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Risk of severe headaches and migraine in statin users may depend on vitamin D status, new study shows

Posted on: January 11, 2015   by  Amber Tovey


New research found that adults using statins who had higher vitamin D status was associated with lower odds of experiencing severe headaches or migraines.

More than 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the United States are estimated to take statins. Statins are a commonly prescribed medication to lower cholesterol, which helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Various side effects can result from statin use such as muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, problems sleeping, and headaches. With headaches, studies have found mixed results, with research suggesting that statin use is associated with both lower and higher risk of headaches.

Research has found similar conflicting results concerning vitamin D and its relationship with headaches and general pain. A study from last year found that statin associated muscle pain is significantly less likely to occur in patients with higher vitamin D status.

Researchers have begun to hypothesize that vitamin D and statins may share a unique interaction, and that vitamin D may help attenuate some of the negative effects associated with statin use.

Recently, researchers conducted a study to determine if statin use among individuals with higher vitamin D status would be associated with significantly less severe headaches or migraines compared to statin use among individuals with lower vitamin D status.

To test this hypothesis, researchers analyzed the data of 5,938 participants above the age of 40 from NHANES 2001-2004.

The researchers measured the participants’ vitamin D levels and each participant underwent an in-home interview. During the interview, the participants were asked if they had experienced a severe headache or migraine during the past three months. Information on statin use and other prescription medications that the participants were taking was gathered during this time.

Were statin users with higher vitamin D status less likely to experience a severe headache or migraine? After analyzing the data, here is what the researchers found:

  • Sixteen percent of statin users reported severe headaches or migraines compared to 20.9% of non-statin users.
  • Those who used statins were 33% less likely to experience severe headaches or migraines compared to those who do not use statins (p = 0.04).
  • Among statin users, there was a statistically significant negative interaction between vitamin D status and the prevalence of severe headache or migraine (p for interaction = 0.005).
  • The prevalence of a severe headache or migraine among those with a vitamin D level at or below 22.8 was 21.1% compared to 19.1% among those with vitamin D levels above 22.8 ng/ml.
  • Among participants who had a vitamin D status above 22.8 ng/ml, statin use was associated with a 52% decreased risk of experiencing severe headaches or migraines (p = 0.001).

The researchers concluded,

“In the presence of higher levels of vitamin D, statin use was associated with a significantly lower prevalence of severe headache or migraine. This association remains after adjusting for multiple confounders.”

They went on to add,

“This current study supports the idea of investigating if statin and vitamin D supplementation could be an effective, well-tolerated therapy for preventing migraine.”

Although this study offers a potential therapy for migraines, there are still some limitations to keep in mind. The study only included adults above the age of 40, meaning the results cannot be generalized to younger populations who experience migraines.

Additionally, the prevalence of severe headaches and migraines were based on self-reports which means that misclassification and bias could interfere with the results. The range of vitamin D levels was narrow, which prevents the researchers from evaluating the associations between headaches and migraines and higher levels.

Prospective trials are needed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of vitamin D supplementation in combination with statins in preventing migraines.


Buettner & Burstein. Association of statin use and risk for severe headache or migraine by serum vitamin D status: A cross-sectional population-based study. Cephalalgia: an international journal of headache, 2014.

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