New research unlocks the mystery of why women get more migraines than men
Women suffer from migraines more often than men, but scientists didn’t know why. Until recently, a 30-year-long study in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed that women are more likely to have migraines than men because of the activity of a protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).
Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas carried out a preclinical study on rats and mice. They started by injecting CGRP into the meninges of male and female rats. Meninges is the protective layer of three tissues that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. They administered small doses of CGRP into the dura mater, which is the outer of the three layers of the meninges.
They observed that pain-related CGRP activity occurs in the meninges. The introduction of CGRP into the meninges triggered pain response, causing symptoms of headache. Interestingly, this particular activity happened only in females. When the researchers injected CGRP in the paws of the rats and mice, a similar response occurred, but only in females, too. Furthermore, the greater sensitivity to CGRP in the female animals happened not only in the meninges, but also in other parts of the body. However, they haven’t uncovered what that means for other types of pain yet.
“This is the first study to show that CGRP might act differently between sexes. It also shows that CGRP can have a pain-related effect in the meninges, which is something that has been questioned in the literature previously,” said Dr. Gregory Dussor, corresponding study author and an associate professor of neuroscience at the university.
The researchers noted that their findings could explain why women tend to experience migraines more frequently than men. Dussor suggested that one of the possible reasons why earlier animal studies have not discovered male and female differences in migraine-related CGRP activity was because they used only male specimens.
Migraine is the third most common disease in the world — even more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined. It is estimated that 28 million out of the 39 million people in the U.S. who suffer from migraines are women, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
Natural remedies for migraines
Migraines are not just simple headaches. They actually cause severe pain and other symptoms — nausea, sensitivity to sound, light, or smell, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, visual changes, and vomiting — that can affect the everyday life of patients. Fortunately, there are many natural remedies for migraine:
- Acupressure: Acupressure is a healing art that involves the application of pressure to certain parts of the body. It is believed that stimulating specific points of the body by applying pressure can release muscle tension and relieve pain. For migraine relief, apply firm, but not painful circular pressure on the LI-4 point — located on the highest spot of the muscle where the thumb and index are held together — using the opposite hand for five minutes. (Related: Treat migraines and headaches with 6 effective acupressure regions.)
- Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is another healing art, but this one uses essential oils that are diffused in the air or applied topically. Lavender essential oil is one of the most commonly used essential oil for relieving headaches, stress, and anxiety.
- Dietary changes: In some people, certain foods trigger their migraines. Processed foods, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, chocolate, and red wine commonly trigger migraines. If you notice you get migraines from eating these foods, it’s best to avoid them to prevent future occurrence.
- Stress management: Stress commonly triggers migraines in many people. It can also create a cycle where migraine pain worsens the stress, which then leads to another migraine. Therefore, you should find an outlet for stress: It could be writing a journal, doing some yoga, meditation, taking a warm bath, or even listening to music.