A number of studies have shown that certain vitamins and supplements can play a role in treating neuropathic pain. But more research is needed focusing specifically on occipital neuralgia headaches.

Occipital neuralgia causes a sudden and intense headache, often on one side of the head. Although the sharp, stabbing pain might feel like a migraine headache, it only lasts a few minutes.

This type of headache also has a relatively clear cause: pinched or strained nerves. Tense neck muscles, head or neck injuries, and conditions like arthritis, tumors, and gout can damage the occipital nerves at the back of the neck, triggering headaches.

Keep reading to learn whether vitamins and supplements can help with occipital neuralgia headaches.

Some emerging research suggests the dietary supplements listed below can help with pain linked to nerve damage, otherwise known as neuropathic pain.

That said, studies specific to occipital neuralgia are lacking. More research is needed to understand what role vitamins and supplements can play in treating neuropathic headaches.

Vitamin and supplement safety

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors dietary supplements but not as rigorously as medications. Supplements are not tested in clinical trials.

While they may improve headache symptoms, supplements come with a risk of side effects. They could also interfere with medical procedures or interact with other medications and supplements.

It’s critical to speak with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, before taking any dietary supplement to make sure it’s safe for you.

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Acetyl-L-carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine is synthesized in the brain, liver, and kidneys from L-carnitine, an amino acid. A 2019 review of previous studies suggests it has pain-relieving and neuroprotective effects.

After reviewing four randomized controlled trials, which are considered the gold standard of research, review authors reported that acetyl-L-carnitine is likely to help relieve nerve pain and even heal damaged nerve fibers.

However, the study didn’t examine acetyl-L-carnitine’s effects on pain caused by occipital neuralgia. It might help, but more studies are needed to know for sure.

Alpha-lipoic acid

The body produces alpha-lipoic acid. It is also found in foods like spinach, broccoli, and liver. It’s an antioxidant that helps enzymes transform carbs into energy.

Alpha-lipoic acid can ease symptoms linked to diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy occurs when long-term high blood sugar damages the peripheral nerves.

Nerve damage also causes occipital neuralgia, so alpha-lipoic acid’s antioxidant effects might help. However, due to a lack of studies, its effects aren’t certain.

B vitamins

B vitamins are a diverse group of compounds that play many roles in the body. They’re mainly sourced from foods, including:

  • dairy products
  • whole grains
  • nuts and legumes
  • oily fish
  • organ meats

Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12 are especially important for nervous system function. According to a 2017 review, vitamin B-complex supplements may help relieve neuropathic pain by speeding up nerve fiber regeneration and repair.

If you have occipital neuralgia, you can consider incorporating more vitamin B-rich foods in your diet.

Vitamin C

Found in citrus fruits, vitamin C is well known for its immunity-boosting properties. But it also has pain-relieving (analgesic) effects.

While there are no studies specific to occipital neuralgia, the authors of a 2017 review report that high doses of vitamin C can ease other types of nerve pain. Furthermore, researchers found that participants taking higher doses for vitamin C had less need for pain medications.

To harness the power of vitamin C, try eating more fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb the minerals required for strong bones, like calcium and phosphorus. It also reduces inflammation, which could explain its role in alleviating headaches.

A 2020 review indicates that low vitamin D might be a factor in primary headaches, particularly migraine and tension headaches. But review authors didn’t include any studies on the role of vitamin D in occipital neuralgia.

Many people don’t get enough vitamin D from dietary sources, so it can’t hurt to speak with a healthcare professional about supplementation.

Curcumin

Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric, a root that’s often dried, ground, and used as a spice in curries. It’s an antioxidant that has impressive health benefits.

The authors of a 2021 review summarize animal studies that suggest curcumin may reduce neuropathic pain. Future trials with humans are needed to understand more.

Fish oil

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to play an important role in cardiovascular health. Emerging research suggests it may also support healthy nerve function thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

A 2017 review reports that fish oil supplements could help treat diabetic neuropathy. In addition, an animal study published in 2019 found that fish oil had beneficial effects following sciatic nerve damage in rats.

It’s possible that fish oil supplements could also help with pain caused by occipital neuralgia, but more research is needed. If you want to increase your omega-3 consumption, try incorporating more oily fish, nuts, and seeds into your diet.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that’s been used to treat pain for centuries. It works by blocking the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which has been linked to nerve pain.

A 2020 review evaluated the use of magnesium as a treatment for different types of neuropathic pain, including diabetic neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy, and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Review authors conclude that although more research is needed, its effects are promising.

In addition, magnesium deficiency has been implicated in headaches. A 2020 review cites substantial evidence for the use of oral magnesium supplements in the treatment of mild headaches, but studies on occipital neuralgia were not included.

It’s not clear whether magnesium can help with occipital neuralgia, but it might be worth asking a doctor.

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid derivative known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.

As is the case for many of the other supplements on this list, current studies focus on the use of NAC for pain caused by diabetic neuropathy.

For example, 2019 randomized controlled trial with 119 participants found that NAC in addition to medication was more helpful at easing neuropathic pain caused by diabetes than a placebo in addition to medication.

NAC could mitigate pain linked to occipital neuralgia, but there’s not enough research to say for sure.

It’s not clear whether certain foods can trigger occipital neuralgia symptoms. Keeping a daily food diary is one way to see whether there’s a connection between your diet and headaches.

Additionally, remember that many of the vitamins and supplements listed above are components of a well-balanced diet. So, if your diet is lacking in certain areas, it could worsen your headache symptoms.

Before taking supplements, consider adapting what you eat to ensure you’re getting enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats.

Occipital neuralgia can resemble migraine and other types of headache conditions. As a result, it can take time to get a diagnosis.

It’s recommended to speak with a primary care doctor if you have symptoms. They can run tests or refer you to a specialist to determine what’s causing your pain.

Occipital neuralgia is a type of headache that causes sharp pain for a few seconds or minutes. It’s neuropathic, which means it’s linked to nerve damage.

Some studies indicate certain supplements may help treat neuropathic pain. High quality studies focusing on occipital neuralgia are needed to determine their true effectiveness for this condition.

If you experience this kind of headache, a healthcare professional can help you decide whether nonmedical treatments can help.