therefore make sure to choose supplements that contain vitamin D in some kind of oil for enhanced absorption.


Virtanen JK et al. Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is associated with higher risk of frequent headache in middle-aged and older men. Scientific Reports 2017

American Osteopathic Association. Widespread vitamin D deficiency likely due to sunscreen use, increase of chronic diseases, review finds. ScienceDaily. May 1, 2017

Silas Mortensen. Danner kroppen D-vitamin, hvis man har solcreme på?

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