New Findings on Why Women Get More Migraines Than Men
Doctors have long known that women, especially menstruating women, are more prone to migraines than men, but not the underlying reasons. But a new study finally points to an explanation, finding certain hormones, especially estrogen, affect the cells clustered around a major nerve and connected blood vessels involved in migraines.
After reviewing decades’ worth of research on sex hormones, cellular function, and migraine sensitivity, the team, from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Universitas Miguel Hernández, Elche, Spain, identified hormonal activity responsible for controlling cells’ reactions to external stimuli, thus making them more or less vulnerable to migraines. The main influencer was estrogen, which clearly acts on the cells surrounding the brain’s trigeminal nerve, increasing its sensitivity to migraine-triggering stimuli. The trigeminal nerve is involved in processing facial sensations.
Other hormones have different effects on this key system: Testosterone, which is present in higher levels in men, appears to protect against migraines; other hormones, like prolactin, which tends to be slightly higher in women generally, appear to exacerbate migraines.
The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, is still nascent, and requires furthering analysis, the researchers say. Their study relied on cellular and animal models, which do not hold direct implications for human migraine sufferers. They plan to continue their line of research using pre-clinical, human-based models, which better reflect real patients.
Migraine therapy saw a big jump forward earlier this year when the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug to prevent migraines. As conversations around the dismissal of women’s pain and the lack of research into women’s conditions become increasingly prominent, research in the vein of this study may well be critical first steps in better understanding migraine causes, refining treatment options, and achieving parity in medical care.