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New Studies on Migraines Reveal Unprecedented Data

If you get them, then you know, you will do anything to get rid of them as quickly as possible. People who do not suffer from migraines cannot possibly comprehend the intense pain experienced during a migraine attack, and just how debilitating those attacks can be. All a migraine suffer wants to do is hide away in a cool quite place and take anything to stop the throbbing pain. Most migraine sufferers also experience blurred vision or blocks in their vision, sensitivity to loud noises and smells, and nausea during a migraine. I had a classmate who shot himself because he suffered from migraines and thought he had a brain tumor. Nobody would help him to find out the truth and work on ways to reduce his pain. He was only 15 or 16 years old at the time.

Diet modifications can help. Certain foods can trigger a migraine, such as cured foods that contain nitrates, like bacon, sausages and ham, and alcohol, chocolate and caffeine can especially trigger migraines because they cause the blood vessels to constrict. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter in your brain that helps to dilate your blood vessels and slow nerve cell activity, which can make you feel sleepier.
One of the ways caffeine works is by attaching to the receptors for adenosine in your brain. This means instead of widening your blood vessels as your body normally would, your blood vessels constrict. The presence of caffeine on your adenosine receptors sets off additional chain reactions in your body that can affect your blood vessels. Because adenosine is not present to slow down nerve cell activity, your nerve cells start to move faster. This triggers the release of norepinephrine, one of two hormones responsible for your body’s “fight-or-flight” response. The additional hormone, epinephrine, also is activated. The goal of the fight-or-flight response is to reduce blood flow to less necessary organs, including those of your digestive system, and increase blood flow to your brain and heart. This makes you feel more alert and awake. Norepinephrine and epinephrine mean that caffeine can selectively dilate your blood vessels based on what your body would need most in an emergency situation.

For this reason, caffeine is generally considered to be a blood vessel dilator. Caffeine in coffee widens blood vessels in the lungs and brain, which can help you breathe more easily and reduce headache pain, respectively. This extra increase in stress hormones, including adrenaline, can also temporarily increase your blood pressure due to the changes in your blood vessels. The problem with caffeine causing headaches is die to withdrawal symptoms. When your body fully uses caffeine, the effects caffeine had will reverse. For example, the blood vessels to your brain and lungs will constrict back to their normal size and those to your stomach will dilate. This can cause you to feel fatigued, have a headache or experience stomach upset. My psychology instructor in college told my class that caffeine actually alters the chemistry of the brain. I believe this could be a valid point to consider as well.

Other common causes of migraines include food preservatives, gluten, hormonal imbalances, B vitamin deficiency and magnesium deficiency, lack of sleep, red wine, missing meals, bright lights and stress.

migrainesHowever, a few new studies on migraines have revealed some causes never before considered that may help migraine sufferers even further.

Researchers previously believed that migraines were caused from blood vessels in the brain that were dilated, but they now feel that migraines are caused from neuronal signals that are abnormal.  This newest study has offered another possible cause as it seems to give evidence that the blood vessels have a different role than suspected in the past.  This study has found that differences in the structure of the blood flow to the brain may make a person more susceptible to migraines than those with normal blood vessel structure.

According to Brett Cucciara, the lead author of the study, those that have migraines have differences the the blood vessel structure.  It’s something that people are born with.  The link seems to have something to do with the changes in the way that blood flows to the brain, which may trigger migraine headaches and might explain why some people notice that being dehydrated is a trigger for migraines.

Scientists also noticed that blood flow abnormalities that were the most obvious were at the back part of the brain.  The visual cortex resides in the back of the brain, so it might help to explain that most of the common migraine auras include visual symptoms including flashing lights, spots and wavy lines.

I personally would have to agree with this study because migraines run in my family. My grandfather had them, my mother had them, and I had them. It has also been suggested that migraines that appear to be hereditary may be due to a inherited personality type that is prone to migraines, such as people who are under a lot of stress and do not properly manage that stress. There are many causes of migraines, and the trick is to figure out what your trigger or triggers are. Then you can take a natural approach to managing migraines without having to live on painkillers all your life.

Most recently, a couple very unique discoveries have been made in migraine research. One study that has found a link to gut and mouth bacteria leading to migraines, and another study that shows having migraines actually changes the structure of the brain.

Todd Schwedt is a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic, and his important words to consider are, “Migraine,” he says, “is a neurological disorder and not a maladaptive response to stress.” There is a strong genetic predisposition: up to 70% of sufferers have family members who are also affected. The mechanism is not fully understood but includes electrical changes in nerve cells spread over the brain: the brain functions abnormally during an attack.” He further adds, “If someone without migraine is exposed to high stress levels, they don’t develop a migraine.” Don’t get triggers confused with causation. People who have migraines have different thresholds for triggering the electrical changes and the release of chemicals that cause symptoms such as flashing lights, nausea or throbbing pain.”

The Link Between Mouth and Gut Bacteria and Migraines.

The study linking mouth and stomach bacteria to nitrate levels in migraine sufferers made a very unique correlation. Nitrates, such as cardiac therapeutics and food additives, are common headache triggers, with nitric oxide playing an important role. Anaerobic bacteria in the oral cavity may contribute migraine-triggering levels of nitric oxide through the salivary nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. This study detected observable and significantly higher abundances of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reductase genes in migraine sufferers, also revealing a possible link to this finding and heart problems later in life. Recent work has demonstrated a potentially symbiotic relationship between oral commensal bacteria and humans through the salivary nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway (C. Duncan et al., Nat Med 1:546–551, 1995, Oral nitrate-reducing bacteria contribute physiologically relevant levels of nitrite and nitric oxide to the human host that may have positive downstream effects on cardiovascular health.

The results show for the first time a potential link between bacterial nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reducers and migraines, by reporting their higher abundances in the oral cavities of people with migraines than in the oral cavities of those who do not suffer from migraines.

avocados high in magnesiumDo Migraines Affect the Brain?

A recent study says yes. Researchers found that white matter abnormalities are not limited to migraines; they also occur in non-migraine headaches, but people with migraines were more likely to have brain volume changes than those who don’t suffer from migraines. Just what these white matter abnormalities lead to is still unclear. That’s why more long-term studies are needed.

“Migraine affects about 10% to 15% of the general population and can cause a substantial personal, occupational and social burden,” Ashina said. “We hope that through more study, we can clarify the association of brain structure changes to attack frequency and length of the disease. We also want to find out how these lesions may influence brain function.”

Though migraines might be associated with structural changes in the brain, there’s no cause for concern.
“Studies of white matter changes showed no relationship to migraine frequency or cognitive status of patients.”
Dr. MaryAnn Mays, a staff neurologist at the Center for Headache & Pain at the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the research, agreed.
“What this study does demonstrate is yes, brain changes are more common in patients with migraines and probably are more common in patients with migraine aura,” Mays said. “The good
news is that … long-term cognitive changes were not seen, even though these brain changes were apparent on imaging.”

Do these brain changes cause a problem?

“I don’t think, overall, in the long term, migraine sufferers need to be concerned,” Mays said. “However, clinicians should screen for cardiovascular risk factors that may be apparent and can be modified — such as hypertension and high cholesterol — that could be contributing to white matter lesions that are unrelated to the migraine.” Mays is confident that headache experts are going to continue to monitor these changes to determine whether it will have any impact on the health of migraine sufferers.

New Treatment for Migraines.
In 2009, news that a single surgery (Trigger-point release/nerve decompression) can improve migraines and chronic headaches spread worldwide. Subsequently in October 2010, the FDA approved BOTOX® (Allergan, Inc.) for chronic migraines. Drugs prescribed for migraines and chronic headaches may not help sufferers. Moreover, they have adverse effects including mental sluggishness, nausea, muscle weakness, difficulty in thinking, and trouble functioning.
Through trigger-point release and nerve decompression, the pressure on nerves are relieved thus preventing migraines and persistent headaches, or decreasing the frequency and intensity of pain. Reports have found that nearly 80% to 90% of patients experience improvement in pain, and in 50% to 60% of patients, the headaches are completely eliminated. However, addressing the issue of pain with pain killers or drug therapies is like putting a bandaid on the problem. It will help with the pain initially, and for severe attacks will help temporarily, but the goal of every migraine victim should be to determine the cause of your attacks and make long-term permanent changes to lessen them.

References: Asma Bashir, MD, Richard B. Lipton, MD, Sait Ashina, MD and Messoud Ashina, MD, PhD American Society for Microbiology