Those who suffer from migraines are also the least likely to develop diabetes. (Photo: Pixabay)
Migraines really suck, but a lack of diabetes might be a comfort to those affected. A new study by the American Chemical Society found that those who have the pleasure of experiencing skull-crushing headaches are also less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
If the relationship between the two ailments sounds strange, it’s because somehow it is.
“Migraines occur in the brain, while diabetes is associated with the pancreas and these organs are far apart,” says Thanh Do, Ph.D., the project’s lead researcher. His group became interested in the subject after a number of publications described an inverse relationship between conditions.
The relationship between the two breaks down on how the peptides that cause migraine pain can also affect insulin production. Researchers believe that production is due to the number of pancreatic cells that make insulin.
The scientists already knew that two peptides in the nervous system – the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and the pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) – play an important role in the development of migraine pain. The same peptides, along with the related peptide amylin, can also be found in the pancreas. There they influence the release of insulin from beta cells.
Insulin is produced by the beta cells in the pancreatic islets. It is released when you have just eaten and the level of glucose in your bloodstream is high. Insulin then stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells and lowers blood sugar levels. Your muscles and liver can either use glucose for instant energy or store it as glycogen until it’s needed.
In type 2 diabetes, these other cells become resistant to insulin and can take up less glucose, which leads to high blood sugar levels. The beta cells initially compensate by increasing insulin production, but eventually wear out and die, making the problem worse.
Because of their roles in migraines and diabetes, CGRP and PACAP both offer targets for therapies that could treat either disease. Migraine drugs that interfere with CGRP and its cellular receptors have recently hit the market and other treatments are being explored. However, more research is needed to clarify the effects of the peptides. Do and his team at the University of Tennessee are trying to unravel contradicting discoveries about the effects of the peptides on insulin.
Dos team developed a method to collect data from just a few hundred beta cells. Using this technique, they reported that CGRP lowered insulin levels in mice. This in turn could counteract the insulin resistance that develops in type 2 diabetes. However, CGRP was less successful when it came to lowering insulin levels in humans.
Diabetes is also linked to the aggregation of amylin. These aggregates could contribute to the damage to the beta cells, which contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes. Because beta cells secreted amylin and insulin together, using CGRP to limit insulin production could also limit amylin production, Do says. That could protect the cells and normalize their function.
PACAP is also said to play a protective role against type 2 diabetes. This can be a bit confusing as PACAP has also been shown to stimulate insulin release, which leads to insulin resistance.
The Do group’s initial results in attempting to solve the puzzle indicate that PACAP’s actions might be glucose level dependent. The researchers found preliminary evidence that PACAP regulates insulin in a glucose-dependent manner and promotes beta cell proliferation rather than making existing beta cells work harder – thereby preventing the risk of existing cells becoming fatigued. They develop analytical procedures to check this.
“Despite these positive results, you cannot inject CGRP and PACAP into the body as a therapeutic strategy for diabetes because these peptides cause migraine pain,” says Do. “But once we understand how they affect insulin secretion, we can develop peptide analogs that control the insulin but do not bind to the pain receptor. “
However, Do and other researchers fear that the migraine drugs currently on the market may actually increase the risk of diabetes, as some are anti-CGRP and anti-PACAP treatments. In addition, these peptides are involved in numerous other useful functions in the body, such as widening blood vessels. For this reason, Do and other scientists are also investigating the possible dangers of altering the activity of the peptides.
So next time you have a headache, just know that there is at least one positive side to it.