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Is Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Chronic Tension-Type Headaches?

A new study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain explored the possible interrelation of chronic tension-type headaches and serum vitamin D levels.

Previous observations and studies have suggested a correlation between chronic pain and vitamin D deficiency. More recently, it has been speculated that a few headache disorders—most notably, migraine and tension-type headache—can be attributed to low levels of vitamin D. This is due to the fact that muscular factors are very important in the generation of tension-type headaches (TTH), as proven by previous research, and Vitamin D plays a significant role in the maintenance of bone and muscle health. In fact, epidemiological studies suggest a strong correlation between low levels of vitamin D and chronic musculoskeletal pain. Accordingly, a similar relationship between the former and TTH has been speculated. A recent case-control study has further explored this topic, and its results are quite promising to those suffering from chronic tension-type headaches (CTTH).

The study, published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, was conducted in a neurology outpatient clinic of a large hospital between February 2015 and October 2016. One hundred adult patients with CTTH and 100 matched healthy controls were enrolled. Clinical assessments consisted of face-to-face interviews with the aide of a structured questionnaire, followed by detailed physical and neurological examinations. Moreover, all participants were subjected to an MRI scan of the brain in order to rule out other conditions and abnormal pathologies. Finally, routine biochemical testing was performed, and vitamin D levels were estimated from participants’ blood serum.

The results indicated that serum vitamin D levels were significantly lower in CTTH patients than in the controls. Not only that, but vitamin D deficiency was also more common in CTTH patients, who additionally demonstrated a significantly high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain, muscle weakness, muscle tenderness, and bone tenderness in comparison to the control group.

The researchers concluded that low serum levels of vitamin D were indeed associated with CTTH. They remind us, however, that some limitations inherent in their study may limit how these results can be generalized. The clinic-based nature of this study may make it more representative only of more severe CTTH cases. As well, the researchers point out that vitamin D levels may vary due to a myriad of factors, including latitude. As such, these results may vary based on location.

Overall, while these results are promising, further intervention studies are required to find out whether vitamin D supplementation is helpful to patients with chronic tension-type headaches. Due to the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the general population, research on this topic could have many implications on public health and clinical outcomes.

Written by Rebecca Yu


Prakash, S., Rathore, C., Makwana, P., Dave, A., Joshi, H. and Parekh, H. (2017), Vitamin D Deficiency in Patients With Chronic Tension-Type Headache: A Case-Control Study. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 57: 1096–1108. doi:10.1111/head.13096

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