Fasting Headache, Weight Loss, and Dehydration


Address all correspondence to Dr. Amos D. Korczyn, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv 69978, Israel.


Recently, we showed that fasting is a strong headache precipitator unrelated to coffee, tea, or smoking withdrawal or to oversleeping. In the current study, we evaluated the role of dehydration as a possible precipitator of fasting headache. The effects of a 25-hour fast of the Jewish Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) were studied in women who participated in our previous Yom Kippur study. We asked the subjects to weigh themselves at the beginning and at the end of the Yom Kippur fast, assuming that the weight loss would largely reflect dehydration. In all but 1 of the 56 participants, the fast resulted in weight loss but only 28 (50%) reported headache. The average weight loss was 1.4 ± 0.8 kg in those who developed headache and 1.2 ± 0.5 kg in those who did not. This small difference was not statistically significant. We conclude that dehydration, as reflected by acute weight loss, is an unlikely cause of headache during a single day of fasting. The mechanism of fasting headache remains unclear.