If you have migraines, you’re not alone. The incidence of migraines in the population is anywhere from 16.6% of adults 18 and older up to 22.7%, according to researchers at the University of Mississippi. This statistic refers to adults having migraine or other severe headaches in the last three months.
Head pain is actually the fifth leading cause of emergency room visits in the U.S., accounting for 1.2 percent of all outpatient visits.
Who gets headaches? It’s usually women in the age range of 18 and 44. In fact, about 26.1% of the migraines were found in women of this age range. Migraines are a public health problem, experts say, particularly among reproductive-aged women.
The Problems with Traditional Medicine’s Way of Treating Migraines
Pharmaceutical drugs for migraine aren’t without their side effects. Sumatriptan succinate (Imitrex) causes heaviness in the chest and limbs along with muscle aches and pains. It also causes a reduction in mitochondrial function and vasoconstriction of skeletal muscles. Triptans can cause serotonin syndrome if used with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Memory loss, depression, tremors, insomnia, sluggishness, weight loss, tingling, dry mouth, heart burn and low energy levels are common side effects with anti-migraine medications. Of course, addiction to these painkiller medications is always a potential issue.
Migraine Sufferers Have Something In Common with Heart Disease Patients
Using stem cells for migraines is a recent therapy and clinical trials are still in the beginning phases with an occasional new study cropping up here and there. Some of the clinical evidence is building the case for the way that stem cells would be a benefit.
In 2012, doctors at a university in Spain tested 47 patients with episodic migraine and compared them to 23 patients without migraine. They were looking for endothelial progenitor cells. Endothelial progenitor cells are those that regenerate the inner cell lining of the blood vessels.
The patients with migraines had only about half as many endothelial progenitor cells as those without the migraines.
This may give us a clue to one of the reasons why stem cell treatments seem to help patients with migraines. It’s possible that their bodies are not making enough stem cells to fill the needs the body has asked for – on a daily basis.
Here’s one woman’s stem cell treatment for migraines video testimonial below. She had suffered from migraines for 32 years before stem cell treatment was even made available to her.
The Connection Between Migraine and Heart Disease is Established
If you take this whole idea of low levels of endothelial progenitor cells a little farther, you’d see that these cells are also a problem in those who have heart disease and hardening of the arteries. And stem cell treatments can do great turnarounds in patients with heart disease.
Does that mean there’s a link between migraine and cardiovascular risk? Doctors at a different hospital in Spain think so. They found a higher number of activated endothelial progenitor cells in migraine patients than those without the migraines. This is one more piece of evidence that is showing us that there’s something about the stem cells that the body is craving during a migraine.
And in New York, doctors found that it’s not all migraine sufferers who are at risk for heart disease. It’s only when the migraine also has an aura that may directly predispose someone to having a stroke. The aura is technically called cortical spreading depression. If someone doesn’t have auras, the risk is much lower for the cardiovascular disease.
In Korea, scientists reported that the number of endothelial progenitor cells are a biological marker of vascular function and that low numbers are associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease.
When they tested migraine and tension headache sufferers’ blood for these stem cells, sure enough, they found low levels. Their conclusion was that “the endothelial progenitor cells can be an underlying link between migraine and cardiovascular risk.”
Japanese researchers reported in the medical journals in 2012 that the auras of migraines – called cortical spreading depression – actually shifts the fate of what the stem cells are supposed to become.
Having the aura caused the creation of astrocytes from the stem cells, and it suppressed oligodendrocytes. When the astrocyte number increases, they have the ability to alleviate damage to the neurons after intense excitation of neurons in the brain such as what happens during seizures and auras. Once this happens, the brain can then repair itself.
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Specific Studies on Stem Cells for Migraines
One of the most quoted research studies is one from Liverpool. Doctors at the Macquarie Stem Cells facility worked with four women with a migraine history or a history of frequent tension-type headaches.
They gave the women an IV treatment of autologous stromal vascular fraction or autologous stromal stem cells that were prepared by ultrasound. Autologous means that the stem cells came from their own bodies.
Stromal vascular fraction may also be a term you’re not familiar with. This is a component of what’s taken from the fluid when liposuction is used to obtain fat cells in the body.
What Happened to the Women With Headaches?
Both doctors and patients were pleased with the results. Woman #1 and #2, who were between the ages of 36 and 40, stopped having migraines after one month. There were no additional migraines in the next 18 months.
Woman #3, 43 years old, had a significant decrease in the frequency and severity of migraines – only seven migraines over the next year and a half. Woman #4, 44 years old, stopped having migraines for a month. Eighteen months later, she had a second treatment and has been free of headaches for one month.
All these women reduced their opioid medications to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
The researchers stated, “The treatment of this disease by stromal vascular fraction adds a new dimension to its clinical applicability and suggests a relatively simple treatment that may help address the symptoms of the disease.”
Even though these were only four case studies on the effects of stem cells and migraines, it shows us that there are good things in store for those who have migraine headaches.
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Women with Migraines Have Lower Levels of Stromal Vascular Fraction
In Germany, scientists tested 28 women with migraine headaches and compared their levels of stem cells to 27 women without migraines. They were looking for any differences in the amount of stromal vascular fraction.
The higher the levels of stromal cell-derived factor-1 alpha, the better the integrity of the inside of the blood vessels and the easier that vascular stem cells could move around and do what they have to do in the body.
The scientists found that the women with migraines had about 13% fewer numbers of stromal cell-derived factor-1 alpha.
This gives us another clue that those with migraines could benefit by boosting their numbers of stromal vascular factor. Stromal vascular factor is rich in mesenchymal stromal cells.
There will be a lot more on this topic in the upcoming months. For now, we’ve learned that there are many reasons why stem cell treatments for migraines could be potentially beneficial. Besides possibly decreasing the number and frequency of migraine attacks, there’s also the bigger possibility of “fixing” the inside of the blood vessels, and preventing strokes and heart diseases.
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