Worldwide, a little over a billion people experience migraine headaches, or around 14% of the world population. Meanwhile, 13% of US adults are effected, which is around 37 million migraine sufferers. Besides the detrimental effect to a person’s health and quality of life, migraines account for a loss of $36 billion to the US economy each year. Yet, medical science has failed to locate the source of such headaches or how to cure them.
There isn’t even a consensus on what might be causing them. Today, we have two prevailing theories. One is something causes the blood vessels in the head to narrow, leading to brain ischemia or an insufficient blood supply, which in turn causes a migraine. The second is an electrical disturbance in the brain.
Now, one researcher in a review published in the journal Headache, offers an entirely different explanation. Dr. Jonathan M. Borkum of the University of Maine says, migraines are a protective mechanism meant to ward off oxidative stress, allowing the brain to protect and repair itself, and shielding it from functional decline.
One theory suggests migraines come from abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Credit: inabstracting (#86. Migraine), via Wikimedia Commons.
To understand oxidative stress, you first have to understand free radicals. These are damaging molecules inside the body that are a byproduct of certain metabolic processes. These oxygen-laden molecules have one or more unimpaired electrons. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which is why it’s so important to get them in your diet. A buildup of free radicals leads to oxidative stress, which can damage the body.