Having migraines with aura in midlife can increase your chances of developing dementia later in life, researchers report.
For the study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, investigators looked at 30-year medical data from all inhabitants of Denmark born between 1935-1956. The purpose of the analysis was to see whether those who had received a migraine diagnosis in midlife were also more likely to receive a dementia diagnosis later in life compared to those without migraine.
After controlling for other factors that could potentially increase a person’s risk for dementia: past heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, renal disease, and more, investigators found that those diagnosed with migraine between ages 31-58 were more likely to have dementia in later life. Interestingly, migraineurs without aura had a 19% higher rate of dementia, and those with aura had double the rate of dementia.
Migraine and dementia are two of the most common neurological conditions globally. Dementia is more common as people grow older and affects about one in nine Americans, according to the National Alzheimer’s Association. Migraine affects people of all ages, and it is one of the world’s most prevalent health conditions. An estimated 39 million people in the United States suffer from migraine headaches.
This study was not the first to find a connection between migraine and cognitive decline, but it is the first large-scale one to recognize midlife migraine as a risk factor for dementia. In a 2019 paper published in Geriatric Psychiatry, a group of researchers found that having a history of migraines made a person three to four times more likely to develop some type of dementia after 65, especially Alzheimer’s disease.
What does this mean for migraineurs?
Learning that having migraines — which is something that cannot be avoided or cured — increases your risk for dementia can be alarming. But do not panic. First, it’s important to understand that a risk factor is simply something that increases your chances of developing a disease. A person can (and usually has) multiple risk factors for multiple conditions. For example, the simple fact of being a biological woman increases a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
Having migraines with or without aura doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be diagnosed with dementia at a later age. On the other hand, a person might still get dementia even if they avoid risk factors or are considered “low risk.” There are many other known risk factors for dementia other than having a history of migraines. According to the National Alzheimer’s Association, the two biggest risk factors are aging and genetic predispositions. Other risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Traumatic brain injury
- High alcohol consumption
The good news is that since inflammation plays a role in both the development of migraines and dementia, taking natural anti-inflammatories like feverfew, ginger extract, and Boswellia extract — which have been shown to help with migraine pain and aura — could theoretically curb a migraineur’s risk of getting dementia later in life.
To Wrap Things Up
Studies have found a strong association between suffering from migraine attacks, particularly ones with aura, and many types of dementia — including Alzheimer’s disease. Having one or more dementia risk factors doesn’t mean you will get it for sure, but it is important to know them so you can take steps to bolster your neurological health.
Although more research is needed, supplementing with brain-healthy herbs, vitamins, and minerals that reduce inflammation may support you during migraine attacks and could even help protect you against cognitive decline.
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