Men with migraine found to be at increased risk of heart attack

Migraines are usually severe, one-sided headaches. My experience in practice is that they can have several underlying causes, though it believed that a common theme in these headaches is spasm and then relaxation in the arteries supplying blood to the brain. The ‘rush of blood to the head’ this brings is thought to have the capacity to trigger migraines.

I was interested to read about a recent study in which the relationship between migraine and cardiovascular disease was assessed in a group of more than 20,000 men who were studied over nearly 16 years on average [1]. Men with migraine were found to be 24 per cent more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart disease) and 42 per cent more likely to suffer from a heart attack.

These findings are perhaps not too surprising when one considers that migraine and cardiovascular disease are both conditions that stem from abnormalities in the arteries.

Below, I have posted a previous article about the natural management of migraines. Of the approaches I suggest in it, I’d like to highlight the use of magnesium. This nutrient has the ability to ‘relax’ muscle tissue in the body. In theory, this may help to prevent the spasm in the muscle that lines the arteries supplying blood to the brain. Also, as I pointed out in a blog post recently, magnesium is a nutrient that appears to help protect against cardiovascular disease [2].

One way of getting more magnesium into the diet is to consume nuts on a regular basis. Though for those who suffer from migraine, I generally recommend supplementation. Details regarding this are to be found in the article below.

References:

1. Kurth T, et al. Migraine and risk of cardiovascular disease in men. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2007;167:795-801

2. Restless legs linked with cardiovascular disease risk and what to do about it

Natural remedies for migraine – posted on 3 February 2002

Migraine is one of the most common conditions that I see in practice, and the vast majority of sufferers have it affect their daily lives to some degree. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for potential solutions to this problem. Reading this month’s edition of the medical journal Cephalalgia, I discovered that that the ancient Egyptians used a poultice of ass’s grease to relieve headaches. Interesting, I suppose, but not of whole heap of use to the six per cent of men and one in five women who regularly suffer from migraine attacks.

Migraines are no your common-or-garden headaches. The pain is usually felt on one side of the head, and is characteristically intense. I haven’t had a migraine myself, but have heard enough ‘head-in-a-vice’ and ‘nail-being-hammered-into-my-eye’ descriptions to know their potential ferocity. Apart from the headache, migraines often give rise to other symptoms including a need to be away from light, visual problems, and nausea and vomiting. While a migraine attack won’t kill anyone, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they sometimes wish it would. However, for those that are prone to migraine, help is at hand. Experience shows that nutritional approaches often do wonders to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. Getting to the underlying nature of the problem is often the key to controlling migraine in the long term.

One potential cause of migraine appears to be the very drugs used to treat attacks. This appears to be true for migraine sufferers who take painkillers every day to keep their headaches at bay. Ironically, coming off conventional medication may bring tremendous relief in the long term. One way to do this is to go cold turkey. This usually leads to a horrendous headache for a few days, after which the body generally returns to a state of relative calm. Another approach is to gradually wean off the medication over several weeks. This method takes longer than going cold turkey, but is generally an easier ride.

Before and during any reduction in medication, it can often help to look at correcting whatever imbalances might be at the root of the problem. There is good evidence that a major cause of migraine is sensitivity to specific foods. Certain foods are well known to trigger migraine. Sometimes referred to as ‘the five Cs’, these are; chocolate, cheese, claret (and other red wines), coffee (and other sources of caffeine) and citrus fruits. While these foods are commonly held to be the main culprits in migraine, research has suggested that the most common food trigger is actually wheat. Cutting back on bread, pasta, pastry, and wheat-based breakfast cereals and crackers does seem to help a surprising number of migraine sufferers.

Migraine can sometimes be triggered if the level of sugar in the blood stream gets too low (hypoglycaemia). This may well be the mechanism in individuals who can wake up with a headache or be prone to an attack if they skip a meal. To ensure a stable level of blood sugar regular meals and snacks should be eaten, and the diet should be based around blood sugar-stabilising foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and wholegrain starches such as oats and brown rice.

During a migraine attack the blood vessels around the brain tend to constrict (shut down) and then dilate (open out). This second phase of dilation that is believed to cause the pain characteristic of migraine. Deficiency of the mineral magnesium tends to increase the risk of spasm and subsequent dilation in the body’s arteries. Indeed, migraine sufferers have been found to have lower levels of magnesium in their blood streams compared to non-sufferers. One study found that 80 per cent of women treated with magnesium experienced an improvement in their headaches. Green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans and pulses are good sources of magnesium. However, to get really useful quantities of this mineral into the system, I generally recommend a supplement containing 250 – 350 mg of magnesium, to be taken twice a day.

Another natural remedy which can often be effective in the prevention and treatment of migraine is the herb Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). The main active constituent in Feverfew is believed to be a substance called parthenolide. Parthenolide appears to inhibit the release of inflammatory substances that may play a part in the blood vessels changes typical in migraine. Feverfew has been found to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of migraine attacks, although it may take several weeks for benefits to become apparent. The daily recommended dose of parthenolide is 250 mg a day. In my experience, one or more of the above approaches is usually very effective in controlling migraine attacks. However, if all else fails, I suppose there’s always the ass’s grease.

6 Responses to Men with migraine found to be at increased risk of heart attack

  1. Jon 25 April 2007 at 12:04 pm #

    Interesting post; I’d be interested in a couple of references to the research you refer to, if you’ve got them handy. I know magnesium’s often recommended as a remedy from muscle cramps – but does it actually help relax muscle tissue? Also, do you have a reference to research on wheat as a common trigger? – I thought wheat allergy wasn’t all that common.

  2. Dr John Briffa 25 April 2007 at 4:26 pm #

    Jon
    Here’s the wheat-related research I referred to: Grant EC. Food allergies and migraine. Lancet. 1979;1(8123:966-9.
    With regard to magnesium, this nutrient is important for normal muscle function, and supplementation with magnesium is often effective in treating conditions in which there is skeletal muscle spasm (e.g. cramp, as you point out) or smooth muscle spasm such as oesophageal spasm, Raynaud’s, asthma and, of course, migraine.

  3. Jon 25 April 2007 at 8:29 pm #

    thanks for the info – interesting study on migraines.

  4. Tiggy 28 April 2007 at 12:40 am #

    Mine are premenstrual, almost always, though I’ve had the occasional milder one brought on by lack of sleep. Mine last three days!

    How do hormones affect blood flow and muscle constriction, or is it just a case of the body tensing up?

    Tiggy.

  5. Hopey 28 November 2008 at 12:44 am #

    My boyfriend gets servere mirgrains and has a history of scizer disorder and bipolar. He went to the hospital 7 times in the past year and doctors arent doing nothing but giving him narcotics. I also noticed he has been under alot of stress caused by depression.He also drinks alot of coffee and never got the symtoms before. Is there something he can do to help these mirgrains from coming back? I am scared for him. If you can help or anything that would be wonderful.

  6. shazia 24 February 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    It was refreshing to read such a clear piece of literature regarding migraines. I’m a mum who has had migraines for the last 9 years but my son (17) has had them since he was 16. Its hard seeing your child in so much pain – he has migraine with and sometimes without aura – he is a young, funny, loving boy and I wish I could help him more – so I am always hungry for advice and information. He has used Zomig 5mg which takes the pain away to a point but he is still in agony -we have tried all the other OTC products but his nausea doesn’t allow him to keep anything down- he will become confused, anxious, scared and roll up in a ball – its unbearable. he has a sore head afterwards too – if there is any advice I will welcome it gladly

    Shazia

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