Migraines, debilitating headaches that can be so bad that they leave you bedridden, could be triggered by a chemical found in popular household products: Bisphenol A (BPA). According to a recent study published in the journal Toxicological Sciences,, BPA exposure via food packaging, plastics, and tins may increase the incidence and prevalence of migraines by causing changes in locomotion, light and sound sensitivity, grooming, and startle reflexes.

BPA is considered to be an “environmental estrogen” because it mimics the female sex hormone – estrogen – in the body. The endocrine disruptor interferes with the production, secretion, transport, action, function, and elimination of natural hormones which leads to the alteration of the structure of human cells, says Medical News Today. Over 90 percent of the U.S. population has BPA in their bodies which leads to cause for concern due to the potential health hazards associated with the chemical.

The presence of BPA in the body, especially in women, causes estrogen levels to rise and contributes to an imbalance that may lead to migraine headaches and other health problems. The Mayo Clinic says hormones estrogen and progesterone play key roles in regulating the menstrual cycle and pregnancy which may affect headache-related chemicals in the brain. While steady estrogen levels may improve headaches, an alteration in those levels can make headaches worse. Researchers now speculate BPA exposure may worsen migraine systems through estrogen mechanisms.

A team of researchers from Kansas University investigated the effects of BPA exposure on locomotion, light and sound sensitivity, grooming and startle reflexes. Ovariectomized female rats were utilized as as the test model, since their headaches are similar to those of humans – they avoid light, sound, grooming, and routine movements.

The behavior of the rats was observed prior to and after the researchers administered the BPA chemical once every three days. The rats were surgically implanted with a cranial cannula as a means to produce migraine-like symptoms. Behavioral tasks modeled after the International Headache Classification (ICHD-2) – used to diagnose migraine in humans – were performed by the rodents to observe the effects of BPA exposure. Within half an hour of the dose, the rats who were exposed to BPA were found to be less active, steered clear of loud noise and strong light, were easily frightened, and showed signs of tenderness to the head. These rodents were also found to have higher levels of estrogen in their brains compared to their non-BPA counterparts. The estrogen was linked to significantly worsening their migraine symptoms.

"Currently, migraine has no specific biomarker test, and analysis of symptoms is the only way to diagnose this disorder," said Dr. Nancy Berman, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at KU Medical Center, and lead author on the study, in a news release. In this research project, Berman built on her own previous research which showed a connection between migraines and estrogen. Berman's goal is to uncover better diagnostic tools to identify and treat migraines. “These findings combined with our results suggest that a clinical trial to decrease BPA exposure and levels in migraine sufferers...may reduce headache frequency and/or severity, revealing strategies that may increase the quality of life of migraines,” wrote the researchers in their report. Migraine sufferers may benefit from a change in their diet.

In a similar study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2011, researchers found using a “fresh foods” dietary intervention significantly decreased urinary BPA by 66 percent in participants just after three days. The fresh food diet consisted of organic meals with no canned food and minimal plastic packaging, and food stored in glass and stainless steel containers. However, when the volunteers returned to their conventional diets, their BPA levels increased back to pre-interventional levels. The findings of this study suggest modifications in diet could significantly decrease BPA levels and its health hazards such as migraines.

In the U.S., about 18 percent of American women and six percent of men suffer from migraines, says the Migraine Research Foundation. Migraine patients typically experience a throbbing pain on one side of their head and feel depressed, cranky, restless, or nervous. For ways to alleviate migraines, click here.

Sources: Berman NEJ, Gregory E, McCarson KE et al. Exposure to Bisphenol A Exacerbates Migraine-Like Behaviors in a Multibehavior Model of Rat Migraine. Toxiocological Sciences. 2013.

Akerman JM, Brody JE, Dodson RE, et al. Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethyhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011.