The Upside of Migraines

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 08, 2021

In the midst of a migraine, it probably seems like there couldn't possibly be anything good about them. However, researchers have found some potential benefits associated with migraines. They've also found some possible reasons migraines may be related to our evolution as a species. While it probably won't make your migraines any less painful, knowing the upsides may make them a little more bearable. 

In a French study of nearly 75,000 women who were followed for 10 years, those who had active migraines were one-third less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those without migraines. The protective benefit only lasted as long as the migraines, though. If their migraines improved, the women's chances of developing diabetes returned to normal. 

Researchers aren't clear about why people who have migraines are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, but this research confirms what headache specialists have noted for years. One possible reason could be that high blood sugar levels prevent you from developing a headache. Another theory is that the protective effect is related to CGRP, a protein molecule that's active in both type 2 diabetes and migraines. 

Migraines may also help protect you against developing alcoholism. One study found that people who have migraines consume less alcohol than people who have tension headaches. This may be because alcohol is a common trigger for migraines. Around one-third of people with migraines report that alcohol is at least occasionally a trigger. 

There are also theories that migraines may have offered an evolutionary advantage. Although it may seem counterintuitive that a debilitating headache could make it easier to survive, some theories about this include: 

  • Migraines may have evolved as a warning system when consuming toxins
  • Migraines may be a side effect related to a gene that causes a higher tolerance of cold temperatures
  • People with highly developed hearing and sight, which is an evolutionary advantage, may have developed migraines
  • Migraines may have developed as a way to provide a break from overstimulation

While these theories have some data to support them, most of them need more research before they can be proven. In the meantime, you can take some solace in the idea that there may be some benefits to migraines. 

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Harvard Health Blog: "A silver lining for migraine sufferers?


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