The Migraine & Alzheimer’s Link (and what to do about it!)

A recent study showed an apparent association between migraines and your risk of Alzheimer’s dementia.

In this episode, Dr. T explores just what the study shows, along with what he as a neurologist and migraine sufferer does to optimize his protection against Alzheimer’s. 

Full Episode with Transcript

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Welcome to the migraine miracle moment. I'm your host, Dr. Josh Turknett. I'm a neurologist, migraines specialist, migraines suffer and author of the book The Migraines Miracle. In this podcast, you'll learn all about how to find your path to migraines, freedom without pills. Let's get started.

Howdy, folks. So recently there was a study published on the link between migraines and Alzheimer's disease. And I know it was a study that sparked some anxiety amongst some of you. Some of you told me about it. And in this episode, I'm going to discuss that study, the results of it. What it means for migraines sufferers and in particular, what I as a neurologist and a migrant myself and someone who is concerned about doing all that I can to protect myself against things like Alzheimer's disease, disease. What I am doing about it. So before we get into that, just a reminder that our last Hilo blast of the year is launching October 5th. Hard to believe we're so close to the end of the year, but another one is is soon coming to a close. Once again, all of our 30 day challenges are available as part of membership to migrate Neverland. You can participate as many times as you like. We are currently wrapping up our first ever mindset and mindfulness challenge, which has been fantastic. So anyways, Kita Blast launches next and we love to have you on. It is certainly something that is also very relevant to our topic today, as you'll hear about in a minute. Okay. So as I said in the introduction recently, a new study came out that explores the link between migraines and also Alzheimer's. So what was the study? Well, the study was part of the Manitoba Study of Health and Ageing. So it took place in Canada and was published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

So the Manitoba study is one where a certain population in Canada is followed over a long period of time and various health metrics are made or monitored along the way with the goal of identifying associations between certain risk factors, lifestyle habits and certain diseases. And one of the metrics that was used was a cognitive test known as the modified mini mental state exam. So this is a screening tool for cognitive impairment. And so what they did was first screened people with this test to look for people who had normal cognitive function and ended up putting in six hundred seventy nine people who initially scored normal on that test. And then five years later, those people were re-evaluated. With respect to their cognitive function, they also asked these folks when they were first tested whether they had any history of migraines. So six hundred thirty nine people, the average age was about 60. Seventy six years old and 62 percent were women and men. So they looked at five years and found that 34 of those people out of the six hundred seventy nine went on to develop Alzheimer's disease or a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. And they found that eight of those people had a history of migraines. So eight of the 34 people who developed Alzheimer's over this five year period had a history of migraines and running the numbers. They found that those who developed a diagnosis of Alzheimer's over the course of the five year study, or about two times more likely to have had a history of migraines.

Now, you can run the numbers another way, which they didn't do in the study, but which you can use the data to do. And another way of saying this is that a diagnosis of migraines amounted to around an 11 percent five year risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And no diagnosis of migraine was associated with about a 5 percent five year risk. So while the relative risk of developing Alzheimer's in these two groups was double for the migrant years, the absolute risk increase associated with migraines was 6 percent. So that also means that if you had migraines, you had about a 90 percent chance of not developing a diagnosis of Alzheimer's over the course of these five years and not having migraines was associated with about a 95 percent chance of not developing a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. I remember that these folks were at an average age of 76 at the start of the studies. This at the time of increasingly higher risk of Alzheimer's disease. So about half of people at the age of 85 will actually meet diagnosis diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer's disease. It's also worth noting that the lower end of the 95 percent confidence interval for this association between migraine history and Alzheimer's was one point to two, which means that the data barely passed. The criteria for even having statistical significance. Had that number then less than one, it would not have, and this would been have been reported as a negative study, meaning no association.

Now, the authors did go on to perform additional analysis in an attempt to try to correct for other things that are associated with a risk of Alzheimer's and things like hypertension, diabetes, age and so on. So trying to remove other things that could have accounted for some of the differences between these two groups and skewed the results in one way or another. So to try to ensure that any association is only due to the particular risk factor being studied, which in this case is migraines rather than into something else. And when they did that, they found that the risk association with migraines increased to being about four times as likely. Now, that said, these kind of corrections are a personal pet peeve of mine and a lot of other people, too. And the reason for that is because here we have a study that's openly asking the question of whether there's any possible link between migraines and Alzheimer's disease, which of course, implies that we don't know the answer to that question. And that also applies to a great many other things as well. There are likely all sorts of other factors that are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's that we're entirely unaware of. So it's entirely impossible to correct for those things because we don't even know what they are. Furthermore, even for the ones that we have identified, we really don't have any clue about how to correct what the actual risk is for each particular risk factor in each particular individual.

So it's delusional to think that we can actually perform these kinds of precise corrections. Yet this is routinely done using these fancy statistics with logistic regression, which kind of gives the illusion with fancy mathematics that you've uncovered some truth. But I don't put much weight into these sorts of things at all, nor do a lot of other folks. A better study of this kind would be where you were to ask this question and prospectively. So you set up a trial from the outset where you divide groups from the start based on the presence or absence of my grain. And then you try to control for every other at least known factor that's a risk for Alzheimer's. And then you don't end up having to do these statistical corrections to try to remove bias, which, as I said, you can't really ever do. So doing and designing a trial that way at least gives you a slightly better chance of ensuring that the factor of interest is accounting for your differences between groups. And what's kind of frustrating here is that the conclusion in this study mentions the fourfold increase, which of course was only generated after this statistical manipulation, not the two fold increase, which is just using the raw data. And of course, the fourfold makes for better headlines. OK, so I could go on all day about the limitations of various types of research studies, but I think you get the point.

So those were the findings. Again, possibly a small association between migraines and Alzheimer's disease risk, nowhere near the risk that's associated with age, which remains the number one risk factor for Alzheimer's, but nonetheless an association. Now, it is important to point out that there have been other studies that didn't show a link between Alzheimer's and my brain. And as I've already pointed out, this study does have its limitations. One of which I've described is the fact that it's retrospective, not prospective, which makes it harder to find true associations. But let's go ahead and assume for the sake of argument that there is a real association here. So what might that mean and what can we take away from it? So first things first. This is an association or a correlation between two factors. So a study like this, even taken at face value, is not saying that migraines cause Alzheimer's disease or that there is any type of direct link. That's just one of many potential explanations for the association. So that association could easily, easily be explained by other variables that are linked to both of these conditions. Now, all this being said, I personally wouldn't be at all surprised if this association was indeed real, because as I've often talked about on this podcast, the factors that confer a higher likelihood of migraines are also ones that are associated with a heightened risk of Alzheimer's.

So most significant here is the fact that both Alzheimer's and migraines are diseases of civilization, meaning that they are seen in far greater numbers in civilized industrialized societies and are nearly or completely absent absent in indigenous hunter gatherer populations. And that implies that there are common pathway genetic factors between those conditions, meaning the same set of things that can lead to both and said that the same kind of environmental factors in our modern world that increase the likelihood of migraines also increase the likelihood of Alzheimer's. And if you recall my own personal story, I didn't initially change my own diet lifestyle to end my migraines. I started it in large part because of the research that I'd done on the foundations of human health, including nutrition, especially the research on indigenous human populations still leading a largely hunter gatherer type of lifestyle, where the conditions that we see routinely as a physician are virtually absent things like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer's. So reducing the mismatch between our modern habitat and our ancestral one, including the food that I eat, became a foundational strategy for protecting myself against the chronic diseases that have reached epidemic proportions in our current world. And the reason I was surprised by the impact this change had on my migraines and then on my patients migraines was because migraines hadn't traditionally been lumped as one of the diseases of civilization, which is part of why I didn't expect any benefit. Now, if we look more specifically at the disease mechanisms of Alzheimer's and migraines, there are also similarities in the path of physiology.

Again, these are commonalities that are seen across the diseases of civilization and we can identify very direct links between environmental mismatches and the pathology we see in all of these various conditions. One of those common factors is inflammation. So inflammation is a signature feature and essentially every chronic condition, including migraines and Alzheimer's. So some of the key mismatches here that drive inflammation when it comes to food are, number one, the huge increase in our consumption of processed vegetable and seed oils. So things that would not have been available to our ancestors. That includes things like canola, corn, sunflower, saff, flower, owl, oil. All of these are pro inflammatory, especially when consumed in the amounts in the typical Westerners diet, since they are in virtually every packaged convenience food. So a typical western westerner consumes up to 20 times as much of these kinds of oils than our ancestors would have. A second food mismatch that drives inflammation would be things that disrupt the integrity of the gut barrier. So things like gluten grains, especially in those who are vulnerable and sugar. So I discussed on a previous podcast on the connections between gluten and migraines, where I reviewed the evidence that the white matter spots commonly seen in the brain of migrant workers can be linked to impairments in the gut and blood brain barrier. And in that episode, I mentioned that those spots have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia.

So here we have something that's associated with leaky gut that's seen in migrant hours and is known to increase the risk of dementia. And so based on that alone, you'd predict migrants to have a heightened risk of Alzheimer's disease. They are, though, another food mismatch that leads to inflammation is our increase in consumption of refined carbohydrates, including sugar. We know that hypoglycemia, elevated blood sugar and diabetes are significant risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. And furthermore, we also know that diets high in refined carbohydrates increase the risk of migrants at. Leased in part by its impact on suppressing or impairing metabolic flexibility, which I've talked about on prior episodes. And so once again, the risk of both migraines and Alzheimer's are increasing. With impairments in the control of blood sugar. And then we have all the lifestyle mismatches as well that also increase inflammation worse in our glycemic control and so on. And so, again, these things would be predicted to lead to both an increase in the risk of migraines and an increase in the risk of Alzheimer's, which means we should see a higher incidence of Alzheimer's and those with a history of migraines. So the overall take home message here is that given the abundance of evidence indicating that these are both mismatched diseases, meaning they are driven by the home use static stress produced when there is a mismatch between our present habitat and our ancestral habitat, we would predict an association between these two conditions.

So from a practical perspective, what does this what does identifying this association change for me? Absolutely nothing. Like I said, I already assumed that my migraine history makes me at higher risk of Alzheimer's. Just that one factor alone in isolation, which just gives me all the more reason to reduce mismatch in my diet lifestyle. And it gives me all the more reason to ensure that I avoid non-human foods that disrupt the gut barrier and favor ones that promote a healthy and robust one and healthy and diverse populations of gut microorganisms. It certainly gives me all the more reason to regularly cycle in and out of nutritional ketosis. Again, the evidence continues to build that ketosis can be a powerful tool for Alzheimer's prevention and treatment. And certainly if I or one of my family members were to be given a diagnosis of Alzheimer's tomorrow, I would be ketogenic from there on out and I would strongly urge them to be as well. So all in all, this data just gives me all the more reason to continue to strengthen the two of the three pillars of protection. So remember, the three pillars of protection for migraine are eliminating rebound, which wouldn't apply in the case of Alzheimer's. But the other two are minimizing mismatch in diet and lifestyle. And the third is establishing metabolic flexibility. So two of these three are what I would consider to be the foundations of a protection plan for Alzheimer's disease and the ways to optimize the health of the brain.

And in fact, I work with clients who come to me with a heightened risk of Alzheimer's disease. And this is the foundation of their plan. And as I've said before, I consider it a very happy coincidence that the my great miracle plan is also the best plan for minimizing the chances of almost every chronic disease, including Alzheimer's. And you've heard many people in our community now talk about the hidden blessing of migraines meetings that they were prompted to make changes in their diet lifestyle way earlier than they would have otherwise. So by the time a condition like Alzheimer's starts to declare itself, it's way too late. Yet in the case with migraines, many people are starting on this plan decades in advance of when something, a condition like Alzheimer's would strike. So all in all, the results of a study like this showing a possible link between migraines and Alzheimer's makes me all the more thankful to have discovered this plan when I did. It'd be one thing if Alzheimer's was some inevitable thing that we were powerless over and we could do nothing to modify our risk. But that is absolutely not true at all. There is clearly an enormous and necessary environmental component to Alzheimer's disease, and there's so much that we can do to modify our risk. Okay, so those are my takeaways from this recent study. Just as a reminder, again, our last Q2 blast of the year launches next week, October 5th.

So if you're interested in utilizing nutritional ketosis as a means of protecting your brain over the long haul from things like Alzheimer's disease, you want to know how I do it so that it also boosts my protection from the beast. Then we'd love to have you as part of our next one, as always. Thank you so much for listening. If you join, this podcast could be awesome. We left the. I tuned really helps other people discover it. Okay, so now it is time to go out and slay the beast.

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The Study – Migraine and the risk of all-cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia: A prospective cohort study in community-dwelling older adults.

The Western Diet & Diseases of Civilization

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

The 9 Primary Migraine Miracle

The Jump Start Challenge:

The 2019 Schedule of Migrai-Neverland Challenges:

Migraine Miracle Facebook group:

The book that started it all – The Migraine Miracle: