Winter blues and headache

Short gray winter days affect your mind and body in many ways. The gloomy weather seems to rub off on your mood. The condition often called “winter blues” was first described by a Norman Rosenthal, an American scientist.

Vitamin deficiency is a common trigger

The condition we call winter blues has to do with certain metabolic processes where vitamin D is a key player. Your body can only make vitamin D if you get enough sunlight. That’s because the sun provides the energy needed to kick off the process that turns natural chemicals in your body into vitamin D.

In winter, your body does not get the sunlight it needs to make enough of this vital vitamin. Many scientists believe that almost everyone lacks vitamin D these days because people in modern society spend so much time indoors. Research shows that between 50 and 70 percent of the population in the northern hemisphere are low in vitamin D.

The many functions of vitamin D

Vitamin D is a key player in many of the bodily processes that keep us alive and give us energy. A lack of vitamin D has effects in many areas. Vitamin D keeps your bones strong by helping your body absorb calcium and phosphorus. A deficiency results in loss of bone mass. Vitamin D supports proper muscle function and cell production in the immune system. The same vitamin influences hormone synthesis in the thyroid gland and insulin production in the pancreas. Last but not least, vitamin D has a mental health impact. A lack of vitamin D can make you feel sad and low.

Vitamin D and headache

Recent studies are providing increasing evidence that a lack of vitamin D is linked to more frequent tension-type and migraine headache.

Studies in headache patients in very different places – Norway, Korea, Turkey, India and the USA – have found surprisingly consistent patterns. One thing that stood out was the similarly high rates of vitamin D deficiency in all the countries studied. There was a clear correlation between headache severity, duration and frequency (on the one hand) and vitamin deficiency (on the other) – for migraine and tension-type headache alike. In many studies, the number of headache days was closely related to exceptionally low vitamin levels in patients.

Prevention is better than cure

There is something you can do about a lack of vitamin D. The solution is both simple and cheap. Just go outdoors whenever you can and take advantage of every ray of sunshine. Even winter has its share of sunny days. Why not head outside for a walk on your lunch break? Sunny weather and mild temperatures provide the ideal opportunity to get out, soak up some energy and reduce your body’s vitamin deficit.

This measure on its own might not be enough to correct a vitamin D deficit. Luckily, scientists have come up with another solution: using daylight lamps to stimulate vitamin production. The approach also has medical backing and is recommended in guidelines.

When all else fails, consider using vitamin D supplements. But only under medical guidance and for a very limited period of time, and only if the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks. Medication should only be considered as a last resort.

Advances in headache prevention may come up with more solutions to relieve the winter blues in future. But true relief comes only when the days grow longer and the sun tempts us out to bask in its light and heat and invites us to soak up some vitamins. Until then, the best advice is to get outside as often as you can to stretch your legs and catch every precious ray.