One little study coming out of Austria published this month in the journal Cephalalgia is getting the conversation going again. The study set out to investigate things like glucose, insulin, and something known as "nitric oxide stress" in migraineurs.
Now there’s a lot to explain here, so stay with me and I’ll try to give you a simple overview.
All three of these things – glucose, insulin, and nitric oxide, are interrelated. It’s common for people with diabetes, for example, to have impaired nitric oxide (NO) pathways. Too much or too little NO in your body can cause problems.
Now NO has an amazing influence on all kinds of things in your body. It has to do with regulating blood flow in your blood vessels (through smooth muscle function). It plays a role in inflammation. Proper levels in your body may help prevent heart disease, influence how you feel pain, and even impact your memory. You can already see how a migraineur may be interested in research related to nitric oxide.
But when there are problems with NO production or elimination, this can lead to too much insulin in the body (hyperinsulinemia). Hyperinsulinemia may actually have no symptoms on its own, but it could lead to things like low blood sugar, and may lead to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. And this brings us back to questions of carbohydrates and glucose and the glycaemic index and all those things that have to do with blood sugar levels, diabetes and hypoglycemia.
Back to our study. Using various parameters and tests on 48 migraineurs and 72 non-migraineurs, the researchers found that migraineurs were significantly more likely to have hyperinsulinaemia (hyperinsulinemia), and so showed signs of increased nitric oxide stress.
I hope you’ve followed me so far, and see the value of the study. What we’re looking for is evidence that can be tested that migraine patients do have insulin related problems. This gives us a glimpse into a web of related functions in the body – nitric oxide pathways, insulin production, glucose, and so on, and how these things may not be functioning properly in the person with migraine disease.
Not only is it a step into a new world of treatment, it’s also another confirmation of what we already knew – there is a relation between migraine and blood sugar levels.
Because of this, two things. First, the way we eat and the way we exercise can make a difference in our symptoms, and this gives us a clue of how to think about it. Second, just eating differently and exercising may not be enough for many of us. The research needs to continue to see why the body is not functioning the way it should be.