According to a recent study, an abnormal release of glutamate in spaces between neurons, floods gray matter of the brain, setting off a migraine attack with aura.
Glutamate is a brain chemical that commonly helps nerve cells communicate with each other. However, too much of glutamate can overexcite the cells, causing damage over time.
In the study the researchers connected an abundant amount of glutamate to migraine attacks. In a mouse model they observed that migraines were caused by a ‘chemical cascade’ reaction in which nerve cells released large amounts of glutamate and other substances that charged up neighboring neurons and those next to them. Deeper analysis showed that ‘chemical cascade’ was triggered by dysfunctional interaction between neurons and specialized cells that control glutamate levels, the astrocytes. Either too much glutamate or too few astrocytes could lead to abundant amounts of glutamate, which sweep the brain, causing the migraine headaches.
Interestingly, the abnormal release of glutamate was seen in the study both in mouse model with genetic makeup for migraines, and normal control animals. This means that release of high amounts of glutamate can cause health problems not only in migraine sufferers.
But what can cause high amounts of glutamate in the brain, in the first place? There are several reasons, where the most common one is our food. Glutamate’s salty component monosodium glutamate (MSG) occurs naturally in protein-containing foods such as cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat, fish and some vegetables, like tomatoes. It is also often used in cooking as a flavor enhancer with an umami taste that intensifies the savory flavor of food. Moreover, MSG is the main ingredient in soy sauce that became almost an unmissable part of everyone’s kitchen.
So, if you are sensitive to migraines, pay close attention to the products you buy, especially the processed ones. You need to look for either MSG or E621 (a recognized number of MSG as a food additive in Europe), which is allowed to use.
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