Changing levels of oestrogen, the female sex hormone, has long been linked to migraine attacks in women; but now it has been discovered that high levels of oestrogen in men has the effect of more frequent and intense migraine attacks. (Although, strangely enough, menstrual migraines in women are thought to be caused by falling levels of oestrogen leading up to the start of a period rather than increased levels).
The discovery of the link between oestrogen levels and migraines in men comes from a small study which was published in a recent online edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study involved 17 men with an average age of 47, who had a migraine, on average, three times a month. The migraine participants were compared to a control group of 22 men without migraine, who were matched for age and BMI. None of the participants were taking medication known to affect hormone levels.
The researchers measured the levels of oestrogen and testosterone in four blood samples from each participant – taken three hours apart on a single day. The migraine participants had their first samples taken on a non-migraine day and then each day afterwards until they experienced a migraine day.
It was found that men with migraines had an average of 97 picomoles per litre (pmol/L) of oestrogen, whereas the men without migraines had only 69 pmol/L. The levels of testosterone in both the migraine and the control groups were similar, meaning that the migraine group had a lower ratio of testosterone to oestrogen.
To find out if this was an important factor in the prevalence of migraines, the researchers asked the participants if they had experienced any of the symptoms which are commonly found in men with low testosterone; low sex drive, lack of energy, mood disorders. They found that 61% of the men who suffered from migraines experienced these symptoms, as opposed to the 27% of men who experienced them but did not suffer from migraines.
This was a small scale study, so a larger one may be needed, but it seems that, for men as for women, oestrogen plays a role in migraines. What this may mean for future migraine treatments for men is as yet unknown.