A new perspective article underlines a fascinating theory according to which migraine attacks are an integrated mechanism that’s used by the brain for protection and repair. Headache published recent insightful findings and potential ways to help migraine sufferers.
Migraines trouble approximately 14% of the world’s population which is 1.04 billion people. In the US alone, migraine causes approximately $36 billion annually in lost productivity as well as 113 million lost work days.
Previous research suggested that people who experience migraines have higher levels of oxidative stress. According to Jonathan Borkum, Ph.D., of the University of Maine, migraine triggers—which include stress, sleep disruption, noise, diet and air pollution—can increase brain oxidative stress. This is an imbalance between the production of free radicals as well as the ability of the body to counteract their harmful effects.
“Oxidative stress is a useful signal of impending harm because a number of unfavorable conditions in the brain can give rise to it,” said Dr. Borkum. Therefore, targeting oxidative stress might help prevent or preempt migraines.
In his Views and Perspectives article, Dr. Borkum examines the components of a migraine attack individually. In the case of a known threat to the brain—such as an interruption in blood supply—each of the components is protective: boosting antioxidant defenses, reducing the production of oxidants, reducing energy requirements and, most importantly, releasing growth factors into the brain that protect existing neurons and boost the birth and growth of new neurons.
“There are feedback loops between these components of a migraine attack that tie them together into an integrated system,” Dr. Borkum explained. “Thus, it seems likely that migraine attacks are not simply triggered by oxidative stress, they actively protect and repair the brain from it.”
For several years, people were tempted to associate the migraine attack—the pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound—with a disorder. However, the symptoms of a disease—for instance, fever, swelling, pain, or cough—are usually not the disease itself but instead part of the body’s defense against it.
As Dr Borkum said:
“So, the theory here tells us that to truly solve migraines we must look beneath the attack to understand the brain’s underlying vulnerability, that is, what gives rise to the oxidative stress”.
The theory suggests alternative directions for discovering preventive medications and lifestyles, that focus on lowering oxidative stress and increasing the release of growth factors. Moreover, it sheds light on neural housekeeping, or how the brain can maintain and heal itself.
“The existence of an integrated system for protecting and repairing the brain could turn out to be quite useful—for example, we might one day be able to learn from this mechanism how to prevent neurodegenerative diseases,” said Dr. Borkum.
Source : Medical Express