Easing migraines & headaches: The zinc link
Questions answered in this article:
- What's the difference between headaches and migraines?
- What are the common causes for headaches and migraines?
- How does zinc impact the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines?
- Can a zinc deficiency worsen headaches and migraines?
- What are some other nutrients that help relieve and prevent headaches and migraines?
Your head feels tense, concentration is difficult, and even the slightest sound can make everything worse. These are the dreaded symptoms of a headache, or the beginning of a migraine—both of which are unfortunately commonplace for so many. According to Statistics Canada, over 2.7 million Canadians experience moderately intense headaches and severely intense migraines. While there is no one cause for headaches and migraines, addressing nutrient deficiencies—especially zinc, can help prevent the frequency and severity of both.
The difference between headaches and migraines
While you may often hear the terms headaches and migraine used interchangeably, they are two different things. Although in some cases, a headache can be the result of a more serious underlying condition such as a stroke or brain tumour, they are usually not serious. Migraines, on the other hand, are considered to be a debilitating disorder, and are much more severe in terms of duration and pain.
Even the type of pain between the two is remarkably different, and is often used to differentiate them.
What does a headache feel like?
Headaches usually include a steady, consistent pain that may originate in the forehead or at the back of the head, and eventually spreads out. The pain is comparable to a feeling of pressure or tension, hence why they are sometimes referred to as tension headaches.
What characterizes a migraine?
When it comes to migraines, the pain is characterized by a relentless throbbing and pounding sharp pain, localized to one side of the head. The onset and duration of a migraine can also include blurring in the vision, tingling, nausea, and extreme hypersensitivity. It can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours.
When we differentiate between the two, it is clear that even if you have a very bad headache, it is simply not comparable to a migraine.
Common causes for headaches and migraines
The underlying cause of a headache is attributed to the tightening in the muscles—usually in the face, neck, or head. To name a few, this can be caused by:
- A cold
- Poor posture
- Lack of sleep
- Prolonged hunger
- Fluctuations in the weather
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Nutritional deficiencies, and more
The underlying cause of a migraine is attributed to excessive dilation of blood vessels in the head. Migraines can be genetic, and triggered by:
- Hormonal changes (particularly in women)
- High levels of stress
- Low blood sugar
- Dietary issues
- Environmental factors (ie. bright lights, flickering screens)
How zinc can impact the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines
Most of the causes of headaches and migraines are a part of everyday life, and in the case of the latter, can also be genetic. However, new research has focused on ways to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines naturally. The results are promising, especially when looking at the nutritional powerhouse that is zinc.
Zinc's role in the body
Zinc is an essential micronutrient that is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties, playing an important role in many different functions throughout the body. These functions include hormone balance, a healthy metabolism, the strengthening of the immune system, and enzyme processes—many of which are important in neural signalling.
Can a zinc deficiency worsen headaches and migraines?
It is estimated that 10 to 35% of Canadians are falling short on their zinc intake. The causes of zinc deficiency are plenty, and include the fact that it is not stored in the body and therefore must be consumed regularly. Studies have uncovered a link between zinc deficiency and those who suffer intense headaches and migraines. When considering the inflammatory properties of a migraine, as well as the oxidative stress involved, it may come as no surprise that this trace mineral can have a "favourable effect" on migraine attacks.
Clinical trials found that zinc intake significantly reduced the duration and severity of headaches caused by a cold, and resulted in a significant reduction of migraine attacks. This is mostly attributed to zinc's positive effects on the nervous system.
How can I be sure I'm getting enough zinc?
Zinc's effects on the duration and severity of headaches and migraines are very promising, but adequate intake is necessary. Foods rich in zinc include oysters, red meat, and poultry, with plant-based sources available as well. Consuming these foods regularly, or supplementing with an absorbable form of zinc, can help prevent a deficiency.
Ensuring you have an adequate intake will enable zinc to work its magic through its myriad of functions, and potentially decrease the severity of headaches, and reduce the frequency of migraines.
Other nutrients for relief and prevention
In addition to zinc, there are other nutrients that have demonstrated a very positive effect in headache and migraine relief and prevention.
- Coenzyme Q10: Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant found in nearly all cells. The American Academy of Neurology found that migraine patients taking CoQ10 had fewer migraine attacks and fewer days with a headache. It also reduced the occurrence of nausea.
- Vitamin D: Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is responsible for hundreds of functions in the body. Recent research has also indicated the beneficial impact it has on patients suffering headaches and migraines, specifically in reducing the frequency of them.
- Magnesium: Celebrated as the anti-stress mineral, magnesium plays a key role in over 800 different biochemical reactions in the body. A number of trials have demonstrated magnesium's efficacy in relieving headaches, connecting a correlation between a deficiency in the mineral with the onset of headaches. The trials also suggest magnesium deficiency as a potential independent risk factor in migraine frequency.