Migraines in Women: Causes and Treatment

Thanks to our hormonal cycles, the same treatment that worked perfectly yesterday might have zero effect today. Furthermore, the severity of your migraines is often exacerbated after menopause.

About 13% of the population suffers from migraines, a painful and disabling disorder that also disproportionately affects women. Why is this? Clinical studies, like one completed a few years ago at the Department of Gastroenterology and Nutrition of Chiron Hospital in Barcelona, tell us that in addition to being somewhat hereditary, migraines are also associated with the presence of a particular enzyme.

In today’s article we’ll give you all the up to date information, and invite you to try some simple tips that you’ll no doubt find useful the next time a migraine strikes.

1. What causes migraines in women?

According to Dr. Ramon Tormo, a neurologist at Chiron Hospital, three out of four people who suffer from migraines are women. It’s possible that you yourself know what it means to have to live with this disorder, taking frequent absences from work to visit your doctor, but having yet to find a suitable treatment.

Why is it that women suffer the most from migraines? And more…is there some remedy that will help women prevent migraines and improve their quality of life? So far, doctors have arrived at the following conclusions:

1. A lack of a certain enzyme causes migraines in women

Let’s start by asking you a simple question: does anyone else in your family also suffer from migraines? According to the results of Dr. Tormo’s study, migraines are associated with a deficit of an enzyme known as DAO (diamino oxidase).

This deficiency is also hereditary, meaning that it’s genetically transferred from parents to their children, and it’s one of the triggers of the dreaded migraine. Now you might be wondering what exactly is the role of this enzyme where it’s related to the migraine. Let’s explain:

• The DAO enzyme is responsible for destroying molecules known as histamines, which are present in many of the foods you eat every single day, including dairy products, meats, citrus fruits…once histamines break down in the body, they’re eliminated through your urine.
• What happens if the histamine levels in your bloodstream are high? Eventually histamines will accumulate in your plasma, causing inflammation that slows digestion and even alters your brain chemistry. This in turn causes your blood to flow more quickly and your cerebral tissues become inflamed.

2. Migraines and women’s hormonal changes

There’s another interesting reason why a lack of the DAO enzyme affects women more than men. Guess what that is? Yes, it’s your hormonal cycle that shifts throughout your life thanks to ovulation, menstruation, and menopause. Your cycle has the following effects that have to be taken into account when we talk about migraines:

• Female hormones and cycles cause natural drops in the DAO enzyme. That’s why you sometimes experience that migraine during your period. But if you also have an inherited deficiency from your family, the problem can be worsened even more.
• Interestingly, during pregnancy your placenta produces DAO enzyme to protect the fetus. So for nine months you might not experience that awful effects of a migraine.
• Because women are subjected to hormonal shifts throughout their lives, the treatment that works one day for a migraine might not work the next. Everything depends on where you are in your menstrual cycle, or in the case of older women, whether you’ve gone through menopause yet or not. In the latter case, your migraines may become more intense post-menopause.

2. The best treatment for migraines

Migraines are associated with a histamine intolerance, something that’s present in milk and citrus foods, among many others.

But now you also know that you don’t inherit migraines in and of themselves, but in fact it’s a deficiency of the DAO enzyme, meaning that there’s a potential cure to help balance your levels of that particular enzyme.

However, only your neurologist can give you the best guidance, because in spite of the fact that 90% of migraines are due to a lack of this enzyme, the cause of the remaining 10% of cases is still unknown.

What can you do to reduce the occurrence of migraines? Pay attention to the following tips you can apply in your daily life:

1. Control stressful situations, which can be triggers for a migraine

2. Reduce your consumption of foods that contain histamines:

• Milk
• Cheeses
• Yogurt
• Wine
• Beer
• Carbonated beverages
• Coffee
• Rice flour
• Sausages
• Cured or fresh meats
• Beans
• Fermented vegetable products, like tofu
• Frozen fish
• Eggplant
• Vinegar
• Chocolate
• Anchovies
• Avocado
• Packaged fruit juices