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Research uncovers potential relief for migraine

Research uncovers potential relief for migraine sufferers

A simple dietary supplement may not only give relief to some of the more than 400,000 New Zealanders that suffer from the pain of migraine headaches, but may also help to prevent strokes.

That's the view of Victoria University genetic epidemiologist, Dr Rod Lea, who, with colleagues at Brisbane's Griffith University, has discovered a gene that is linked to the most severe and debilitating form of headache, migraine with aura.

About 12 percent or 480,000 New Zealanders are estimated to suffer from migraine headaches with women more likely to be affected by the condition than men. Of those affected, about a quarter suffer from the most debilitating form of the disease, migraine with aura, which is characterised by neurological abnormalities such as blurred vision and unusual sensations flashing across the head. This is often followed by nausea, vomiting and a fear of light and sound, and, of course, headaches.

Dr Lea, from the School of Biological Sciences, says that migraines have long been suspected to have a genetic link since sufferers often had close relatives that also suffered from the condition.

Blood samples were taken from 550 people of which half suffered from migraines. After analysing the DNA, the team discovered that a mutation of a particular gene (Methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase) was far more common in those with the migraine with aura than those without.

"We decided to hone in on this gene because it had been implicated in a higher risk for strokes by other researchers and it is known that people who suffer from migraines are at greater risk of having a stroke later in life”.

"This mutation means migraine sufferers are likely to have higher levels of a particular amino acid or protein called homocysteine in the blood. But a diet rich in folate can reduce levels of homocysteine. For many people folate-rich foods such as green vegetables or folate supplements could not only help ward off migraines but may also help prevent strokes."

Dr Lea says it is too early to say whether folate rich diets are the cure-all for people who suffer from migraine. But the appeal of this therapy is that it is not only simple and cheap, but may also help prevent migraine attacks in people for whom traditional drugs are not effective.

The results of the study have been published in a leading international medical journal. The team is now hoping to organise clinical trials to assess how effective folate can be in reducing migraine symptoms.

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