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The Serotonin Theory of Migraine

Neurochemical transmission or depletion

An increasing number of research does actually support the role of impaired communication (neurotransmission) between brain Bells (neurons). The brain is a telecommunications system that depends on both electrical events and chemical occurrences in modulating the behavior of other cells. Serotonin is one of the many chemical neurotransmitters that is involved in intercellular communication which is actually the communication between brain cells. The serotonin-mediated chemical pathways are clearly implicated in the perception of pain.

Many migraine sufferers experience great relief from migraine headaches by consuming medications that directly impact serotonin levels such as Imitrex.  Hence this possibly provides great supporting evidence of migraine sufferers’ response to medications that affects serotonin.

Evidences have shown a decrease in blood levels of serotonin during migraine attacks and urine concentrations of serotonin breakdown products appears to increase thus it is clear that during a migraine headache, there are serotonin changes in the body. Certain medications may also cause migraines and it also seems as though medications that can reduce the circulating volume of serotonin may indeed trigger migraine attacks.

An additional fact that supports this serotonin theory of migraine is that there are serotonin receptors in the stomach lining which can explain why migraine sufferers experience vomiting and nausea during an acute migraine attack.

Research that were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s also shows evidences that implanting electrodes in the brain stem could produce migraine-like symptoms that could last for days, weeks, months or even years. This coincides with the high concentration of serotonin receptors which are presumed to modulate and control pain.

Types of serotonin receptors

There are actually four different kinds of serotonin receptors:

  1. Class one serotonin receptors seems to impact smooth muscle contraction and smooth muscle relaxation.
  2. Class two serotonin receptors appears to impact the tightening of blood vessels, the discharge of nerve cells as well as some of the contraction to the airways in the stomach wall and lungs.
  3. Class three serotonin receptors seems to lead to an activation of autonomic reflexes as well as to some nerve cell excitation in the spinal cord and brain.
  4. Class four serotonin receptors appears to impact the heart stimulation, stomach wall and relaxation of the food tube.

The serotonin theory of migraine also explains why there are certain types of medications that may act on serotonin receptor one to block migraine attacks and provide relief to migraine symptoms while other types of medications appears to work better on serotonin receptor two and so on.

Yet there are some people, especially the holistic practitioners, who are quick to highlight that trace mineral changes in the body, borderline nutrient deficiencies and vitamin deficiencies can all lead to severe migraine disorders. These holistic practitioners approach headache disorders from that standpoint.

Most physicians feel that a combined theory of neurochemical changes (with an underlying genetic predisposition) lead to the cascade effect and the dumping of chemical changes in the brain which lead to a vascular process—these best explain migraine now. This means that chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, GABA, and glutamate, among the many chemical messengers of the brain, reach some level of imbalance.

When the floodgates open, these chemicals may irritate the blood vessels and hence altering blood flow. This change leads to the spreading change in nutrients and oxygen to various areas of the brain and may explain the multitude of problems that migraine sufferers can experience. Depending upon which part of the brain is most vulnerable, we can see a variety of migraine symptoms.