Authors of a large-scale study say they have “improved understanding” of the relationship between migraine and glucose-related traits after highlighting a genetic link between the two.

Correlating genes have been identified by researchers from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology who set out to explore why many people who experience headache and migraine also have glucose-related traits including fasting insulin and type 2 diabetes.

Professor Dale Nyholt, from the university’s Centre for Genomics and Personalised Health, said: “As far back as 1935, migraine was described as a ‘glycaemic headache’. Glycaemic traits such as insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin), hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level) and type 2 diabetes are associated with migraine and headache.

“By identifying genetic correlations and shared loci and genes in our analyses we have inferred causal association and thus confirmed and improved understanding of the relationship between migraine, headache and glycaemic traits.”

Around 10% of the global population is affected by migraine, which is also found to be around three times more common in women.

In this latest study, the team examined the genomes of thousands of people who suffer from migraine to try to establish any potential genetic links. Cross-trait analyses was carried out to highlight among other things, shared genes and pathways. These were then tested for casual relationships.

Rafiqul Islam, a PhD researcher at the university, said: “Out of the nine glycaemic traits we looked at, we found a significant genetic correlation for fasting insulin (blood insulin level) and glycated haemoglobin with both migraine and headache, while two-hour glucose was genetically correlated only with migraine.

“We also found regions harbouring genetic risk factors shared between migraine and fasting insulin, fasting glucose, and glycated haemoglobin, and for headache, shared regions with glucose, fasting insulin, glycated haemoglobin, and fasting proinsulin.”

Their findings have furthered the understanding of the link between the conditions and could pave the way for future treatments.

Rafiqul Islam added: “Our findings provide avenues to develop novel treatment strategies for managing glycaemic traits in migraine and headache patients, particularly increasing fasting proinsulin level to protect against headache.”

The study was publushed in the journal Human Genetics.

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