Women are more prone to migraines than men.
And here’s why.
Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. It’s clear: women are more prone to migraines, but it’s less certain why. There are five main areas that researchers are studying to better understand the link between migraines and women’s health. These four areas – hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary and environmental – have unique impacts on women and their migraine frequency. Let’s take a closer look.
The primary reason why women suffer migraines more frequently than men is due to differences in hormonal balances. Specifically, levels of estrogen and progesterone play a leading role in migraine development. A drop in estrogen levels can trigger a headache. This can occur in a variety of stages during a woman’s life:
● Menstruation: Estrogen and progesterone fall right before menstruation, triggering headaches. Women typically report migraines two days before the start of their periods and three days after.
● Pregnancy: Estrogen levels rise, but changes can cause migraines in early pregnancy or after giving birth, when estrogen levels return to normal.
● Menopause: Hormone levels change, potentially causing headaches. However, many women report improved symptoms as they reach menopause.
● Oral contraceptives: Birth control pills can causes changes in hormones. Typically, women report migraines during the last week of the cycle, when the pills don’t contain hormones.
These kind of hormonal fluctuations are specific to women and can account for why women are more prone to migraines. However, there are other areas beyond hormonal changes that may also affect women more significantly.
In addition to hormonal triggers, women are more likely to suffer from emotional triggers. Let’s be clear: this doesn’t mean women are more emotional, but rather that they’re twice as likely to suffer from anxiety disorders compared to men. These disorders including stress, anxiety and depression, which may involve both hormonal and social factors.
Researchers believe women suffer greater anxiety and stress because of biological differences in brain chemistry. Due to estrogen and progesterone levels, women have a more activate fight-or-flight response. In addition, women may not process serotonin as quickly as men, which plays a role in responding to and managing stress. Finally, women may also be affected by levels of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), another hormone that organizes stress responses.
All these difference in hormones and chemical levels may account for women suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression twice as much. Because these anxiety disorders are known to trigger migraines, women are more likely to suffer from related symptoms.
Physical triggers – including tiredness, fatigue, poor posture, tension, and low blood sugar – may affect women more significantly than men. These physical triggers of migraines are well-documented, especially the role of tiredness and fatigue.
As you may have guessed, women are more likely to feel tired or exhausted compared to men. In recent CDC studies, 15.3% of women report being exhausted compared to 10.1% of men. Again, both biological and social factors may be a part of this effect. As previously mentioned, hormonal fluctuations can take a physical toll on the female body.
In addition, social pressures or expectations can also cause tiredness. Many women – around 40% – are now primary breadwinners for their households. At the same time, women still do more housework than men. These kinds of social pressures may be tiring out women and accounting for more spikes in tiredness and fatigue compared to men.
Dietary triggers can also play a role in migraine frequency. In general, dietary triggers include:
- Missed, delayed or irregular meal
- Caffeine (tea, coffee)
- Tyramine-high foods, including cold cuts, aged cheeses and chocolate, as well as foods stored at room temperature.
These dietary triggers can also affect women more significantly than men. For example, studies show that women are more likely than men to skip lunch and dinner. Skipping meals can greatly affect migraine triggers. What’s more, due to biological mechanisms, women are more likely to face dehydration than men, which could also play a factor.
As if that weren’t enough, women are also affected by environmental triggers that may cause migraines. Environmental triggers are usually described as bright lights or loud noises, including computer screens, weather fluctuations and strong smells. While there’s no literature yet on whether women are more affected by environmental triggers than men, it’s important to note that they may also be adding additional stress to the other areas (hormonal, emotional, physical and dietary).
Migraine remedies for women
Women are more prone to suffer from migraines. However, there are holistic treatments available that can help women relieve their migraines. In addition to managing the migraine triggers we mentioned above – including drinking more water, getting restful sleep and avoiding certain dietary triggers – women can also try these remedies:
● Ice pack: Cold helps reduce blood flow. Try a cold compress on your forehead for quick relief.
● Magnesium & riboflavin supplements: Diet is a huge part of migraine prevention. Try eating more leafy greens for magnesium, such as kale and spinach. Also, incorporate riboflavin-rich foods like salmon, mushroom, spinach, and almonds. You can also use migraine supplements for both these compounds.
● Yoga classes: Yoga use a mind-body approach that can help you get good aerobic exercise, while also practicing relaxation techniques.
● Migraine glasses: FL-41 lenses are great for preventing migraines. These glasses have a special tint that helps reduce migraine impact. If bright light is a trigger for you, try these lenses.
● Chiropractic care: Chiropractic care may also be a good idea. An expert chiropractic clinic can help analyze your triggers and look for physical adjustments and dietary plans to reduce symptoms.
Experts don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms behind migraines. However, it’s important to understand the unique challenges that women face regarding migraines, including hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary and environment. By looking at these reasons, we can create more effective treatments for women and reduce the debilitating impact that migraines have on women everywhere.
About the Author, Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. has been a chiropractor for over 20 years and has treated thousands of patients. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.