How Migraines Change Your Brain (Miracle Moment)

In this episode, Dr. T shares a study about how migraines change the brain, along with 3 important takeaaways from this research.


LINKS and RESOURCES mentioned:

The Study – Altered Brain Structure and Function Correlate with Disease Severity and Pain Catastrophizing in  Migraine Patients

The Pain Catastrophizing Scale

MIGRAI-NEVERLAND, our premier resource for those who want to find their pill free path to migraine freedom (including the new Beastslayer Training Academy):

The 30 Day JUMP START Challenge

The Migraine Miracle Facebook group:

The book that started it all – The Migraine Miracle.


Episode Transcript

[00:00:27] So in this episode of the miracle moment I’m going to share with you a really fascinating and really important study. It’s one that shows how the brains of people with longstanding migraines are different and different in some really surprising ways. [00:00:42][15.1]

[00:00:44] One of the things that I talk about often as some of you may know is mindset or how powerfully our thoughts or the stories that we tell ourselves about the events in our lives how powerfully those things impact our health. And this study is a really powerful example of that and one that’s directly relevant for migraineurs because it’s a study of people with migraines. [00:01:05][21.2]

[00:01:07] And I also thought this would be a good time to cover it as we just launched another 30 day migraine miracle jumpstart challenge. So as part of that challenge everybody in the challenge goes through the beastslayer training academy together. And the first module in the s academy is all about mindset, and there are several reasons why that is. [00:01:31][23.8]

[00:01:32] Another reason is that this month inside of Migrai-Neverland for our book club we’re reading the book Cure by Jo Marchant and that book is all about the science behind how the mind influences the body and how it influences health. [00:01:51][19.0]

[00:01:51] It’s really an area that’s exploding lately as finally research is taking this area seriously. And there’s a whole robust body of evidence and knowledge now about the many ways in which mindset influences health and biology. [00:02:06][15.2]

[00:02:08] So that’s a great book and we’re discussing that in our Migrai-Neverland Book Club this month. And if you want to learn more about the Beastslayer Training academy you can go to my [00:02:19][11.5]

[00:02:23] And if you think you’re ready to go all in with the the migraine miracle plan and you want to join us in Migrai-Neverland, which also includes a membership to the Beast Slayer training academy, plus a whole ton of other resources, then head over to my [00:02:40][16.5]

[00:02:41] And remember when you register if you enter the coupon code “moment” when you sign up you’ll get 30 dollars off membership as a thank you for being a listener to the miracle moment. All right. So onto the study. [00:02:54][12.5]

[00:02:54] So this was published in 2014 in the society for Neurosciences in eneuro journal. And in this study they looked at 17 people with migraines and 18 control subjects. So 18 people with without migraines. A. [00:03:08][13.6]

[00:03:08] Nd specifically they looked at their brains. So they used a fancy MRI sequence where you can look not only at the structure of the brain but also the functional connectivity so the ways in which different regions of the brain are connected with each other. [00:03:22][13.5]

[00:03:23] And so obviously they were looking for differences between the brains of controls and the brains of people with longstanding migraines and indeed they did find differences. [00:03:32][8.7]

[00:03:33] So there were several differences in the ways in which the brains of migraineurs were connected. And that alone was pretty interesting finding. And it also looked like most of those changes were probably from the result of having migraines rather than vice versa. So rather than those changes being the reason why they had migraines it was more likely that the migraines were leading to those particular kind of changes. [00:03:58][25.7]

[00:04:00] But the most interesting and most relevant for our discussion here was that they also looked at correlations between the level of pain catastrophizing in each subject and any specific changes in their brains. So what is pain catastrophizing? So there’s actually what’s known as a pain catastrophizing scale and it’s a series of questions and the intent of those questions and the scale is to measure the degree to which an individual kind of focuses on or dwells on their pain. [00:04:33][33.3]

[00:04:35] So imagine that you have two people who have migraines of equal intensity and frequency. Everything is the same except kind of how they think about having migraines and their experience of it. So one person kind of focuses on everything but their migraine. [00:04:52][17.8]

[00:04:53] So you know as soon as the migraines gone they don’t think about it anymore. They don’t talk about their migraines they don’t dwell on how painful they are. They just kind of move it has the experience and then they’re gone. And then the other person kind of even when they’re gone focuses on the migraines you know shares how bad they are with others post on Facebook about it, and in general kind of dwells on how bad migraines are and kind spends a lot of time worrying about when the next one might strike and so on. [00:05:21][28.3]

[00:05:22] So if you can imagine kind of the two extremes there where one person kind of spends no time no mental time kind of thinking about the negative aspects of migraine and another person spending all of their time dwelling on it the person, the latter person is going to have a very high pain catastrophizing, scale and the other person will have a very low paying catastrophizing scale. [00:05:44][21.6]

[00:05:45] And so what they found was that there were that there was a significant correlation between the degree of pain catastrophizing and certain functional connectivity changes in their brains. And moreover those changes work were occurring in areas that were likely resulting in an enhanced experience of pain. [00:06:07][22.3]

[00:06:08] So in other words dwelling on the pain was creating changes in the brain that were then making the experience of pain worse and a process that probably continues to amplify over time. [00:06:19][11.6]

[00:06:20] Now there are other lines of evidence from other pain studies that shows this kind of phenomenon occurring with pain, that the more we focus on it the worse it tends to get. And this is an illustration of that process occurring specifically in migraine and specifically causing structural alterations in the brain that worsen the experience of migraines and worsening the experience of pain through nothing more than how you think about your migraines. [00:06:44][23.8]

[00:06:45] So why is this study so important? [00:06:46][1.2]

[00:06:48] I think there are there are three reasons. So the first of those is that mindset really does matter. In fact it matters hugely and I can’t over emphasize this enough. [00:07:00][11.9]

[00:07:01] So how we think about our migraines how we think about pain and the stories we tell ourselves about about them impact us in fundamental ways. So fundamental that they alter the very structure and function of the brain, and those changes can occur in ways that either help us or hurt us. [00:07:16][15.2]

[00:07:18] Higher degrees of pain catastrophizing clearly hurt us they cause changes that literally enhance our experience of pain. And this is a big reason why I start with mindset as the very first module in the Beast Slayer training academy, because I know from a decade of clinical experience, and this shows the science behind it, that if you ignore this aspect then you’re not ready to implement the other changes because they will likely be futile. [00:07:47][28.8]

[00:07:48] Your mindset will undermine all of those other efforts. So we’ve tried to set up Migrai-Neverland and the Beast Slayer training academy in a way that maximizes your odds of moving on the timeline of migraine freedom, and making sure mindset is in place first is absolutely essential. [00:08:07][19.1]

[00:08:08] So the last thing we want is for folks to put all the time and energy into establishing new habits and behaviors only for their mindset to undermine the entire process. [00:08:17][9.0]

[00:08:18] And let me say too this is not easy. Oftentimes changing mindset means changing patterns of thought you’ve been reinforcing for much of your life. [00:08:27][8.4]

[00:08:27] So it takes time and effort and sustained and dedicated effort and consistent reminders, and it because it’s easy to lapse into old thought patterns. But it’s so incredibly worth it. And it will transform your life if you stick with it. [00:08:40][13.4]

[00:08:42] The second key thing this study illustrates is that recovery is a process. [00:08:47][5.5]

[00:08:48] So here we see that the brain of someone with migraines has clear structural and functional changes, and these are changes in multiple domains in multiple parts of the brain. So that means to move on the timeline of migraine freedom we have to change our brain. [00:09:02][13.7]

[00:09:03] So if mindset has been an enemy for years and you’ve been telling yourself the old story of migraine for years then that has to change and that change will lead to changes in the brain. But that takes time. [00:09:14][10.8]

[00:09:14] But the really fantastic thing is that our brains are capable of changing throughout our lives and are capable of remarkable change. And essentially the migraine miracle plan is about making fundamental changes to your brain. [00:09:26][11.7]

[00:09:26] So undoing what’s been done from a lifetime with migraines including the ways in which we’ve thought about them along with the effects of drugs and the effects of diets and lifestyles that are mismatched with our biology and so on. [00:09:41][14.8]

[00:09:41] So all of those strategies that we know lead to migraine freedom are also designed to sort of undo these structural changes that have occurred in the brain and those can’t happen overnight. [00:09:52][10.8]

[00:09:53] Those those take time to develop and they take time to reverse. But the fantastic thing is the brain is capable of incredible change and that’s why we keep seeing such incredible results from the folks who stick with it long enough to allow for those kinds of changes to happen. [00:10:09][15.2]

[00:10:10] It can’t happen overnight. It’s physically and biologically impossible, but it can happen for sure with sustained effort. And we’ve seen it time and time again. [00:10:17][7.2]

[00:10:18] And then the third thing that to take away from this is that this study is a great illustration of why we try so hard to maintain a spirit of positivity and hope in our community. [00:10:31][12.6]

[00:10:32] So a few years ago when I kind of went online looking to see what kind of resources and groups were out there for people with migraines I was mortified. [00:10:40][8.3]

[00:10:42] Almost everything I found was just overwhelmingly negative with a really heavy focus on just how awful migraines were and the experience of being a migraineurm and just you know quotes ruminating on them. [00:10:53][11.0]

[00:10:53] And so after seeing this on the one hand I realized that there wasn’t a place for people like me. [00:10:58][5.0]

[00:10:59] So I actually I personally hate dwelling on migraine and hate dwelling on pain and I’m one of those who once it’s gone it’s gone. I don’t want to give it any more attention than it’s already gotten. [00:11:09][9.8]

[00:11:10] To me one of the big problems big issues with migraines are pain in general is that it diverts attention away from the things you care about. So the last thing I want is to give it any more attention than it’s already gotten and divert me away from the things that I care about most. [00:11:24][14.3]

[00:11:25] In fact it’s a bit ironic that I ended up writing a book about migraines and maintain an online community since I don’t really enjoy talking about them when I don’t have them. [00:11:33][8.4]

[00:11:34] But that’s because I know that the message that we’re putting out there can help so many people in need to get to so many people. But it’s also why I don’t spend time dwelling at all on the negative parts of it. [00:11:46][11.5]

[00:11:46] Now of course there’s a bit of selection bias going on here right because people who don’t like to talk about them or ruminate on them on them are less likely to try to go out and find a group of people where they can go talk about them. [00:11:57][11.0]

[00:11:57] But what was even more concerning to me was that I knew that these kind of groups, even though they were well-intentioned, were likely making the people in them WORSE. [00:12:05][7.9]

[00:12:06] And a study like this shows precisely why that is. [00:12:09][3.0]

[00:12:10] And so one of the reasons we decided to create an online community around the migraine miracle was to provide an alternative for folks both for people like me who didn’t want to dwell on the pain but wanted strategies for getting better, who just wanted to slay the thing and move on with their life, but also to provide a place that wasn’t secretly sabotaging any chance of recovery through this kind of relentless negativity. [00:12:36][26.0]

[00:12:37] So we wanted to create a place that was instead one of hope and support and encouragement and positivity so that we could actually use a mindset to our advantage. [00:12:45][8.6]

[00:12:45] And so one of the reasons I wanted to present this study is because it’s such a great illustration of why one of our fundamental missions inside of our community is to create a positive environment. [00:12:56][10.9]

[00:12:58] We all know how awful migraines are and it was kind of like an unspoken you know thing amongst everybody with them when we don’t need to dwell on it because we’ve all been through it and we’re not focusing on it because we’re trying to deny reality. We’re not focusing on it because we know that doing so will make us worse. [00:13:16][18.0]

[00:13:17] So if we view it in this way we realize that a negative post or comment is no different than running around and spraying people with migraines with some awful perfume or going to their house in the middle of night and blaring music so they can’t sleep. [00:13:30][13.4]

[00:13:30] So all these things that we could do that would provoke the beast are the same as as creating a negative environment. [00:13:36][6.0]

[00:13:37] And our number one goal is to reduce suffering. [00:13:40][2.2]

[00:13:40] And we know and it’s this kind of study illustrates why that a negative environment is going to worsen suffering, even though it may be well-intentioned, the net result is likely to be one we don’t want. [00:13:54][13.9]

[00:13:55] It’s also the same exact reason we spend so much time talking about the potential downsides of abortive medication and rebound headaches. It’s not because I want people to suffer more and endure headache without any type of relief. [00:14:08][12.9]

[00:14:09] It’s precisely because I don’t want them to suffer more because I’ve seen it so many times lead to so much more needless suffering. [00:14:16][6.7]

[00:14:17] And I should also point out that this is also why I’m such a fan of mindfulness practice. So like I said before we can change our brain. [00:14:24][6.9]

[00:14:25] And one of the ways we can reshape the way in which thoughts influence our brain is through mindfulness practice. [00:14:32][6.4]

[00:14:32] So it’s a way of really targeting in on your mind’s ability to work for you rather than against you. [00:14:39][6.7]

[00:14:40] All right. So hopefully that reinforces just how important mindset is, that we can either be our greatest ally or our greatest enemy, and that we ignore it at our own peril. [00:14:51][10.7]

[00:14:52] That recovery is a process and requires structural alterations of the brain that take time and that this is why we try so hard to maintain a spirit of positivity and that focusing on the negative aspects of migraine actually make us worse over time. [00:15:09][17.0]

[00:15:10] That wraps up this episode. Once again if you want us to help you replace your story of migraine from someone with chronic awful horrible headaches to I’m a beast slayer then we’d love to have you in the jumpstart challenge or an Migrai-Neverland. [00:15:25][15.3]

[00:15:26] As I mentioned we just launched our latest 30 day jumpstart challenge and if you sign up today you can still get in on this latest challenge. [00:15:34][7.5]

[00:15:35] However Migrai-Neverland membership gets you access to all of our 30 day challenges including the next jumpstart challenge that we’ll have as well as our next Keto blast challenge, plus all the other resources. [00:15:47][12.0]

[00:15:47] So you can learn more again at [00:15:52][4.8]

[00:15:53] Also if you want to see the show notes for this episode go to I’ll also include there a link to this study as well as a link to the pain catastrophizing scales and see what questions are asked on it. OK that’s all I got for today so go out there and slay the beast. [00:15:53][0.0]