Women are disproportionately affected by migraines – and we might finally have an answer as to why this is true.
After conducting a thorough literature review, a team of researchers believes that estrogen has a direct impact on migraine sensitivity in the brain.
A Hormonal Puzzle
Around 18 percent of girls are migraine sufferers, compared to around just 6% of men. To make matters worse, women also don’t appear to respond as well to migraine drugs.
Since previous studies have noted, many of these women experience migraines around the start of their menstrual period. This is the stage in the menstrual cycle when estrogen is at its lowest, which has led scientists in the past to the conclusion that this fluctuation from the hormone may play a role.
But even with hormones being suspected as the culprit, the mechanism for this influence has remained a puzzle.
The matter is more complex by the fact that most migraine research is conducted on male rodents. But there is a new body of research on migraines in women. Recently, a team of researchers in Spain tapped into it to attempt to demystify the phenomenon.
After reviewing decades of literature, they think that estrogen could impact the cells around the trigeminal nerve and connected blood vessels in the head, sensitizing them to migraine triggers.
“We can observe important differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females and are trying to understand the molecular correlates accountable for these differences,” said neuroscientist Antonio Ferrer-Montiel of the Universitas Miguel Hernández in Spain.
Testosterone Shown to Protect Against Migraines
Even more interesting — Researchers found that testosterone seems to protect against migraines, while prolactin – a hormone that occurs in higher concentrations in women than in men – seems to exacerbate them.
It looks like there is a complex interplay of hormones happening, and additional research will need to be conducted in order to understand the intricate molecular image of hormonal effect on migraines.
However, these first steps are an exciting development that could open a new avenue for sex-specific migraine treatments, helping countless women who live with often debilitating menstrual migraines that are notoriously tricky to treat.
The team’s research was published in the open access journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences.
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