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A recent article in Science News (NO says yes to breathing fast, October 13, 2001) may help shed light on headaches that many thyroid patients experience.  From my previous studies I've found that nitrous oxide (NO) has been implicated as the main cause of headaches. NO is a normal chemical in the body which stimulates the dilation of blood vessels, and in the brain this results in an increase in pressure which causes headaches. NO is the chief agent in the dilation of blood vessels in the penis which causes an erection, so you can see that it has powerful effects to dilate blood vessels.

In the Science News article, new research shows that NO production is stimulated when blood levels of oxygen in the body fall. This is a compensatory mechanism to ensure that adequate amounts of oxygen get to cells throughout the body. However, the immediate negative effect for the person can be excruciating headaches as the blood vessels in the brain expand to get oxygen to the brain cells. It may not be much solace at the time, but these headaches are an inevitable part of the process to keep brain cells alive.

The real problem which causes the release of NO is the lack of oxygen in the blood and this is a direct effect of anemia. There are two main types of anemia: iron-deficiency anemia and copper-deficiency anemia. Iron and copper are both essential to form hemoglobin which is the oxygen-carrying molecule in the red blood cells.

Generally a person has either iron-deficiency anemia or copper-deficiency anemia, but it's possible to have a combination. To find if you are more deficient in iron or copper may require some experimentation, but as a general rule, a person with hypothyroidism is generally more likely to be iron deficient while a person with hyperthyroidism is more likely to be copper deficient.

A person with copper deficiency will find that supplementation with iron or zinc will increase the symptoms, while a person deficient in iron will find that supplementation of copper or zinc will increase the symptoms. As you can see, if headaches increase with zinc supplementation, you still don't know if you are copper or iron deficient. However, it is a good indication that the problem is the result of anemia--you just still have to find out which type of anemia.

Because other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are involved in the metabolism of iron and copper, increases or decreases in headaches from other nutrients can shed light on the source of the problem. 

For instance, iron-deficiency anemia can result from not only a deficiency of iron, but from deficiencies of B-12, folic acid, vitamin C, and manganese, which are other nutrients which are necessary for iron to be absorbed and utilized. If any of these affect headaches, then that might suggest that the nutritional problem is related to iron metabolism.

If magnesium, biotin, PABA, B-1, B-2, niacin, or B-5 affect headaches, then that is an indication that the problem is related to copper. Many people find that niacin helps the headaches, particularly if it is taken on an empty stomach so that it causes a flush. This is a good indication that the source of the headaches is from copper-deficiency anemia. The same is true of magnesium, which is another mineral reported to help reduce headaches. Too little magnesium could interfere with copper utilization; more could help; but too much could once again deplete copper. It's important to have the right amount.

The important thing to keep in mind is that headaches are most likely the result of nutritional deficiencies. Because of the connection with nitrous oxide and anemia, we have to correct the anemia to stop the headaches.