There's a link between migraines and blood sugar levels; geneticists unravel

The study opens the door to new prevention and therapeutics.
Ayesha Gulzar

Multiple risk factors are shared between migraines, a debilitating neurological disorder, and glucose-related traits, such as insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level), and type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Migraines and blood sugar traits have been found to co-occur in many studies focused on disease causes and patterns in different populations. Observing a relationship between the two suggests that they are influenced by genetics, environment, or a combination of both.

The genetic linkage of the two has remained unknown and warrants exploring the possibility of shared causative genes and pathways. Genetics researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia, have confirmed the existence of genetic variants and genes that are common to multiple traits.

Genome-wide analysis

Professor Dale Nyholt and Ph.D. researcher Rafiqul Islam from QUT initially conducted a review of available literature on the comorbidity of migraine and glucose-related traits. Compelling evidence for biological associations and shared genetic influences between migraine, headache, and glucose-related characteristics inspired them to conduct a genome-wide association study in collaboration with the International Headache Genetics Consortium (IHGC).

Researchers discovered that fasting insulin and blood sugar had a significant genetic connection with migraines and headaches. However, only migraines showed a genetic correlation with two-hour glucose. They also found that high levels of a hormone called fasting proinsulin might help protect against getting headaches.

Researchers thus gained insights into the underlying biology influencing migraine, headache, and glycemic traits. The genes, loci, and pathways responsible for these traits identified in the study may serve as important targets for further functional investigations. This may allow researchers to uncover the precise molecular mechanisms contributing to migraines' comorbidity and glucose-related traits.

Concerning Limitations

The researchers, however, concede that their study has some limitations. The study was conducted on populations of European descent, and it is uncertain how the research and its findings generalize to populations of non-European descent.

Some overlapping samples have been used to compare headaches to glucose and headaches to type 1 diabetes, and further studies should utilize non-overlapping samples to confirm the relevant findings. There are also insufficient genetic variants for some glycemic traits. The preliminary results, however, show promise, and global collaboration is needed on the subject.

Genetic research on these comorbid traits can potentially discover novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets and provide a deeper understanding of their biological links. Thus, it is necessary for healthcare professionals to take into account the presence of migraines in conjunction with glucose-related traits during patient assessment and treatment.