Archive for Tuesday, December 3, 2013

KU researchers say migraine sufferers should avoid plastic

December 3, 2013


Migraine sufferers desperate to reduce or get rid of their pain may have a new treatment method: avoiding plastic.

That's the hypothesis behind a recent study by researchers at Kansas University Medical Center.

Nancy Berman, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at KU Med, and Lydia Vermeer, a postdoctoral fellow in Berman's lab, say they've found a link between bisphenol A, a chemical used to harden plastics, and migraines in lab rats. Their study was recently published in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

"The next question is: Does this happen in people?" Berman said. "The only way to find out is to do some kind of clinical trial."

While the researchers have yet to do a study featuring humans, they say migraine sufferers should avoid plastics with BPA in the hopes it can relieve their symptoms. To investigate whether avoiding environmental estrogens can prevent or reduce migraines, the KU researchers need funding. But, Berman said, "You don't have to be part of a clinical trial to stop eating plastic."

Nancy Berman

Nancy Berman

With so little known about what causes migraines, Berman years ago started looking into the connection between the condition and hormones.

"It's a complicated disease that's not very well-understood," she said. "Nobody's really looked at environmental issues in the field of migraine."

She eventually found a connection between the disease and estrogen. Berman also discovered a way to test headache medications on lab rats, who, like humans, avoid light, sound, grooming and routine movements when they have headaches.

This intrigued Vermeer, who has a background in studying pesticides and Parkinson's disease. The two joined forces, and dosed lab rats with BPA. They hypothesized that BPA, which mimics estrogen in the body, would activate estrogen receptors. The rats with migraines showed significantly worse headache symptoms than those not exposed to the chemical.

"We're hypothesizing that people with migraines do not have more BPA in their system, but that they're more sensitive to BPA," Vermeer said. "Many people with migraines are more sensitive to changes in things like estrogen."

Several countries, including China, France and Canada, have banned BPA in certain uses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, has ruled that BPA is safe at low levels, but has expressed concern about the potential negative effects on the brain, behavior and prostates of fetuses and young children. That's why baby bottle and sippy cup makers have eliminated BPA from their products; many manufacturers of infant formula have also stopped using BPA in their cans.

Lydia Vermeer

Lydia Vermeer

Most of the research on the topic, however, has come from animal studies. No research has yet found a direct link between health problems in humans and BPA. More than 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies, much of it from eating food in containers that contain the chemical. Eliminating plastic and canned packaging has been found to reduce the amount of BPA in urine (plastics with the recycling codes 3 and 7 are likely to contain BPA).

More than 1 in 10 Americans suffer from migraine headaches — severe, recurring, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Three times as many woman (20 percent at reproductive age) get migraines as men, thought to be the result of their higher estrogen levels. In addition, more than 10 percent of women have menstrual migraines. But the only way to diagnose the condition is to ask questions about symptoms; there is no physical test for the disease.

Berman said the study's results could be a breakthrough because of the lack of new migraine drugs coming down the pipeline.

"But you don't need a physician or even FDA approval to reduce the amount of plastic you consume," she said. "The good thing about our idea is it's not going to hurt you."


Diana Lee 4 years, 6 months ago

Oh how I wish we could stop oversimplifying the causes of Migraine Disease and triggers of Migraine attacks by recommending things like people "stop eating plastic."

I don't doubt for a second there is a connection between estrogen levels and Migraine in many people. Unfortunately, there is no one fix that helps every single person living with the condition. For most people there are multiple factors involved with the triggering of Migraine attacks. I fear that telling people to "stop eating plastic" perpetuates the myth that it's your own fault if you deal with frequent Migraine attacks. But I do believe strongly in minimizing the factors we can control.

I'd also like to point out just how incorrect Dr. Berman is when she states there is a lack of new Migraine drugs on the horizon. In addition to being a 30 year Migraine patient myself, I'm also a patient advocate and educator who just returned from the American Headache Society's professional conference (AHS Scottsdale Headache Symposium), where I learned even more about a new category of medications for Migraine called CGRP receptor antagonists. I'd highly encourage any Migraineurs reading this comment to Google that term for more information.

Nancy Alderman 4 years, 6 months ago

What about all the other environmental estrogens that are in our environment such as many flame retardants that are in almost every consumer product that we all use - from couches to our mattresses to our computers to our television sets.

As well, many pesticides are also estrogenetic. We are all living in a soup of hormonally active chemical compounds - some mimicking estrogen and some mimicking androgen.

BPA for sure is one chemical that is estrogenetic - but there are many others. BPA might be easier to avoid than flame retardants which are everywhere and in everything.

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