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How common do you think headaches and migraines are? Where do migraines rank among the world’s most debilitating diseases? And are there over-the-counter vitamins and supplements for headache and migraine relief?

Migraine and Headache Facts

The World Health Organization reported migraines are the third most common disease globally (behind dental cavities and tension-type headaches). And 5% of adults experience a daily or almost daily headache. Women are up to three times more likely than men to suffer headaches, and the difference is due to hormones. Tension headaches are the most common form of headache caused by fatigue, anger, stress or anxiety and fall into three categories based upon their frequency:

  • Episodic tension headaches are infrequent, less than one per month. 
  • Frequent tension headaches are more frequent and occur between 1- and 15 days per month. People with this type of headache often have migraine headaches too.
  • Chronic tension headaches occur 15 or more days per month, with headaches often daily or continuous over 24 hours.

Migraine headaches affect 13% of Americans, and one in four U.S. households includes a migraine sufferer. Common triggers for migraines include fatigue, hormonal changes, certain foods, and stress. 

Migraine Symptoms

Migraine symptoms may include:

  • Moderate to severe head pain 
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head, in the front or back of the head, in or around the eyes, or behind the cheeks
  • Throbbing, pounding, or pulsating pain
  • Pain that worsens with movement or activity
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Sensitivity to odors/smell
  • Pain severity that prevents work, school, or other activities
  • Blurred vision or loss of vision due to an aura that precedes the head pain 

Without proper treatment, a migraine can take several hours to several days to run its course. 

Vitamins and Supplements for Migraine Relief

Fortunately, encouraging science is finding better vitamin and supplement levels may also help in the fight for headache and migraine relief. Below is a list of supplements that, according to current research, may be helpful in the prevention or improvement of migraine frequency and duration.

100 mg CoQ10 Ubiquinol Supplement

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Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Two small open-label, non-randomized clinical trials in adults (one with 32 adults and one with 80 adults diagnosed with migraine headache) have shown that taking coenzyme Q10 at a dose of 100-150 mg daily can reduce the frequency of headaches by up to 50% compared to baseline or control. However, researchers cautioned CoQ10 needs to be taken daily, and it can take up to 3 months before the benefit is seen.

A double-blind trial of 42 migraine patients showed that taking 300 mg CoQ10 (100 mg, three times daily) reduced migraine frequency, the number of headache days, and the number of days with nausea.

Interestingly, a cohort study of 1,550 children and adolescents (ages 3-22) migraine suffers found low CoQ10 levels. On average, CoQ10 blood levels were almost 33 percent lower than recommended. Following supplementation (1 to 3 mg/kg per day) for nearly 100 days, headache frequency improved from 19.2 +/- 9.8 days per month to 10.0 to 12.5 +/- 10.8 days per month. 46.3 percent of the patients saw a 50% reduction in headache frequency. 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant used at the cellular level for growth and maintenance. It is found throughout the body, especially in the mitochondrial membranes and the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas and adrenal glands. Levels decrease with age and heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, fibromyalgia, and diabetes. While CoQ10 is found in animal protein, especially organ meats such as liver and oily fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna, the amounts are too small to increase CoQ10 levels significantly. So ultimately, supplements are the most common way to increase levels of CoQ10.

Cooper Complete Products Containing CoQ10: Original multivitamins, 100 mg; CoQ10 Ubiquinol 100 mg supplement

Iron Supplements for Headache Relief

In addition to extreme fatigue, weakness and pale skin, headache is a symptom of an iron deficiency. While iron deficiency is most common in menstruating women, deficiencies are also common in people with inflammatory disease or Crohn’s disease. Regular blood donors with normal hemoglobin levels may experience low iron following donation. One study of 215 adult blood donors who had not donated whole blood or red blood cells within the prior four months found it took 78 to 158 days (depending on initial ferritin level) for ferritin levels to recover after donating a unit of blood.

Time Release Iron Supplement 54 mg

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A cross-sectional study of 7,880 adults (20 years and older) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) assessed the association of dietary iron and serum ferritin with migraine or severe headache. Just over 20 percent of the participants reported suffering from severe headaches or migraines. They found the majority of younger women (20-50 years) consumed less dietary iron than the recommended daily allowance and that low dietary intake of iron was inversely associated with migraine or severe headaches in this age group.

If you suffer from frequent headaches or migraines, it’s worth considering whether your iron level is appropriate.

Cooper Complete Products Containing Iron: Time Release Iron supplement 54 mg in two tablets; Basic One With Iron and Original With Iron Multivitamin contain 18 mg.

Magnesium Supplements for Migraine Relief

A 12-week, double-blinded study followed 81 people with recurring migraines. Half received 600 mg of magnesium daily and half a placebo. Migraine frequency declined 41.6 percent in the magnesium group compared to a 15.8 percent reduction in the placebo group. Magnesium is a mineral involved in nerve cell function. Magnesium occurs naturally in nuts, whole grains, and dark green vegetables.

Literature suggests magnesium deficiency increases headache risk. The American Migraine Foundation reports 400-600 mg magnesium oxide per day recommended to prevent migraines with aura and menstrually related migraine. Because magnesium has few side effects (the most common being diarrhea), magnesium is often part of a preventive strategy to reduce migraine occurrence.

Cooper Complete Products Containing Magnesium: Tableted multivitamins contain magnesium oxide monohydrate. Basic One multivitamin contains 200 mg magnesium while Original Multivitamin contains 660 mg magnesium. Magnesium Oxide contains 500 mg magnesium oxide (300 mg elemental magnesium); Magnesium Glycinate provides 120 mg elemental magnesium.

Melatonin

While melatonin is most often recommended to support restful sleep, it also offers immune support and, surprisingly, is also a supplement that potentially offers migraine relief. A randomized clinical trial of 178 adult men and women diagnosed with migraines was randomized to receive a placebo, an antidepressant (25 mg amitriptyline) or 3 mg melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime for three months. More than 75 percent of the participants who received 3 mg melatonin nightly experienced a decrease in migraines, with an average headache frequency reduction of 2.7 migraine headache days.

3 mg Melatonin Quick Release Supplement

$14.48 Add to cart

Another study evaluated the impact of melatonin for primary stabbing headaches (PSH), also called ice pick or idiopathic stabbing headache. In the study, adults who took 3 mg- to 12 mg melatonin nightly for two to four months reduced stabbing headache frequency.

The pineal gland creates melatonin as a natural hormone to regulate sleep. Melatonin also has anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antioxidant properties. In addition to this study, some research suggests melatonin production might be different in people with migraines.

Cooper Complete Products Containing Melatonin: Quick Release Melatonin supplement, 3 mg; Prolonged Release Melatonin supplement, 3 mg.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Headache Migraine Relief

In a 16-week study of 182 adult women with migraines 5-20 days per month, a three-arm, parallel-group, randomized, modified double-blind, controlled trial looked at three diets with (omega-3 fatty acids) EPA, DHA and the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid altered as controlled variables. EPA and DHA are the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids associated with anti-inflammatory benefits, while linoleic acid (omega-6) is a type of polyunsaturated fat found in plant-based fats such as vegetable oil, nuts and seeds. While Omega-6 was not beneficial, omega-3 supplements offer headache relief benefits.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega Fatty Acid Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
Omega-3 (EPA + DHA) 1.5 g/day 1.5 g/day Maintain EPA + DHA at <150 mg/day
Omega-6 (Linoleic acid) 7% of energy (calories) Decrease linoleic acid to ≤1.8% of energy Maintain linoleic acid at 7% of energy (calories)

Blood tests and a six-item questionnaire assessing headache impact on quality of life were administered at the beginning and end of the study, and participants kept an electronic diary detailing headache frequency.

Researchers found both Groups 1 and 2 diets reduced the frequency and severity of headaches compared to the control group but did not significantly improve quality of life. Group 1 (high omega-3) saw a reduction of 2 headache days per month, while Group 2 (high omega-3 and lowered omega-6) saw a reduction of 4 headache days per month. In addition, participants in Groups 1 and 2 reported shorter headaches that were less severe than those in the control group.

Cooper Complete Products Containing Omega fatty acids: Advanced Omega-3 supplement 1.2 g EPA + DHA in two softgels.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

The B vitamin riboflavin helps convert food into energy in the body and is important for mitochondrial function. The recommended daily amount (RDA) of riboflavin for adult men is 1.3 and 1.1 mg for women. In the diet, milk and dairy are the biggest source of riboflavin consumed, followed by fortified bread and cereal.

Mitochondrial dysfunction is suspected to play a role in some types of migraines, riboflavin supplementation has been studied, and multiple studies have shown favorable results for high levels of vitamin B2 reducing the number of migraine occurrences. This is exciting, as riboflavin supplements have few side effects. One example is a three-month, randomized trial of 55 people. Some were given 400 mg of B2 as compared to the placebo group. The B2 group saw a significant reduction in the number of migraine attacks per month as opposed to only 15 percent of the placebo group. Markedly, the majority of those given B2 experienced a reduction of two migraines per month, which represents more than a 50 percent decrease in the number of migraine attacks.

Vitamin B2 is a vitamin that plays an important role in metabolism and boosting energy production inside nerve cells.  B2 is naturally present in many vegetables and leafy greens, nuts, wild rice and organ meats such as the liver.

Cooper Complete Products Containing Vitamin B2:  Basic One multivitamins, 2 mg; Original multivitamins, 10 mg

Vitamin D3 Supplements for Headache Relief

Research presented at the 58th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society supported that vitamin D deficiency contributed to migraine occurrence. Overall, investigation of the benefits of vitamin D for migraines is in the preliminary stages. However, vitamin D deficiency is common in the United States, and researchers believe a large proportion of headache patients also have a vitamin D deficiency. A meta-analysis of six randomized clinical trials and 301 patients found that compared with the control group in migraine patients, vitamin D supplementation could markedly reduce headache attacks per month. Therefore, Cooper Clinic recommends a baseline of 50 mcg (2,000 IU) of vitamin D across the board.

Vitamin D is a crucial ingredient for many body functions. Chiefly, its best known for helping absorb calcium and promote healthy bone growth. In particular, deficiency is associated with many conditions such as certain cancers, depression, and heart disease. Vitamin D is present naturally in fish, eggs, and fortified milk; also absorbed through sun exposure.

Cooper Complete Products Containing Vitamin D: Basic One and Original – 50 mcg (2,000 IU); Standalone Vitamin D3 supplements with 25 mcg 1000 IU softgels and gummies, and 125 mcg 5000 IU softgels.

If you are battling headaches and migraines, talk with your doctor about adding these supplements to your treatment plan. Vitamins and supplements for headache and migraine relief generally have few side effects and may significantly help improve your quantity and quality of life. Obtaining proper nutrients supports a healthy lifestyle, which is why Dr. Kenneth Cooper advocates taking the right nutritional supplements as well as eating a balanced diet.

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Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Wellness Coach Meridan Zerner, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, CWC of Cooper Clinic and Cooper Fitness Center shares what to avoid and keep in your diet as you take steps to reduce migraine frequency and severity.

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