Does low iron intake affect migraineurs?

Dietary iron intake has different effects on migraines in women of different ages, according to a cross-sectional study published in Frontiers in Nutrition. Researchers suggested that these differences could be due to age-related menstrual changes.

Since iron is closely related to menstruation – during which iron is broken down – and since people with iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia tend to have a high frequency of migraines, the researchers tried to find out whether iron deficiency is associated with severe headaches or migraines.

In addition, “Ferritin, an important biomarker of iron stores in the body, deserves attention because of its relationship to migraines,” the authors said, while “dopamine plays a role in the pathogenesis of migraines and iron is an essential trace element for the synthesis of dopamine”. ,” They said.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), maintained by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, investigators assessed the responses of 7,880 adults (3,575 men and 4,305 women).

People aged 20 or older completed the questionnaires between 1999 and 2004. Of the 7,880 adults surveyed, 1,702 (21.6%) answered “Yes” to the question: “Have you had severe headaches or migraines in the last 3 months?”

“Compared to the participants without a headache, the participants with a headache were more likely to be younger, female and living alone, had a lower level of education, a lower body mass index (BMI), a lower protein intake through their food, and a lower amount of iron in their food Ingestion, lower cholesterol levels, lower hemoglobin levels, lower serum iron levels, lower serum ferritin levels and a higher chance of taking birth control pills, ”the researchers wrote.

Analyzes showed:

  • Most women between the ages of 20 and 50 consumed less iron than the recommended amount of food
  • Dietary iron intake was inversely associated with severe headaches or migraines in women aged 20 to 50 years
  • Serum ferritin has been negatively associated with severe headaches or migraines in women over the age of 50
  • In men, there was no significant association between dietary iron and serum ferritin and severe headaches or migraines
  • After adjusting for possible confounding factors, the odds ratio for the association between dietary iron intake and severe headaches or migraines was 0.721 (95% CI 0.565–0.920), with the highest quintile being iron intake (≥ 19.94 mg / day) Iron intake (≤ 8.20 mg / day) was compared to the lowest quintile

Previous studies have shown that iron intake is closely related to the amount of enough iron in the body, which means that intake increases with insufficient iron storage and decreases with adequate iron storage. An additional investigation also showed that a lower ferritin level corresponds to a high iron intake.

“As a result, women between the ages of 20 and 50 may have a higher iron intake than men and women over the age of 50, which may be the reason why dietary iron has only been linked to migraines in women between the ages of 20 and 50 the researchers suspected.

A lack of information on the perimenopause limits the investigation, while the cross-sectional nature of the study rules out causal conclusions.


S. Meng, H. Zhou, X. Li et al. Relationship between iron and serum ferritin ingestion and severe headaches or migraines. Front Nutr. Published online July 6, 2021. doi: 10.3389 / fnut.2021.685564