Medical News Today: Migraine and blood sugar levels are linked.

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Researchers have confirmed previous research linking blood sugar levels with migraine. Barbara Tamura/Stocksy

  • A new study sheds light on how migraines are linked to blood sugar-related traits such as fasting Insulin and glycated Hemoglobin.
  • Previous studies have shown that migraine, headache and blood sugar imbalance are all linked. Several genes have also been identified as migraine risk factors.

  • Researchers have now identified a possible causal relationship which may pave the path for the development of novel prevention and treatment options.

In a new study published in the journal Human Genetics data from hundreds of thousand human genomes of individuals with or without a history headaches and migraines was analyzed.

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There are several genes and biochemical pathways shared by migraine and headache, as well as blood sugar-related traits such a fasting insulin or glycated haemoglobin.

It was not clear how these conditions were linked genetically.

Researchers analyzed large-scale data genetically from European populations to investigate this relationship.

They searched for genetic similarities among migraine, headache and nine blood glucose-related traits. They also identified regions in the genome that were associated with both types of conditions.

Researchers also suggested that there could be a causal relationship between an increase in fasting proinsulin and a decreased risk of headaches.

Researchers conducted a meta analysis of blood sugar-related traits, which they claim identified six new genetic indicators associated with migraines and headaches. They found that certain genes are associated with these conditions.

These findings, they said, provide insights into the biochemical mechanisms that underlie the comorbidity between these conditions.

Using a statistical technique called

Mendelian randomization

Researchers explored the causal relationship of mechanisms and conditions.

The researchers reported that there was some evidence suggesting that increased fasting levels of proinsulin may reduce the risk for headaches. However, the evidence supporting a causal relationship between migraine and blood sugar-related traits is less clear.

Overall, the researchers said that these findings suggest that migraines, headaches, and blood sugar-related characteristics may have a shared genetic basis, and provide insight into how they contribute to co-occurrence.

Md Rafiqul, PhD, a researcher and a student of the School of Biomedical Sciences, Centre for Genomics and Personalized Health, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, spoke with Medical News Today to discuss the research.

Islam said that “our study revealed a significant overlapping between the genetic risk factor (e.g. genes and genetic variations) for migraine and blood glucose regulation, suggesting these conditions have a shared genetic basis.” “We also identified several genetic regions that were associated with an increased rate of both conditions, indicating they share similar biological pathways.”

The study found that genetic risk factors shared by these diseases are significantly enhanced in certain cellular pathways. These include epigenetic pathways, autoimmune pathways, as well as cellular signaling. This provides important clues to the underlying mechanisms for these conditions and could help researchers develop new treatments.

Md Rafiqul Islam, PhD student

Medical News Today received a background explanation of the research topic from Sarah-Nicole Bostan PhD, director of Behavior Change Strategy, Signos, who was not involved with this research.

She said that headaches and migraines are the two most common types of pain reported by non-physician providers.

Bostan added, “They often result in unnecessary medical visits and associated costs.”

Migraine and head pain are unique in that they are disorders that exclude serious pathology. This is the opposite of other health conditions. Patients are often left feeling frustrated and confused as to what they can do to manage their pain.

Sarah-Nicole Bostan, PhD

Bostan explained that, in the field applied psychophysiology, migraines are often caused by blood flow problems, while headaches are typically caused by tight muscles.

By learning relaxation techniques, such as heart rate variability and muscle tension biofeedbacks, changing their diets, and taking the time to rest or work out during a migraine, people can treat their symptoms.

Bostan said, “This research gives a glimpse at how metabolic and cardiorespiratory factor may be working together even at the gene level and how there could be a shared genetic etiology for headaches and migraines.”

Islam explained that researchers “found shared genetic variants and pathways associated with increased risk of migraines and blood sugar imbalance.”

“With this information researchers can develop new screening tests to identify people at high-risk for developing migraines and blood sugar related diseases (e.g. diabetes) even before symptoms appear, which can facilitate an earlier diagnosis and treatment thereby improving patient outcomes,” Islam stated.

This can lead to improved health outcomes and lower healthcare costs for treating diseases such as migraine. Targeting shared pathways (e.g. epigenetic mechanisms and autoimmune pathways) could be an effective way to develop new treatments for these conditions.

Md Rafiqul Islam, PhD Student

Nancy Mitchell, RN is a registered nurse, a contributing writer for the Assisted Living Centre, and she agreed.

She told Medical News Today that “These results could lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of migraine headaches.”

Bostan noted that “although the research found inconsistent evidence regarding the impact of glycemic characteristics on headaches/migraines and noted that their results were only “nominally important,” it opens up a door for further study to determine specific glycemic trait that may be ripe to change to influence pain pathology.”

She said that the findings that hypoglycemia can trigger migraines or headaches are consistent with what Signos members have reported anecdotally.

Many people don’t realize that their blood sugar is dropping quickly before they experience migraine or headache pain. Once they stabilize their blood glucose through eating a nutritiously balanced meal, they may be able alleviate some of this pain.

Sarah-Nicole Bostan, PhD

“Behavioral treatments for migraines and headaches have traditionally focused on relaxation training, cognitively reappraising a difficult situation and a nod to food choices and physical exercise,” she said.

Bostan concluded that “the takeaway here is that our metabolic stability can influence pain, and therefore, use of metabolically-targeted interventions may be even more important than previously known.”