Can Vitamins Give You A Headache? - Top 5 Tips to Avoid Side Effects

  • By Performance Lab
  • 7 minute read
Can Vitamins Give You A Headache? - Top 5 Tips to Avoid Side Effects

Most people knock back their vitamins and minerals to support overall health and performance. They want more energy, better digestion, a stronger immune system, and the list goes on.

However, just like prescription medications you’d take from your doctor, nutritional supplements also have a recommended dosage that shouldn’t be exceeded; despite being derived from natural sources, they have an upper intake value.

Depending on what you’re taking and when, some nutrients are tolerable in higher limits with minimal side effects, while others can cause some pretty unpleasant ones.

If you’ve ever popped back your morning supplements only to be hit by a massive banger of a headache after, you’re not alone. We’re breaking down why vitamins can sometimes cause headaches and which ones to be wary of.

The Importance Of Taking Vitamins Daily

A lot of people think taking vitamins and minerals is completely unnecessary. Everything your body needs should be able to come from the food you’re eating, and theoretically speaking, yes, it should, but that’s not always the case.

Even if you’re eating the healthiest diet in the world, there are still some physiological and external factors that can interfere with nutrient stores.

  1. Diet: While supplements aren’t there to replace a healthy diet, most people aren’t consuming what their body needs through diet due to excessive intake of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and other foods that are devoid of nutrients. As such, nutrient deficiencies develop and interfere with optimal body performance. But we also have people following specific diets (vegan, vegetarian, keto, etc.) who may be missing out on key nutrients due to food restrictions.
  2. Stress: While stress has profound negative impacts on body function as a whole, it has an especially big impact on nutrient stores. There’s a large body of evidence suggesting that stress can affect micronutrient concentrations, often leading to micronutrient depletion 1. The most commonly impacted nutrients are magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, and niacin.
  3. Physical activity: Just like stress, physical activity can deplete certain nutrients faster than others, and if you’re not replacing them, they’re going to start running low.
  4. Intake vs. utilization: Your diet may technically meet your daily intake for certain nutrients, but how much of those can your body effectively use? For example, calcium is widely available in many foods and gets a lot of credit for supporting bone health, but unless you’re taking it with vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K, your body can’t effectively use it.
  5. Aging: As we start to get older, our guts just don’t absorb things like they used to, which means that nutrient absorption isn’t as effective, and as a result, nutrient requirements may actually increase 2.

Nutrient Deficiencies Could Be Causing Your Headaches

Before we touch on the link between vitamin supplementation and headaches, it’s important to know that while some vitamins in excess may lead to headaches, not getting enough of certain vitamins or minerals can also do the same.

And when you’re dealing with a pounding headache, our standard go-to sources for relief are only temporary, leaving us wondering and waiting for the next headache to strike.

Rather than waiting, look into what you may be missing. Studies suggest that several nutrient deficiencies are associated with the onset of headaches and migraines, including 3:

  • Magnesium
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Cobalamin (B12)
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Carnitine
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • Vitamin D

But some research also suggests that mitochondrial dysfunction, impaired antioxidant status, and increased homocysteine levels can also be the reason for migraine development, with the latter generally resulting from other nutrient deficiencies involved in converting homocysteine to less toxic intermediates 3.

4 Vitamins That Can Give You A Headache

On the flip side, research suggests that excessive intake of certain vitamins can also lead to the development of a headache.

1. Vitamin A

As one of the four fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin A plays some significant roles in the body, including supporting night vision, epithelial integrity and function, regeneration of skin cells, mucus production, healthy immune function, growth and development, and reproduction 4.

And while the RDI for vitamin A is 5,000IU, as a fat-soluble vitamin, this guy isn’t excreted in the urine like its water-soluble counterparts, meaning high doses can accumulate and lead to side effects.

Large doses of vitamin A over a short period lead to what’s called chronic retinoid toxicity, which can have major effects on multiple organ systems 5. It affects bone health and stability, the thyroid, the kidneys, and the central nervous system, resulting in side effects like headache, nausea, and vomiting.

2. Vitamin C

Most people load up on vitamin C when cold and flu season comes around because it’s one of the most well-known vitamins for supporting immunity, but can too much of this immune booster be bad for your health?

As a water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C is generally safe and tolerable, even in high doses. And although high doses aren’t likely to cause any issues besides the potential for loose stools, mega-doses can, leaving you with heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and headaches 6.

3. B Vitamins

The B vitamins are a group of 8 vitamins that play significant roles in several physiological processes in the body, including energy metabolism, blood cell production, cognitive function, tissue health, and more.

For the most part, the B vitamins come in either a complex or are found in a multivitamin, but they can also be purchased as solo supplements. While the dosages present in a complex aren’t likely to cause an issue if you’re sticking to the recommended daily intake, excessive consumption of specific single B vitamins can cause some unpleasant side effects, including headaches.

The most well-known side effect of high-dose niacin (B3) supplements is what’s called ‘niacin flush’, which most commonly affects the face, hands, and chest. It typically appears within 30 minutes of ingestion, but studies have also found that high-dose niacin can cause headaches, too 7.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is perhaps one of the most crucial nutrients for proper body function and plays a role in bone health, immune function, nervous system function, mood, and more.

And with vitamin D deficiency being a global health problem, people must take steps to increase vitamin D levels, be it spending more time in the sun, eating more vitamin D-rich foods, or as a last resort, supplementation.

However, while vitamin D deficiency run rampant across the globe, it’s also possible—but rare—to consume too much vitamin D. High serum concentrations of vitamin D, also known as vitamin D toxicity or hypervitaminosis D, can result in several serious health risks, which means more is definitely not better with this one.

That’s because too much vitamin D can lead to hypercalcemia, or too much calcium in the blood, which can result in several side effects, including appetite loss, constipation, depression, headaches, memory problems, thirst, and fatigue 8.

How To Avoid Supplement Side Effects

With all of that said, the last thing you want is getting a slew of nasty side effects when you’re trying to improve your health through supplements. Here are some tips to help reduce the likelihood of experiencing side effects with vitamins:

  1. Stick to the recommended dose: As we’ve talked about, mega-dosing on certain vitamins or minerals can lead to unpleasant side effects because more isn’t always better. Be especially careful with fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), as they are not excreted in urine if not needed but rather stored in adipose tissue, which can lead to accumulation and the potential for toxicity.
  2. Stay hydrated: One of the telltale symptoms of dehydration is headaches, and if you want to avoid seeing any sort of side effect with supplements, make sure you’re drinking enough fluids. A 2012 study published in Family Practice found that increased water intake has a significant improvement in patients with headaches 9.
  3. Follow the directions: Some supplements are best when taken with food, while others are meant to be taken on an empty stomach. Follow the directions on the label to ensure that you’re not only getting maximum nutrient absorption, but you’re also avoiding any potential side effects like nausea or gastric discomfort.
  4. Eat a nutrient-rich diet: While diet isn’t always crucial to getting the nutrients you need, it can mean that you don’t have to take as many, which can drastically reduce the risk of any unwanted side effects. Aim to consume a diet loaded in color, as more color means more phytonutrients.
  5. Watch the form: Nutritional supplements come in all forms—powders, capsules, tablets, chewable—some of which are easier on the stomach than others. Tablets tend to be harder to digest because they’re often loaded with binding agents used to hold them together, whereas capsules, chewables, or powders tend to be easier to digest. If you find tablets are causing you GI issues, swap them out for another form.

Final Thoughts

For most people, vitamin supplements won’t cause any nasty side effects, but on rare occasions, it can lead to things like nausea, diarrhea, and headaches when taken in excess.

If you’re not keen on experiencing what high-dose supplementation has to offer, our best recommendation is to stick to the lower end or what’s prescribed on the bottle.

Your body doesn’t need mega-doses of most nutrients, and if that’s what you’re giving it, it’s going to let you know. You want optimal amounts—not more, not less.


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  8. P Yin, V Anttila, KM Siewert, A Palotie, G Davey Smith, BF Voight. Serum calcium and risk of migraine: a Mendelian randomization study.Hum Mol Genet. 2017;26(4):820-828.
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