Migraines are a headache!!!! We all know someone who suffers from them because they are so common, but most don’t really understand why they happen. The leading theory for years was that it had to do with blood vessel dilation in the brain, but it turns out that is wrong…(1) So, what is a migraine? Why do some people suffer immensely and what can be done to help? Let’s dig in to migraines together and see what the research teaches us.
Genetics of Migraines
First is the obvious, genetics. “Migraine is in essence a familial episodic disorder…” (1) “It is clear from clinical practice that many patients have first-degree relatives who also suffer from migraine.” (1) There are a number of genes that have been found to correlate with migraines, and others that are actively being discovered. In fact, it seems as if genetics play more of a role with migraines than with most other disorders. Some genes to look at, map out, and work around are: MTHFR C677T, voltage-gated calcium channel CACNA1 Agene, ATP1A2 gene, and Notch 3 gene on chromosome 19 associated with CADASIL. A short “cliff notes” review of what these genes do is to say that they change how nerves function, usually making them more eager to fire.
Even when a genetic variation is found, it does not determine your absolute fate. Remember, genes function according to whatever environment they are found. This includes hormones, stress, food and even relationships. This is why some only have migraines during “that time of the month”, or when they eat chocolate, when the weather changes, or with problems with the neck (discussed more in a moment). Knowing these genetic weaknesses is half the battle. Learning how to control them can be life changing. For any questions about genes, please feel free to reach out to the “DNA Doc” herself, Jen Myers at Balanced Health Care. She is the expert at mapping out genetic weaknesses, and working around them to avoid the little things that seem to pull you down.
Migraines, A Pain in the Neck
Research has lead the attention away from migraines being a blood vessel dilation pain, and has focused on a region of the brain called the trigeminal nucleus. This is a nerve in the skull that branches out in three directions to allow feeling in the face. This nerve is housed in the brainstem, but reaches down into the top part of the neck inside the spinal cord being housed by the 1st and 2nd bones. Excessive stimulation of the back of this part of the brain stem-spinal cord is a huge trigger for migraines.
“Similarly, stimulation of a branch of C2(in the neck), the greater occipital nerve, increases metabolic activity in the same regions… Stimulation of the greater occipital nerve for 5 mins results in substantial increases in responses to supratentorial dural stimulation, which can last for over 1h.” (1)
That part of the neck also has direct physical ties to the meninges themselves. A misalignment as measured by a NUCCA practitioner, will have a direct pull on these tissues. Discussing the meninges, one article states that “nerve endings within this tissue are mechanosensitive and also express a variety of ion channels”.(2) This shows us that for a migraine to happen, we not only need the genetic weaknesses to sensitize the nerves (through what is called the “ion channels”), but also to have a physical stress on the coverings of the brain. This stress causes a pull of sorts on the meninges, sensitizing the nerve endings even further, leading to the “cortical spreading depression” (spreading blood flow change, and sometimes pain along the brain) associated with migraines.
For these reasons, there are multiple things that can help those that suffer with migraines. Genetics should be mapped out and strengthened. Stress taken off the brainstem and meninges, and kept off. Then any additional environmental improvements made. To find a doctor to help with all those could be tough, but it is possible. After all, too many people have suffered for too long, when the answer could be right around the corner at Balanced Health Care.
Dr. Brent Noorda – NUCCA Chiropractor, Functional Medicine in St. George, UT
Dr. Shane Preece – NUCCA Chiropractor, Pediatrics in St. George, UT
Jen Myers, LAc – Genetics, Functional Medicine, Acupuncture in St. George, UT
1- Pathophysiology of migraine
Peter J. Goadsby
2- Meningeal afferent signaling and the pathophysiology of migraine.
Burgos-Vega C1, Moy J1, Dussor G2.