Stress as a Major Factor in Migraines and Headaches

Whilst supplementation with nutrients can help reduce the incidence of migraines and headaches in most cases the underlying cause is related to unrelenting or unresolved  stress of one sort or another. Stress accumulates in the body over time and unless released in some way will have an effect on the body.  Migraines and headaches are often a manifestation of this stress.  It is difficult to know how much stress contributes to these conditions but in my experience it is a significant factor. Migraines and headaches are often a sign of burn-out from lengthy periods of stress.

Types of Migraines

Migraines when they occur are painful, debilitating and often require the sufferer to isolate themselves in a dark room.  There are several types of migraine:

Migraine with aura

commonly referred to as a classical migraine.  Symptoms can include visual disturbances (suffers are usually photosensitive and wear dark glasses when outdoors) accompanied by numbness, tingling or a vague weakness of one side of the face or head often with nausea. It is not uncommon to see flashes and lines resembling battlements called fortification spectra. These symptoms are followed by a splitting headache, nausea and sometimes vomiting and the person will prefer to be in a darkened quiet room.  After abatement of the headache sleep usually follows

Migraine without aura

is the usual type of migraine and is called a common migraine.  The symptoms are often vague visual disturbances followed by an unrelenting headache sometimes severe accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Basilar migraine

is characterized by tingling of the oral cavity, numbness of the tongue, vertigo, transient visual disturbances or complete blindness, fainting, difficulty speaking and dizziness then a migraine headache.

Hemiplegic migraine

is rare and is accompanied by weakness of one side of the body.

Ophthalmoplegic migraine

involves a palsy of the third and rarely the sixth cranial nerves causing a weakness of the eye muscles and eyeball movement is affected.

Cluster headaches

(in medical terms these are distinguished from migraines but are known as such because of their severity as migraines) are characterized by repeated bouts of excruciating pain that wakes the sufferer at night and are centred around one eye. It tends to affect adults in their 30’s and 40’s diminishing when the person reaches their 50’s and beyond. The pain rises over about half an hour and lasts for several hours.  Vomiting is usual. One side of the face and one nostril can feel congested.

Possible Nutrient Support

In a recent article in Migraine News (issue 93) there was discussion about the benefits of magnesium, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and co-enzyme Q10 in the abatement of migraine frequency, severity and symptoms.  The studies concluded that for there to be any beneficial affect from magnesium[1] in the frequency of attacks a dose of 600 mg per day over a period of three to four months was required.  This may be because magnesium takes some time to build up in the body once it has been depleted. Magnesium requires co-nutrients for its absorption, namely; selenium, vitamin B6 and vitamin D as well as parathyroid hormone.  Selenium is deficient in our soils and can therefore be deficient in our foods. The best source of vitamin D is the sun and we often do not get enough exposure.  Magnesium is a mineral, along with B vitamins that tends to be excreted in higher amounts when the person is experiencing stress and is more pronounced when the stress is long standing.  For an example see the hair mineral analysis chart in the article entitled The Effect of Stress on our Health.

A randomised control study in Belgium involving 55 subjects with migraine found that in 59% of the subjects taking vitamin B2 there was a 50% reduction is the number of migraine attacks over a 3 month period compared to 15% in the placebo group. There was a reduction of frequency and duration of migraines.  The effective dose though was 400 mg per day which is some 250 times the minimum daily requirement. There were no serious side effects from this high dosage.  Photosensitivity experienced by migraine suffers is associated with vitamin B2 deficiency.  Because B vitamins are water soluble they only remain in the body for a short period of time and there levels are affected when we ingest diuretic substances such as coffee, tea and alcohol.  B vitamins are also depleted when we are under constant stress.

Co-enzyme Q10 is manufactured by the body using the amino acid tyrosine in a process that requires adequate levels of other nutrients such as folic acid, vitamins B1, B2 and B6[2].  Co-enzyme Q10 is used by cells to produce energy and it also acts as an anti-oxidant.  The double bind study which administered 100 mg three times a day found that after four months the frequency of migraine attacks reduced by 50% in those taking the co-enzyme Q10 supplement as opposed to 14.4% of the placebo group. Whilst co-enzyme Q10 is available in health food store it is probably just as beneficial to take a B vitamin complex and let the body do its job.  Low levels of B vitamins may in fact be the problem as these are easily depleted.  


[1] The recommended form of magnesium was magnesium dicitrate as other forms such as magnesium sulphate; hydroxide and oxide tend to have a laxative effect.

[2] The Nutrient Bible; Henry Osiecki at page 179

[1]The recommended form of magnesium was magnesium dicitrate as other forms such as magnesium sulphate; hydroxide and oxide tend to have a laxative effect.

[2] The Nutrient Bible; Henry Osiecki at page 179