What if we knew exactly what “switches on” a migraine attack? Would there be a way to disconnect the switch, and bring relief?
That’s what Dr. Jonathan M. Borkum from the University of Maine is hoping for, after completing new research on migraine triggers.
Dr. Borkum found that in almost all cases, migraine triggers do have a common theme – they are all capable of generating oxidative stress.
So if we could take a pill – maybe even something like a vitamin – and take care of this oxidative stress – would that stop migraine attacks from being “switched on”?
Oxidative Stress – What is it?
Oxidative stress refers to damage done to the body by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms or groups of atoms. They contain unpaired electrons – that is, an odd number of electrons (hence not all have “mates”). Free radicals are a normal by product of functions of your body.
Free radicals can cause damage when they come into contact with parts of the cell, like cell membranes or DNA. The collective damage is known as oxidative stress.
“Processing” Free Radicals
Your body has a normal way of processing free radicals, using antioxidants. It’s important to eat well to make sure your body has an adequate supply of antioxidants, which will then stop the chain reaction of free radicals and prevent or slow oxidative stress.
Are Antioxidants The Answer?
So with antioxidants all the rage in every health food store, we should be able to find a solution, right?
It’s true that study of antioxidants has been important over the past few years. Diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and asthma are closely related to oxidative stress. We also have known about the connection between migraine and oxidative stress for quite a while (see, for example, Massive Genetic Study Zeros in on Migraine).
But oxidative stress and what exactly causes it are much more complex than it may at first appear.
We do know that eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is a help – but is this because of antioxidants, or some other function?
We all want to narrow down the solution to a pill – vitamin C or E, beta-carotene, lutein … but the research on these has not been consistent. If we fall back on what we know for sure, it’s always the same. Some supplements may help, but by far the best choice is a healthy diet.
In some cases, the supplements themselves may cause health problems, without solving the problem they were intended to treat. Taking supplements is a balancing act – too much of one may mean a lowering of another.
So What Does This Research Tell Us?
There is a lot of research to be done, and we know that the whole category of oxidative stress is extremely complex. However, this study does further confirm things we already knew. There is a relation between migraine and oxidative stress.
A generally healthy diet continues to be one of the most powerful migraine treatments. Vitamins C and E, taken under the care of your doctor, may be helpful in decreasing pain conditions (see http://headacheandmigrainenews.com/menstrual-migraine-back-to-vitamin-e/. Also, magnesium seems to be an key part of the antioxidant system, and is one of the most important preventative migraine treatments today.
So we’ll wait for more research to be done, while we munch on our blueberries and kale chips.
For more information:
Study abstract: Migraine Triggers and Oxidative Stress: A Narrative Review and Synthesis
What is Oxidative Stress?