HeadachePatient friendly summary

  •  UVB light may reduce the risk of tension headaches by producing vitamin D.
  • Vitamin D, along with calcium and magnesium, may reduce the risk of tension headaches.

The most common headaches are likely caused by tight muscles in the shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. These are called tension headaches. They are often related to stress, depression, or anxiety.

Other types of headaches include migraine, cluster, and sinus. Migraine headaches are not affected by vitamin D. Cluster and sinus headaches are considered rare.

Risk factors

The underlying cause of tension headaches is uncertain. However, they are a neurological disorder.

Sunlight exposure and tension headache risk

One measure of the effect of sunlight is whether a disease rate changes with latitude. There is less sunshine farther from the equator. There is evidence that tension headache frequency increases with increasing latitude. A review found much higher rates of tension headaches at 45º and 55º compared to rates at 1º to 25º. A study in Greece found the number of tension headaches increases with higher latitude and lower temperatures.

Tension headaches occur more often in the winter. This is based on the frequency of non-migraine headaches in the Arctic.

Vitamin D and tension headaches

Vitamin D levels

People with tension headaches often have low vitamin D levels. In Oslo, both native Norwegians and immigrants with tension headaches had low vitamin D levels. Many of these people had dark skin, which reduces production of vitamin D from sunlight. In this study, 15% of those with headaches had low vitamin D levels (less than 20 ng/mL [50 nmol/L]) compared to 5% who had headaches and normal vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D does not appear to affect migraine headaches.

How vitamin D works

Vitamin D affects a number of neurological conditions and may be involved in tension headaches. Vitamin D may lower the risk of tension headaches by increasing:

  • Magnesium absorption
  • Calcium absorption

It should be noted that magnesium deficiency may cause hemodialysis headaches.

Prevention

There is some evidence that higher vitamin D blood levels (above 40 ng/mL [100 mmol/L]) may reduce the risk and severity of tension headaches.

Vitamin D and calcium

A study in India found that both vitamin D and calcium can reduce the risk of tension headaches.

Treatment

In the Indian study mentioned above, participants had vitamin D blood levels of 10 ng/mL (25 nmol/L) or less at the beginning of the study. They were given 1000–1500 international units (IU) (40–60 mcg)/day of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and 1000 mg/day of calcium. The headache symptoms generally cleared up by the end of the study’s fourth month. Higher vitamin D doses should have led to a speedier recovery.

Find out more…

We will be adding a detailed evidence summary on this topic in the near future.  Please check back soon to find out more.

Page last edited: 17 May 2011