04/24/07 Podcast - Can Migraine Protect Memory?

  • The transcript of this podcast is below. Ifyou prefer to listen to it, you can do so easily from the MigraineCast Web site.

    Hello and welcome to MigraineCast the weekly podcast brought to you by MyMigraineConnection.com and the HealthCentral Network. This week, I want to share a Migraine news item with you. You may have seen the headlines the last couple of days. They've ranged from being somewhat scientific -- "Migraine may protect against cognitive decline" -- to accurate, but simpler, "Can Migraine Protect Memory?" -- to the off-base headlines that make me wonder if the person had read the journal article about the study -- "Migraines Good for the Brain" and "Migraines May Be Good for You!" Yikes!
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    Many of us have wondered what effect Migraines might be having on our brains and our memories. Certainly, during a Migraine attack, thinking straight can be difficult at best, and many of us don't remember much of what transpires during the time we have Migraines.

    There have been other studies on Migraine and cognitive function. Some showed no association between Migraine and cognitive function while others showed deficiencies in attention, verbal ability, and memory. What seems to set this data apart from previous studies is that it measured long-term decline in cognitive function with the second round of testing conducted more 12 years after the first. This study was the Baltimore Epidemiological Catchment Study, a program of research initiated in response to the 1977 report of the President's Commission on Mental Health. The purpose was to collect data on the prevalence and incidence of mental disorders and on the use of and need for services by the mentally ill. Thus, Migraine disease was not the focus of this study, but Migraine was noted on the patients' medical history and the data reported by these researchers was drawn from the larger amount of data collected.

    For this community-based study, 1,448 women, of whom 204 had Migraine, underwent a series of cognitive tests in 1993 and again approximately 12 years later.

    So, what's the bottom line? Allow me to quote a conclusion statement from an article submitted by the researchers to Neurology, the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology,

    "Migraineurs, specifically those with aura, exhibited less decline on cognitive tests over time versus nonmigraineurs. For the Mini-Mental State Examination, these effects were only apparent among those who were older than 50 years."

    Worded more simply, female Migraineurs over the age of 50 diagnosed with Migraine with aura showed less cognitive decline than those without Migraine disease.

    The obvious question is, "Why?" Nobody knows yet. The researchers theorize that some medications taken for Migraine may have a protective effect on memory. They also say another factor to be explored is changes in diet or behavior that women with Migraine with aura may make. And yet a third comment by the authors is "Despite these theories, it seems more likely that there may be some underlying biological mechanism, such as changes in blood vessels or underlying differences in brain activity, which results in decreased cognitive decline over time." They didn't specifically mention genetics, but certainly, the possibility must be taken into account.

  • Is this good news for Migraineurs? For the 25% of Migraineurs who have Migraine with aura, it is, but we don't really know how good the news is yet. Definitely, those who wrote saying that Migraines are good for the brain or may be good for you need to do some more research. Studies of white matter lesions on the brains of Migraineurs indicate that Migraine may be a progressive brain disease. Studies have also show that Migraineurs are at increased risk of stroke, and some are at increased risk of other cardiovascular diseases.
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    Perhaps the best summary of this report comes from Dr. James Lance, an Australian Migraine specialist, who commented,

    "I think that they're using a blunt tool that is designed to pick up dementia at one end of the spectrum, not just mild degrees of decline in memory or cognitive ability that we might all experience over the passage of the years. Anyway, I think the good news for Migraine sufferers is there's no evidence that they do have any mental deterioration. I'd be a bit cautious about saying they're going to do better than the rest of the population, but still it's encouraging from that point of view."

    Thank you, Dr. Lance.

    Coping with severe headaches and Migraine disease for over 40 years has brought me to the realization that learning about Migraine disease and headaches can allow us to work with our doctors as treatment partners to gain control over headaches and Migraines rather than them controlling us. Please join us at MyMigraineConnection.com for information and support or for a transcript of this podcast. From MyMigraineConnection.com and the HealthCentral Network, this is Teri Robert reminding you that you can live well with Migraine disease and headaches.
Published On: April 25, 2007