Does Migraine increase risk of Parkinson’s?

A study published in the journal Neurology this month is prompting a lot of discussion about the link between migraine and Parkinson’s.  Researchers are suggesting that patients with migraine may be more likely to develop Parkinson’s and other movement disorders later in life.

Parkinson's Disease and Migraine

The study followed 5764 middle aged patients for 25 years.  The study focused both on Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome.

It comes as no surprise that those with headache disorders were more likely to have restless legs syndrome.  There has been a known connection for a long time.

But those with migraine in particular were more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) or to develop PD-like symptoms.

Basically, that means that these patients weren’t specifically screened for this study to see if they had PD; researchers simply checked to see if they had been diagnosed with PD or had PD typical symptoms.  This is important, because this study is not “proof” that migraine patients are more likely to develop PD, but it does show that they may be more likely to develop symptoms common to PD.  Yes, it is likely that many of these patients really do have PD.

So when it came to symptoms themselves, 7.5% of those with no headaches developed symptoms, but 12.6% of those with migraine without aura did, and 19.7% of those with migraine with aura did.  Those with migraine with aura were more than twice as likely to develop PD-type symptoms.

Those with migraine with aura were also more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

However, we’re still only talking about two or three migraine patients out of a hundred who were diagnosed with PD, as opposed to one or two without migraine.

In other words, as is the case with stroke, migraine may increase your risk, but chances are extremely good that you’ll never have a problem.

Typical symptoms of PD include:

  • Tremor:  an involuntary movement, often beginning in the hands.
  • Stiff muscles:  which may make it difficult to move or may be painful.
  • Posture/balance:  Becoming stooped or having difficulty with balance.

As you might notice, these and related PD symptoms could be a sign of something else.  In fact, stiffness and difficulty with balance are not uncommon in migraine itself.

So once again, is migraine actually increasing your risk of PD itself?  Are there similar symptoms?  Or a common cause of both?

This study seems significant enough to continue the research.

Why would PD and migraine be related?  They are certainly neurological components to both.

Some have suggested that dopamine may play a role in both.  However, while dopamine is low in patients with PD, it may rise in patients having a migraine attack.  One study even suggested that patients with migraine who developed PD would actually have less severe symptoms than patients who had not had migraine.

For now, the research will probably be focused on the genetic roots of both Parkinson’s and migraine disease, as well as the neurological processes that bring on the symptoms of both.

For further reading:


10 Highlights from the past 3 Months (September 2014 edition)

These posts, which have been most popular with you our guests, talk about new drugs, new research about headache disorders, and unusual news stories.  Check them out, and leave a comment!

One more thing – if you were a winner of our Migramin giveaway (or even if you’ve just tried Migramin), be sure to share your thoughts here – Migramin Follow-up (comments needed!)

  1. Will new Migraine Med fight Obesity and Diabetes?  The high expectations for CGRP-blocking migraine medications could turn into a craze before they even get to the market…
  2. Neck Pain: A Missing Piece of the Migraine Puzzle?  Everyone knows about headache, nausea, visual auras – maybe even vertigo or congestion.  These are all possible symptoms of a migraine attack…
  3. Cluster Headache: Seasons and Temperatures  Do changes in temperature trigger periods of cluster attacks?  Researchers in Taiwan say yes, but the connection may not be as simple as you think…
  4. Topamax not working? Here’s a Possible Alternative  Although Topamax (topiramate) has helped many patients, it is by no means the silver bullet to stop migraine.  It’s popularity has also been hampered by the side effects that some patients experience…
  5. Is it Migraine or Lupus?  Are all those symptoms you’re having a result of migraine?  Or could it actually be lupus? …
  6. Complex Confusional Migraines  Sometimes it might feel like a migraine diagnosis just makes things – well, more complex and confusing!  That certainly can be the case if you have been diagnosed with complex confusional migraine…
  7. Getting a Headache right after Drinking Alcohol?  You’ve had a little to drink – or maybe more than a little – and while you’re still having a good time, the headache strikes.  What’s happening?  Should you be concerned? …
  8. Hemicrania Continua: Is Melatonin an Alternative to Indomethacin?  Hemicrania continua is a constant one-sided headache which is often accompanied by watery eyes and congestion.  It’s often misdiagnosed as migraine or sinus headache…
  9. Using Migraine as an Excuse  If you’re like me, you may have experienced a migraine attack that left you unable to stand, unable to drink water without throwing up – and attack that has left you writhing on the floor…
  10. Are Clinical Trials Still Being “Hidden”?  Research in the USA is confirming what studies in the British Medical Journal have already pointed out.  Clinical trials, once completed, are not coming to light for months – even years…

Is Stevia giving me a Migraine Attack?

Some people have reported that stevia, or a sweetener made from stevia, have given them headaches and migraine symptoms.  Is this a rare problem?  Or is it something we should all be concerned about?

Let’s get one thing straight.  Researching stevia will drive you crazy.  It’s a political football, an economic hot potato, and a constant source of controversy for health nuts, diet gurus and medical professionals.

Buzzwords and catch phrases abound.  Let’s get a few out of the way right now:

  • “Natural”:  It’s time we all realized that the word natural on a label means almost nothing.  Are all the ingredients natural?  Is a genetically modified plant “natural”?  Is a chemical derived from a plant natural even though it’s been highly processed?  Does “natural” mean safe?  Seriously, ignore the word “natural”.  A walk in the forest might be natural, but it’s highly suspect on a package in the supermarket.
  • “Used for centuries”:  You’ll hear it over and over – stevia has been used worldwide for centuries.  That’s nice.  Did people of ancient times use the same manufacturing and packaging techniques?  Did they eat it along with the drugs I take?  Did they eat the same amount, along with the same diet I’m on?  And what clinic trials were done with these ancient peoples to see how they’re health changed when they stopped using stevia?  Yes, I’m glad nations weren’t wiped out in the past by stevia use.  But I’m really not sure how much this proves about that ingredient in my diet drink.
  • “generally recognized as safe”:  The GRAS phrase is used by the FDA, but it does not tell us that certain people will not have side effects from eating it.  Lots of ingredients are GRAS but cause problems for migraineurs.

Now none of this tells us that stevia is dangerous.  It does show that a lot of the hype that we’ve heard and will continue to hear does not necessarily prove that stevia is perfectly safe for everyone.

What is Stevia?

Stevia - migraine trigger?
Stevia – all natural if eaten like this.  Maybe.  (Photo courtesy of hardworkinghippy)

Stevia is a plant.  But you might actually be asking, what is this artificial sweetener I’ve heard about that people call “stevia”?

Unfortunately, we run into our first problem here.  Stevia is not one thing.  Various products are made from stevia, and some are more processed than others.  They use various substances.  There is no one stevia.

And there’s another problem.  Stevia sweeteners often come with “fillers”, and some of those are safer than others.

Are Stevia Sweeteners Safe?

Which ones?  Frankly, we could do research into every product that contains a derivative of stevia – except that there is limited research out there.  Most researchers seem to agree that stevia derivatives themselves are generally safe in small quantities for short term use.

But what about the other ingredients?

A search online will turn up a number of possible side effects of stevia – but again, stevia in which form?  How much per day?  Once you start trying to connect the studies with the product on the shelf, things get a little more tricky.

Now there are some people who may have an allergy to stevia products.  Some people have found that hay fever translates into a bad reaction to stevia.

The biggest concerns when it comes to stevia are related to sweeteners in general.  Again, research specifically on stevia is pretty limited compared to the tidal wave of stevia products that are in the pipeline.

However, there are growing concerns that artificial sweeteners may cause obesity (in some cases even more than sugar itself), and may lead to other imbalances in the body, especially if used regularly.

Stevia and Migraine

At this point, stevia does not seem to be high on the list of migraine triggers.  However, migraine affects everyone differently, and it is possible that stevia could, in some cases, trigger migraine symptoms.

But before we blame stevia derivatives, if you suspect it may be a trigger, ask yourself some questions:

  • What stevia am I talking about?  Which product am I actually using?
  • Unless I’m just chewing an organically grown stevia leaf, what “fillers” or other ingredients could be responsible for the migraine symptoms?
  • What other changes have I made in my diet that could be causing problems?  (including eating less sugar, and any sudden changes, even if you consider them to be good changes)

There are some concerns about stevia and low blood pressure.  Stevia may interact with calcium channel blockers and anti-inflammatory medication.

So take a close look at any changes in your symptoms, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.


This is a bit of an unusual introduction to a possible migraine trigger.  The reason is that there really is so little research on how a specific derivative of stevia may affect someone with a specific condition, such as migraine.  And stevia is not like a drug, where you would give patients 30mg a day to see how they react.  It’s eaten in combination with other things, and it has the potential to drastically change your diet in a short period of time.

Typical advice for migraine patients is best repeated here.  Avoid fast, drastic changes.  Watch your symptoms carefully.  Read labels.  Do your own research.

When it comes to stevia, there is good reason to be skeptical of both the “for” and “against” sides of the argument.  But for most of us, a little sugar or honey in moderation seems to outshine most other sweeteners.

If you feel that stevia has increased your migraine symptoms, leave a comment.  Let’s keep the conversation going.


Imagine Life without Migraine

Most of us go through those cycles.  There’s the feeling of hopelessness – that no treatment will ever work and that migraine will destroy my life.  There are those days when you’re ready to “fight back” and get serious about living life in spite of migraine, or finding a better treatment.  There are those days when you’re just feeling down and don’t really care.

And once in a while … once in a while … there’s this wild hope that migraine will be conquered.

Well, let’s have a day of hope.  Some recent posts and articles I’ve been reading have simply been a reminder to hope.

For example, take a look at a recent post from Kerrie Smyres of The Daily Headache.  Actually, as I write this Kerrie is having one of those down times.  But in her post a few days ago, she makes some excellent points.

There are actually a lot of good reasons to hope.  Not only are there excellent treatments available, there are more treatments on the way, and more doctors who are wanting to help migraine patients.  Check out her post here:  Full of Hope About the Future of Migraine Treatment

The Migraine Trust published an interview with Victoria Saxton of Migraine Monologues.  Victoria is also filled with hope after seeing a real reduction in her migraine attacks.  Check out My migraine journey – a marathon not a sprint.

Your turn…

Maybe you’re still thinking of years of trying and suffering and getting nowhere.  But why not take a moment to imagine what life would be life without migraine.  And don’t imagine with bitterness – let yourself hope, just a little, that your pain will lessen, the attacks will be less frequent, and you’ll start to steal your life back.

Migraine Heads

And here’s how.  The Migraine Trust has started a campaign that you can be involved in, called “Migraine Heads”.

It’s very simple, really.  Two head outlines.  In one you describe/show life with migraine.  In the second you describe/imagine your life without migraine.  Finally, you send it back via post, Facebook, or Twitter.  Oh, and don’t forget to tell us about it too!

To get started, visit Migraine free future and download the simple template.


Migraine Surgery – Should it be Banned?

The debate about migraine surgery is nothing new, but it shows no signs of going away.  Researchers in Germany recently fired a shot at migraine surgeries, using strong words starting with the title of their editorial, published in the journal Cephalalgia, Surgical treatment for migraine: Time to fight against the knife.

Migraine Surgery - cut it out?!

Their article, which you can read for yourself, doesn’t hold back in criticizing treatments and studies that involve surgical intervention for migraine patients.  They mention the dreaded word “placebo”, doubt if “treatment-refractory” migraine patients even exist (patients who don’t respond to treatment), conjure up images of Europeans gazing in horror at American websites about migraine treatments, and talk about the horrible effects that surgery can have.

Even if the authors of the article manage to offend just about everybody, their article should not be quickly ignored.

Sadly, there is an impression that when “all else fails” at least there’s a way to deal with the problem through surgery.  Sure, it may be serious, but so is my pain.

But it’s not that simple.  Surgery is no guaranteed cure for migraine (well, it’s not a cure at all – but there’s no guarantee that it will take the symptoms away), and surgery itself can cause more problems.  And yes, those problems can be serious.

Authors Hans-Christoph Diener and Ulrike Bingel are right about one thing – the evidence for many – most migraine surgeries is not strong.  Doctors are right to put surgery way at the bottom of the list of treatments to try for migraine.

There’s no doubt that many patients do not respond well to some migraine treatments.  It takes many people many years to find a good treatment, if they find one at all.

But we can’t automatically assume that surgery is always out there, waiting to solve our problems once we’ve tried x number of medications.

Should we continue to study surgery as a migraine treatment?  Many researchers think so, just as we should continue studying many migraine treatments.  And no one that I know of is calling for a ban.

But we do need to take a closer look at the evidence before we recommend surgery to any patient.  That means understanding the clinical trials, but also understanding the medical history of the patient, and taking time to understand which treatments have the best chance of working.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, if you’re considering surgery for migraine, it’s worth your while taking a look at Diener and Bingel’s thoughts.

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