Man having a headache at home

Testosterone and Cluster Headaches: Low Levels Appear to Be a Root Cause

What type of common headache can be worse than a migraine?  If you guessed cluster headaches, you’d be exactly right.  These headaches can be completely incapaciting and that is why is it so important to find any root causes for the sake of its victims.  These headaches on one side of the head have even said to deliver the worst pain known to humans. (Suicide is tragically common.) And it affects more men than women – the opposite of migraines.

Researchers have found that an increase in two neurotransmitters (histamine and possibly serotonin) may be causative:

“Whole blood histamine was estimated before, during, and after 22 attacks of cluster headaches, and plasma serotonin was studied in 30 such headaches. The results were compared with changes in blood levels of both amines during headache in ten migrainous subjects and in ten controls. In cluster headache, whole blood histamine levels showed a statistically significant rise during the attack, whereas plasma serotonin levels showed a slight nonsignificant elevation.” [1]

However, hormonal links were much more scarce. This changed in 2006 when researchers found that low testosterone was correlated, interesting in both men and women, with cluster headaches. [2] Apparently, researchers had noted male cluster headache sufferers were often “overmasculinized” and decided to investigate a testosterone connection.  And they had also noted a diurnal (daily) pattern associated with it, which indicated that it may be located in the hypothalamus. What the researchers did in this study is measure the testosterone, LH, etc. of a small group of cluster headache sufferers, who had all been diagnosed and had tried, unsuccessfuly, a variety of  powerful medications.

The results were impressive:  ALL of the patients had low testosterone including the women.  Although a small study, the fact that every one of these most severe cases were hypogonadal (or close) shows a likely testosterone link.  To test their theory, they put these patients on testosterone and the results were very good.  (The women were put on a combination of estradiol and testosterone.)

–5 of 7 male patients had no cluster headaches for the first 24 hours.

–4 of the 7 male patients were completely cured.

So this appears to be yet another example as to how low testosterone increase your risk for a nasty chronic condition.

I do want to mention that the Atlantic Monthly also mentioned that some low dose hallucinogens (LSD and “magic mushrooms) are also curative for a great many patients.  According to the article, one need only take about a quarter of the regular dose.  In addition, researchers in Germany found that bromo-LSD, which does not cause hallucinations, was curative as well. [3] When I say curative, these recreational drugs seem to actually reset the brain and patients no longer suffer from cluster headaches.  And, no, I don’t think anyone knows why.

NOTE:  Migraine headaches, although more common in women, plague many men.  It turns out that low testosterone is also likely a root cause of these also, something I cover in my page Testosterone and Migraines.


1)  Arch Neurol, 1971, 25(3):225-231, “Histamine and Serotonin in Cluster Headache”

2) Headache, 2006 Jun, 46(6):925-33, “Testosterone replacement therapy for treatment refractory cluster headache”


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