The Grapevine

Men Suffering From Migraines May Have Higher Estrogen Levels, Study Says

Estrogen levels may be higher in men who experience migraines, according to a new study. It has been known that the sex hormone plays an important role in the migraines of their female counterparts.

The findings were published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, on June 27.

A migraine is a headache disorder which frequently results in severe pain, typically on one side of the head. Estimations suggest that 18 percent of women are prone to migraines compared to only 6 percent of men. While sensory stimuli and dietary patterns can be factors, hormones (estrogen in particular) are said to play an important role in migraines experienced by women.

"Previous research has found that levels of estrogen can influence when women have migraines and how severe they are, but little is known about whether sex hormones also affect migraine in men," said study author W.P.J. van Oosterhout from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.

"Our research found increased levels of estrogen in men with migraine, as well as symptoms of lower levels of testosterone," he added. The research team recruited a small number of participants who were of healthy weight and were not taking any hormone-altering medications. 

Seventeen men (with an average age of 47) who suffered from a migraine on an average of three times a month were compared to 22 men who did not have migraines. Levels of estradiol (an estrogen) and testosterone in the blood were measured in all participants.

On a single day, four blood samples were obtained from each participant, each three hours apart. For those with migraines, the first blood samples were taken on a day when they did not have a migraine and then measured each day after until a migraine occurred.

While testosterone levels were similar for both groups, men with migraines had higher levels of estrogen on the days between migraines compared to men without migraines. Due to this, migraine sufferers had a lower ratio of testosterone to estrogen between migraines (3.9) when compared to men without migraines (5.0).

It was also noted that testosterone levels showed an increase the day before a migraine occurred. This was accompanied by pre-migraine symptoms such as tiredness, muscle stiffness, and food cravings.

The study had a number of limitations, one being the small number of participants. In addition, there was a possibility that men experiencing severe migraine were more likely to fill out the questionnaire to be considered for the study. If so, the findings may only apply to people who experience severe migraines.

"Further studies are needed in larger populations to validate our findings," said Van Oosterhout. "The exact role of estrogen in men with migraine, and whether fluctuations in estrogen may be associated with migraine activity, like they are in women, needs to be fully investigated."