A Rusty Brain
This paper proposes that all migraine triggers are linked by “oxidative stress,” in which free radicals attack the body’s tissues. Oxidation is the same process that causes rust as well as burning of wood or paper. In fact, oxidation is one of the basic reaction processes governing almost all chemical reactions, and most chemical reactions can be divided into either oxidation or reduction.
With this broad category of definition, the author was able to group 22 different migraine triggers under the category of oxidative stress. He linked them using five different pathways by which they could cause oxidative stress:
- Poisoning the cells
- Taxing the energy factories in the cells (mitochondria)
- Altering mechanisms at the cell membrane
- Inflaming (irritating) nerve cells
- Causing a calcium overload in cells
The strongest evidence supporting this link was found for alcohol consumption, infection, psychological stress, and the sweetener aspartame. Moderate levels of evidence were found supporting oxidative stress for dehydration, noise, disturbed sleep, monosodium glutamate (MSG), weather and pollution, the drug nitroglycerin, daily hassles, and oxygen deprivation. Low level evidence was found supporting oxidative stress from food-related compounds like tyramine beta-phenylethylamine, flavonoids, and nitrates. Reduced estrogen, low blood sugar, and mental strain also showed little link to oxidative stress.
Will Vitamins Help?
If oxidative stress is truly the unifying link among migraine triggers, then shouldn’t antioxidants help prevent or treat migraines? Since many vitamins are powerful antioxidants, some people have proposed that just taking a better blend of vitamins could prove a good remedy for migraines. However, vitamin treatments for migraines have been tried in the past, with little success. It seems unlikely that this new analysis will increase the promise of vitamin therapies.
TMJ and Oxidative Stress
How does TMJ fit into this new analysis? You’ll note that nerve inflammation is one of the key mechanisms of oxidative stress cited by the researcher, and that’s how TMJ triggers migraines.
The chief nerve of concern when it comes to migraines is the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve carries messages to and from most of the facial area, including the jaw muscles. When your jaw is imbalanced and your muscles are stressed, they can transmit their stress to the trigeminal nerve, causing inflammation and potentially triggering migraines.
In addition, the trigeminal nerve is interwoven with the jaw muscles. In many places, overactive jaw muscles can put pressure on branches of the trigeminal nerve, causing inflammation and, again, potentially triggering migraines.
Not all migraine sufferers have TMJ, and not all people with TMJ develop migraines, but for many people TMJ contributes to the frequency and severity of migraines. TMJ treatment can reduce the number of migraines as well as their severity.