What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

Brain Chemistry and Migraines

Although the exact cause of migraine headaches remains under research, there is one connection that seems to be consistent. Serotonin levels in the brain are that connection. The key element in understanding migraines seems to have to do with the blood flow changes in the brain and it is thought that low serotonin levels cause blood vessels to dilate causing a migraine.

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HTP. It is found in three main areas of the body: the intestinal wall, blood vessels and the central nervous system. About 90% of 5-HTP is found in the intestines while the remaining 10% is in blood platelets in the brain. Serotonin levels, whether too high or too low, have been linked to a number of disorders including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), bulimia, alcoholism, cluster headache and migraine. Serotonin affects the blood vessels by constriction and expansion.

Serotonin and Migraines

When a person is experiencing a migraine headache, blood serotonin levels are low. That is why medications that increase serotonin and stimulate the receptors relieve pain. Also, many migraine sufferers report the headache stops after vomiting. That is because vomiting stimulates the intestinal motility of serotonin (remember 90% of it is found in the intestines) and raises the level of serotonin in the blood.

Using Serotonin Enhancers to Relieve Pain

The serotonin connection to migraines is not new science. Low serotonin levels have been linked to migraine for years. Most drug treatments used to treat migraine have an influence on serotonin levels to some degree. Antidepressants are used to raise the level of serotonin, which is also affects mood. The search for a migraine cure may be found in drug therapy, since it can help with serotonin production in the body. However, repeated use of over-the-counter painkillers can lower the body's levels of the neurotransmitter and backfire, causing headaches rather than relieving them.

Serotonin and Birth Control

Serotonin levels are linked to estrogen levels. An increase in estrogen triggers an increase in serotonin. Birth control pills that contain estrogen can cause a migraine when both estrogen and serotonin levels drop during the days that are pill free. By keeping the serotonin levels up during these days, migraines can be averted or at least the impact of them lessened.

There are Other Ways to Increase Serotonin

Certainly drugs have been a great boon to migraine sufferers. However, it is possible to increase serotonin levels in the body by changing the diet to include more foods that contain tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin. Another method of increasing serotonin levels is by taking a 5-HTP supplement. It is possible to learn to recognize fluctuations in the body and then use natural means to increase the levels to avoid migraine headaches.