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Migraines: Friend or Foe?

SELF-PROTECTION may be the reason behind migraine attacks, according to a new theory suggested by Dr Jonathan M. Borkum, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, USA. His suggestion stemmed from previously described evidence, which observed that individuals who experience migraines have higher levels of oxidative stress within the brain.

There is currently no cure for a migraine attack, as the reasons for their occurrence are not fully understood. Migraine management involves over-the-counter painkillers and triptans, which treat the symptoms, but not the cause; attacks can last for days, leading individuals who experience them to fear overusing the currently available medications. The subsequent consequence of these long-lasting migraines is a significant decrease in quality of life as well as productivity, thus a treatment that directly tackles the causes at the root of the disease is urgently needed.

Oxidative stress occurs when the body is unable to cope with levels of reactive oxygen species. When this occurs, processes such as biological ageing and an increased susceptibility to functional decline are observed. Dr Borkum described the different components of a migraine, such as serotonin release and cortical spreading depression, where the measurable electric activity in the cortex is lacking. He explained how these components result in the release of antioxidant enzymes, which reduce the production of oxidants and, in turn, provides a protective effect which prevents the death of neural cells.

Dr Borkum stated: “There are feedback loops between these components of a migraine attack that tie them together into an integrated system, thus, it seems likely that migraine attacks are not simply triggered by oxidative stress, they actively protect and repair the brain from it.” He added that the symptoms which occur as a result of a migraine attack are actually just the consequences of the body activating a defence mechanism against harm; in this case, oxidative stress. Additionally, Dr Borkum described the potential to treat the cause of a migraine, rather than just the symptoms. The study opens up potential for not only a cure for migraines, but also a new preventative treatment. If the mechanisms behind a migraine are understood, it could reveal a never-before-seen spectrum of knowledge which may also be applicable to the field of neurodegenerative diseases.

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