The role of the diet in migraines – a lack of copper could be the cause

The proper functioning of all organs in the human body requires daily provision of the appropriate doses of micro- and macroelements. Copper is an element that shouldn’t be overlooked in the daily diet. It’s responsible mainly for the formation and proper function of red blood cells, as well as for the metabolism of fats. Insufficient copper can also increase the frequency of migraines. How can you help yourself if you get severe recurrent headaches? One thing you can do is consume more copper-rich foods. Find out which foods these are and how to diagnose this deficiency.

From a biological point of view, copper has many important functions. It participates in the synthesis of haemoglobin, and together with iron takes part in the transport of oxygen to every cell, particularly to hypoxia-sensitive nerve tissue. The amount of copper determines the work of the brain – thinking, memory and creativity. Copper affects the transmission of nerve impulses and the level of neurotransmitters. This element is one of the microelements that make up many enzymes. Copper deficiency can cause anaemia, because it actively participates in the process of transporting and absorbing iron in the digestive tract.

Another property of copper is its ability to increase the body’s resistance and protect against free radicals. This is a very important function, because over time, the amount of free radicals in the human body increases, and they attack all cells, including brain nerve cells, more severely, leading to their damage and even death.

In addition, copper prevents heart and cardiovascular disease. It inhibits bacterial growth and destroys them. It’s necessary for the creation of melanin, which is the pigment that determines the colour of your skin and hair. It takes part in the synthesis of over 15 proteins, including collagen and elastin, which delay skin ageing.


  • it plays a key role in the formation and proper functioning of red blood cells,
  • it contributes to the proper building of nerve cells, and actively participates in the transmission of nerve impulses and brain work,
  • it is necessary for bone growth and health,
  • it is part of an enzyme that shows antioxidant activity, protecting cell membranes against the harmful effects of free radicals,
  • it participates in the creation of strong and flexible connective tissue,
  • it increases collagen production,
  • it participates in the creation of prostaglandins – hormones responsible for the proper functioning of the heart and controlling blood pressure,
  • it strengthens the body’s immunity,
  • it inhibits bacterial growth.


Copper is absorbed in the upper small intestine in the form of inorganic compounds or in complexes with proteins, and is used at a level of 35%-70%. Copper absorption can be delayed by excess zinc, molybdenum, cadmium, fluorine, phosphorus, calcium, iron, phytic acid and sulphides. Copper deficiency can occur:

  • in people with poor nutrition (often in infants) with frequent diarrhoea,
  • for people who are trying to lose weight,
  • in the case of excessive use of supplements containing components that disrupt copper absorption,
  • in copper absorption disorders,
  • in long-term cortisol treatment.


One of the most dangerous effects of long-term copper deficiency is anaemia caused by reduced absorption of iron from the digestive tract. Copper increases the absorption and use of iron (however, iron can inhibit copper absorption). Other symptoms of copper deficiency include hyperactivity, memory and concentration problems, breathing problems, oedema, increased susceptibility to infections, as well as increased bone fragility and growth disorders. People on strict diets are particularly at risk of copper deficiency. Increased migraine frequency can also be a symptom of copper deficiency.

The exact mechanism of migraine is still unknown. Studies show that genetics are to some extent involved in predisposition to these headaches. On the other hand, there’s evidence of environmental factors, such as specific diet components, being contributors. Migraines are caused by very different foods in different patients. The most common ones are are cheese and blue cheese, chocolate, wine (especially red), and citrus fruit.

Copper deficiency can lead to a deficit of white blood cells or neutrophils, which fight infection. People with low levels of neutrophils are more exposed to various types of infectious diseases. In addition, severe copper deficiency can contribute to the development of osteoporosis.

Many people with frequent headaches have low levels of copper in the body. Copper deficiency causes excessive vasodilation, which leads to pain. Other symptoms of deficiency include concentration and memory problems. To prevent them, it’s good to include copper-containing products and appropriate supplementation in your diet. Of course, this should only be done after prior diagnostics are carried out confirming a deficiency of this element in the body and its appropriate proportions to other nutrients.


Because food only has small amounts of this element, copper overdose is rather rare. An overdose can occur if you regularly drink “soft” tap water that’s supplied to your home via old copper pipes.


sesame seeds – about 8 mg
oysters – from 1 to 8 mg
cocoa – about 3.7 mg
sunflower seeds – about 1.9 mg
pumpkin seeds – about 1.6 mg
rolled oats – about 0.5 mg
baker’s yeast – 5 mg
sundried tomatoes – 1.4 mg
herring in oil – about 0.25 mg
white rice – about 0.17 mg
smoked mackerel – 0.16 mg
dark chocolate – 0.16 mg
beetroot – 0.1 mg


Copper is better absorbed from animal protein than from vegetable protein. Its absorption is increased by carbohydrates (glucose and starch, and fructose to a lesser extent). On the other hand, iron, zinc, calcium and phosphorus reduce its absorption. It’s also reduced by phytates, dietary fibre and sulphur compounds, milk and egg proteins, as well as vegetables from the brassica family. Food products containing large amounts of fluorine or cadmium can also contribute to lower copper absorption.

The main sources of this element are veal liver, sesame seeds, rolled oats, mushrooms, baker’s yeast, oysters, whole grains, sunflower seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables, cocoa and pumpkin seeds. Copper is also found in beans, whole grains, sunflower seeds, dark green leafy vegetables and dark chocolate.

What else can cause migraines? Processed food rich in a substance that enhances smell and taste – monosodium glutamate – as well as cold meats preserved with nitrates, which has been confirmed by scientists under the guidance of Prof. Vincent Martin from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Cincinnati (Ohio, USA), who reviewed over 180 scientific papers on the relationship between diet and migraines. The latest analysis also showed that one of the most common migraine triggers is alcohol, especially red wine and beverages containing vodka.

To summarise, to get rid of headaches, check the level of copper and other elements in the body, and limit processed food, which in general is not beneficial to health. Replace them with fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as lean meat. Good results in preventing migraines can also be obtained by implementing a low-fat diet or a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fatty marine fish and linseed oil) and low in omega-6 fatty acids (which are present in vegetable oils such as sunflower, rapeseed, and corn oils).

Lifeline Diag