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The throbbing, pulsing pain of a migraine headache is unmistakable, making life miserable at least several times a month for about 1 in 5 adults in the developed world. Some types include aura, a disturbance in vision that comes like a dreaded warning before the headache hits. When it does, exposure to light and sound can be unbearable. Nausea and vomiting are possible, too.

Like many other common diseases, migraines run in families, but tracing exactly how these sometimes debilitating headaches pass from parents to children has been challenging. New research published Thursday in Neuron adds genetic detail to the growing body of evidence that migraines are caused by hundreds of common genetic variants that influence when migraines start, how severe they are, and whether family members are also affected.


The hope is that the characteristics of someone’s migraine — whether they suffer auras, or respond to triptan drugs, for instance — will eventually be used to match them to a treatment, said Dr. Andrew Hershey, endowed chair and director of neurology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He was not involved in the study. “We’re getting close and this paper … is one of the many steps to get to that route.”

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  • For about 40 years, I had sporadic migraine headaches without knowing what caused them. I only knew they stopped when I went to college. It was only decades later I learned what caused them. I had a bad gout attack, and I went on a strict vegan diet to treat it. The migraines came back with a terrible vengance. I was almost to the point of going to the hospital out of fear I might be about to have a stroke when for the first time I saw the fortifications hallucination (i.e., the migraine aura). At that point I knew exactly what my headaches were. I also figured out the cause — it was those darn Boca burgers (vegan hamburgers made from soy protein). That’s what caused my headaches as a teenager — my mom would sometimes use tofu to make our meals. It turns out that I have a sensitivity to bean protein. Even green beans will do it, if I eat enough of them every day. Soy oil and soy sauce are just fine, and I’ve never noticed garbanzo beans or peanuts to do it. My recommendation is that everyone with migraines should go on a hypoallergenic rotation diet. Something like lamb and rice to start with. If that stops your headaches, begin introducing other foods until you catch the culprit. I’ve worked with two people who had terrible migraines most of their lives. It can be debilitating. One was my boss, and he would sometimes be gone for a week because of the headaches. Another was a coworker, and she told me that as a teenager she’d beat her head against a wall to help distract from the pain. Fortunately, it was never that bad for me until I ate those Boca burgers. It could be something that simple. Not necessarily beans, but maybe something you eat all the time. Could be wheat. Could be corn. Could be milk. The only way to know is to systematically study your diet and find out. That’s what a rotation diet does. I’m sure there are other causes of migraine headache, but if you can fix the problem by avoiding a food, that’s the way to go. Much better than trying to treat it with ergotamine tartrate.

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