Headaches and migraines

Updated 03/12/13: P5P, a form of vitamin B6, seems to have solved a lot of this. See related link below.

My two migraine episodes were the usual tennis-ball-filled-almost-but-not-quite-to-bursting-with-boiling-oil-behind-your-right-eye kind of thing, caused by the old cliché MSG. The first culprit was a Chinese restaurant. The second, after I “got healthy,” was a package of sunflower seeds. All I’m saying is that never happened to me with Oreos.

Later I developed headaches, but not full-fledged migraines, from the amino acid L-glutamine, which I used to heal my celiac-ravaged lower intestine. Apparently this is a common reaction for people who also react to monosodium glutamate (MSG). The body can convert glutamine into the amino acid glutamate. It was still very helpful but I had to be careful how much I used.

As for run-of-the-mill headaches, I have only been bothered by them infrequently, and found them to be caused by:

  • waaaaay too much vitamin A from supplements, which for a while led to headaches whenever I ate anything with high vitamin A, such as liver
  • too much copper from ill-advised copper supplementation, also resulting in headaches when I ate copper-containing foods such as chocolate and liver
  • vitamin B6 and iron supplements, until I corrected my vitamin B12 deficiency
  • very low sodium levels, caused by dehydration on a hot day (two occasions)
  • insufficient stomach acid, causing brief headaches whenever I ate anything
  • vitamin D3 supplements, by lowering my thiamine (vitamin B1) and B6 levels too far.
  • amino acid supplements, including 5-HTP — In the case of 5-HTP, this was due to its effect on B6. See last link.

17 thoughts on “Headaches and migraines

  • I have recently started seeing a naturopath regarding migraines and multiple chemical sensitivity. I have been on NAC for several years and just recently started glycine in an attempt to start taking glutathione precursors. The naturopath wants me to start glutamine as well to complete the glutathione picture. However, glutamine sounded a LOT like monosodium glutamate to me and I started googling; here I am on your site. Any ideas why a doctor would recommend glutamine to help with migraines caused by mcs if glutamine actually causes migraines? BTW – I am also deficient in B6 but can’t seem to raise my numbers even with supplementation. I don’t understand the connection between all of these, but was counting on my naturopath to do so.

    • Marjorie

      Kim: I’m not well-versed in any of glutamine’s applications beyond gut repair. I do remember reading in a mainstream science magazine that the migraine reaction to glutamine is often caused by low B6 levels. Perhaps you need the methylated version of B6, P5P? I used that for several years. Not sure if I wrote in any of these comment replies that about 15 years ago, B6 supplements got me over a miserable reaction to fresh paint that I’d developed — it was giving me major headaches. Then a few years ago, I developed bad skin reactions to nail polish, scented body products, perfume, and gold jewelry. P5P supplementation got rid of the worst of it, but I still have some skin reactions.

  • Brenda

    I have secondary hyper parathyroid or so my endo says. I had 2 yrs of daily migraines and Vitamin d level of 11. Calcium 12.8 and pth 189. They removed an adenoma. During. This my b levels, magnesium and sodium levels were tanked.
    Now my d is dropped to 17. And my pth is up to 89 and calcium is 10.0. Doc put me on 5K iu of D3. The headaches are off the chain. I am a msg trigger to. I watch very carefully. What can I do?

    • Marjorie

      Brenda: I’m very sorry to hear about your suffering. I know it can be debilitating. I am not sure I clarified on this post that I initially tolerated vitamin B6 supplements and in fact found they solved both carpal tunnel and my MSG headaches. I don’t know if you tried that… If you haven’t read it already, an acquaintance recommended the book Migraine by Sara Riley Mattson, but I have not read it myself… Have you looked at heavy-metal poisoning, or enviromental poisoning such as mold, as possible culprits?…. Another think that caused bad headaches was when I attempted to use use anti-inflammatory herbs several months after I left my moldy apartment. My lymphatic system was so overwhelmed, the gunk cleaned out by the anti-inflammatories got backed up and caused serious pain in my head, although not the eyeball-on-fire pain that the MSG used to cause… I hope you find a solution.

  • PHYLLIS

    Thank you, very helpful info. I had just started large dose of L Glutimine and bingo, bir migraine. I have leaky gut and have been diagnosed with IBD, and microscopic colitis. Now for the balancing act between my head and my stomach. LOL. The L Glutimine is helping my stomach. I just started to lower the dosage today. Life is an experiment.

  • Amanda

    I think the connection is that glutamine can be converted to glutamate and with B6 deficiency, further conversion to GABA cannot take place so you would have a high glutamate/GABA ratio.

    • Margot

      I have the same problem as you describe with the Glutamine powder. Also Leaky Gut and MSG allergy. So should I try to continue taking L Glutamine in very small amounts and will the headaches get better? I’m also using bone broth to help my problems.

    • Marjorie

      Sorry, Margot, I don’t know. I was able to avoid the glutamine headaches by using it every other day, and after 18 months didn’t feel I needed it anymore. I don’t remember if I tried it again after taking the B6. I know I took huge doses of it in 2006 for a week or so without headaches but that was several years after the initial experiment. I should say that I think now that extremely low iron levels were part of the problem. It’s been a while since I wrote that post. I hope you see improvement soon.

  • David

    Were you successful in healing your gut with glutamine? Did your food allergies start to disappear while taking glutamine?

    I have a number of food allergies and suspect a leaky gut. I also get headaches when I take glutamine and am interested to see if a B vitamin complex will alleviate the headaches.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, the L-glutamine made a big difference. I don’t think I had official food allergies until recently, when I started reacting badly to eggs. I could digest everything much better after several months on glutamine, but still had to avoid foods that affected my thyroid, lowered my zinc levels, etc.

      I should update this page with info from my most recent post about how a form of vitamin B6 (P5P) helped my D3- and 5HTP-induced headaches. Since 5HTP is also an amino acid, perhaps the P5P might also help with glutamine headaches, too?

      If the culprit does turn out to be an induced B deficiency for you, too, I am not sure that the amounts of B vitamins in a complex formulation will be enough to address the issue.

    • David

      Thanks for the response, Marjorie. I will see if B6 helps with the headaches and post my findings.

      I have a lot of trouble putting on weight and I suspect the root of this is a leaky gut. I eat mostly paleo (some quinao, grits, brown rice, and the rare legume) and have for the past 6 months. I also work out 2 times a week. Energy levels have gotten much better, but I still can’t seem to gain a pound (I am underweight by about 15-20 lbs) I would appreciate your point of view on why i haven’t been able to gain any weight. Any experience with this?

    • Marjorie

      I’m afraid I don’t. I know I’ve seen it discussed on various paleo forums, such as Mark’s Daily Apple.

  • Marjorie

    Update on my 7/9/12 reply to Jess…Vitamin D still gives me horrific headaches, be it via the sun or sun lamp or supplement. So much for the vitamin B2 theory. As for the amino acids, I haven’t tried any lately to see how I react to them.

  • Jess

    I found your blog when searching for a connection between L-Glutamine and migraines and you seem to have proven my theory. I get chronic migraines and also have celiac (and IBS, yay!) so had started taking L-glutamine to help my stomach and had started to suspect it was contributing to my migraines. I also suspected the same of 5-htp AND Vit.D, both of which you seem to also have experienced! Are you my long lost sibling?? 🙂 I’m going to subscribe to your blog now because clearly it’s one that I can learn a lot from.
    PS – I’m also paleo as well.

    Thank you!! – Jess

    • Marjorie

      I’m glad someone can confirm I’m not insane! I am tentatively changing my theory about the last two bullet points (D and amino acids except for glutamine) — I do not seem to react to them any more and I think it was due to my vitamin B2 (riboflavin) experiment. I am using the riboflavin 5′ phosphate version of it.

      B2 is involved in amino acid metabolism and like all Bs works closely with calcium, so once you’re really low in B2, increasing your calcium (with D) or amino acids (with supplements) can use up what little you have. B2 deficiency is associated with migraines, but that seems to be true for a lot of the Bs. So you might experiment. B2 also requires thyroid hormone to work, so if you have thyroid problems it can affect your levels.

      The glutamine/MSG reaction seemed to be a whole nother thing. I tried googling “monosodium glutamate depletes” but I got so many different results I gave up.

    • April

      I too have history of migraines, though I can’t say msg is a trigger for me. Today I took my first dose of l-glutamine and WOW, killer headache for hours, yet it wasn’t a migraine. I also had pain in my muscles of neck/shoulder area. Waste of a good 16 bucks!

    • Marjorie

      I am sorry to hear it. I am a complete wimp with headaches. I don’t know how people can function with even a small one. If you react that way to ALL amino acids, it might be a B6 deficiency thing. Or maybe glutamine is just evil.

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