Nearly every adult has one occasionally, but one person in twenty suffers from one almost daily.
In fact, headache is one of the most common complaints medical professionals report seeing in their offices and hospital rooms. The vast majority of patients have no known underlying cause, so doctors generally say not to worry as they prescribe over-the-counter or prescription pain-relievers to fight pain.
But maybe we should worry, because some recent research is linking headache pain to dementia.
Headaches Increase Dementia Risk by 24 Percent
In 2015, neuroscientists from Norway examined the relationship between headaches and dementia in a large population-based study.
They found any form of headache was more likely to be reported in patients who later went on to develop dementia compared to those that never developed dementia.
Then, in 2017, scientists carried out a similar study in Taiwan. Researchers found patients with headaches had double the risk of dementia – a shocking result, by any standard. Fortunately, other studies suggest the risk isn’t quite this bad.
For example, a year later, Chinese scientists carried out a review of all population studies looking at this association.
Because of review criteria, they included only six studies, but these covered 291,548 adults. The two I’ve already mentioned were not part of this study.
When researchers pooled all the findings, they found people who suffered regular headaches of any type saw an increase in the risk of dementia by almost a quarter, or 24 percent. That’s bad enough, but at least it’s not double.
Interestingly, when the researchers looked at the numbers in more detail, they couldn’t specifically link headaches to Alzheimer’s, and there was also no specific relationship between migraines and any type of dementia. However, the researchers point out that the available data is limited, and larger trials are needed to see if these associations exist.
What Could Link Headaches to Dementia?
A number of brain areas with important roles in memory are also involved in the pain network. These are the thalamus, insula, anterior cingulate, amygdala and temporal cortex. The shape and structure of these areas are known to undergo changes during headaches.
Scientists conducting a review of studies in this field wrote, “…chronic pain engages brain regions critical for cognitive/emotional assessments, implying that this component of pain may be a distinctive feature between chronic and acute pain.”
In addition, a brain-imaging study showed the volume of gray matter, which processes information in the brain, shrank significantly within memory networks in those suffering from chronic headaches compared to those who do not.
Chronic headache patients also have an increased risk of lesions in the nerve fibers (white matter hyperintensity), a condition also linked to an increased risk of dementia.
None of this means headaches cause dementia, but the majority of the research appears to suggest that they do warn of a potential risk.
Putting an End to Pain
Medications to relieve pain come with side effects and are often not particularly helpful in any case. Headaches are actually one of the side effects of drugs such as nitrates, sleeping pills, antidepressants, birth control pills, and ironically, some migraine and headache medications.
Another common offender is caffeine, where even a modest intake can be a problem for some people. Other causes of headaches are imbalances in hormones or neurotransmitters.
Some people find acupuncture, herbal therapies or elimination diets to be effective treatments, but if all else has failed, it’s worth considering a therapy called major autohemotherapy (MAH).
In this procedure, blood is drawn, mixed with ozone, and then re-infused back into the body.
In a clinical study, researchers gave an average of 27 MAH treatments over eight months to five patients who had suffered from severe, persistent cluster headache or migraine for decades, were resistant to standard treatment, and who took a lot of time off work because of their headaches.
The results were astonishing.
During the five-year follow up, not a single patient took sick leave because of headaches. In the six months before treatment the average number of headaches the patients suffered was 80. Six months after treatment this had fallen, quite remarkably, to zero, and only averaged one a month after five years. Severity of pain was rated at 8.7 out of 10 before treatment versus 1.1 after treatment. Researchers observed no adverse effects of MAH treatment.
It sounds pretty darned impressive. To find a practitioner trained in MAH go to https://aaot.us/