There may be no disease that is simultaneously as widespread and little understood as the migraine headache. More than 37 million people in the United States suffer from this debilitating neurological disease, and yet there is still no cure, and in many cases, no reliable treatment or method of prevention.
For those who suffer from chronic migraines, the need for a cure, or at least a treatment, is very real. Most people experience throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and even issues with vision. This makes it difficult or impossible for many migraine sufferers to go to work, or even spend time with their loved ones during episodes — which could last many hours, and in some cases, even multiple days.
That’s why so many medical researchers are engaged in ongoing efforts to better understand migraines: What causes them, how they work, and ultimately, what can be done to help those who deal with them.
Why Did Migraines Evolve?
One researcher has recently laid out a potential evolutionary cause for migraines that is stirring up conversation in the medical world. Jonathan Borkum, PhD, of the University of Maine, decided it was time to look deeper than the symptoms. Just like a fever or a cough is not itself a disease, but a symptom of a disease, Borkum theorized that the migraine attack is not itself the disorder, but instead the body’s defense against the true problem. “To truly solve migraines,” Borkum writes, “We must look beneath the attack to understand the brain’s underlying vulnerability.”
What is that vulnerability? Borkum drew from previous research, which showed that people who suffer from migraines experience more oxidative stress than the average person. Oxidative stress is essentially an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Many common migraine triggers, Borkum noted, such as stress, noise, diet, and poor quality of sleep, are known to increase oxidative stress in the brain. Based on this, Borkum has theorized that targeting oxidative stress could help prevent migraine attacks.
How Does a Migraine Help the Brain?
Of course, none of this explains why Borkum believes that migraines developed as a self-defense mechanism against stress in the brain. After all, how does a migraine headache help the brain?
If you consider each part of a migraine attack as a response to a threat to the brain, it all makes sense: Antioxidants are strengthened for defense, oxidant production is lowered, the brain’s energy requirements are reduced, and the body releases growth factors into the brain to protect and develop neurons. “It seems likely that migraine attacks are not simply triggered by oxidative stress, they actively protect and repair the brain from it.”
Of course, while this theory may lead to further developments in treatment and prevention, it isn’t very helpful to those suffering from migraines today. If you have struggled to get to the root of your migraine troubles, you may have a TMJ-induced migraine.
An experienced TMJ dentist can help you identify other symptoms of TMJ, and if that is indeed the cause of your migraines, TMJ treatment could also protect against migraines. Call (803) 781-9090 or contact us online to make an appointment to learn more.