cause and effect
Peter Goadsby, professor of neurology at Kings College, London, and trustee at the Migraine Trust, notes that migraines can be a result of "an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, with that instability affected by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger".
It's worth noting, however, that in 90% of cases, experiencing migraines runs in the family - with women three times more likely to be affected than men, due to hormonal fluctuations (most notably with oestrogen).
With this potential genetic link at play, researchers have identified mutations in four genes which could explain it. These genes provide the 'codes' that ensure nerve cells in the brain and wider nervous system can 'talk' to each other, via neurotransmitters. These mutations are thought to lead to the onset of a migraine, with symptoms including aura - seeing double, experiencing flashing lights or zig-zags in the field of vision, and one-sided weakness which may precede the actual migraine onset.
While genetics may play a part, there are many factors that can result in migraines which can be modified. Being a smoker, taking the oral contraceptive, poor sleep, and obesity are all thought to make migraines more likely.
For some people, painkillers can alleviate the symptoms of a painful migraine attack. However, for others, these may impact digestive function, and actually make it more difficult for them to digest and absorb nutrients. This can make matters worse since it can lead to increased sensitivity, and reduce the sufferer's ability to support efficient energy function, meaning that looking to our lifestyle and food remains essential.
Gut bacteria is thought to play a significant role with migraines, due to its ability to impact neural, endocrine, and immune signalling. Recently, a subset of migraines has been identified that may be fuelled by gastric issues promoting inflammation. Conditions such as 'leaky gut' and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may lead to nutrient malabsorption, compounding matters, while new evidence suggests that IgG - mediated food intolerance - can also impact the condition.
Fluctuating hormones - at any age and stage, or because of medication - may result in symptom onset, or worsen an attack. Consequently, it's important to support digestive health, since this encourages efficient hormone elimination, and improved nutrient absorption.
Eating a wide range of different plant-based foods every day, and removing irritants including gluten, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar (even for a month or two) can encourage the gut to heal.