Last night while on MSN, I saw a headline: First genetic link to migraine found. Of course I immediately clicked on over.
Fascinating stuff. You can read the article here if you want, but I’m going to nutshell it for you: researchers examined genetic data for 50,000 people (hello? thank you for the big sampling! I’m really tired of reading about studies done with 25 or 100 people) and found that those with a specific DNA variant that affects their body’s ability to regulate glutamate are more likely to develop migraines.
Specifically, the article said:
In a study published in the journal Nature on Sunday, Palotie’s team said the particular migraine risk DNA variant they had identified was on chromosome 8 between two genes known as PGCP and MTDH/AEG-1.
Their research showed that it appears to regulate levels of glutamate, a chemical known as a neurotransmitter which transports messages between nerve cells in the brain.
It does this by altering the activity of MTDH/AEG-1 in cells, which regulates the activity of the EAAT2 gene — a protein responsible for clearing glutamate from brain synapses.
But it gets more interesting (to me), because then it said:
Previous research has found links between EAAT2 and other neurological diseases, including epilepsy, schizophrenia and various mood and anxiety disorders.
“Why,” you ask, “does that make it more interesting to you?”
Because I sometimes have seizures. There. I said it. I’ve never blogged about it before because, well, because A. it’s not that big a deal, and B. I’ve never been officially diagnosed, so C. I never put it down on any medical paperwork. But I do have mild seizures every now and then, and I have had them since as far back as I can remember (ask my parents, I remember farther back than most people).
When I was little my mother called my seizures “the giggles” because, as far as she knew, that’s all it was. I would, for no apparent reason, break out into a little giggling fit. It didn’t happen often, and nothing else happened (that anyone could see) to accompany it, so nobody thought anything about it. I especially didn’t think anything about it because when you’re four years old and you giggle uncontrollably for a few seconds and your mother laughs and offers to make you Giggle Noodle Soup for lunch (and I believe there was such a thing on the market back then), you just laugh it off with her.
As I got older, however, I realized it was more than just giggles. I’ve been slap happy enough late nights in my life to recognize the difference. I began to be more cognizant of a pattern. I could feel “the giggles” coming before they hit. It’s hard to describe the feeling – a little a dizzy, a little fuzzy, a little out-of-body-I-don’t-know-what. Then the actual laughter would come, last a few seconds, and as it ebbed I would feel less fuzzy, more dizzy and, as I’ve gotten older, nauseous. And that’s it. That is how my seizures go. From start to finish it maybe lasts 20 seconds and I never lose consciousness or awareness at all.
In college it happened almost daily for a while, but in the fourteen years we’ve been married, I think my husband has witnessed it only a smattering of times.
I did go see a Dr. in my very early 20s and try to talk to him about it, but when I explained that I sometimes have odd fits of uncontrollable laughter (it didn’t occur to me at the time to use the word “seizure” because, in my mind, a seizure was more or less something that left one convulsing on the floor) he just looked at me like I was a complete idiot who was wasting his time and said (in that condescending tone that they must teach in medical school), “Well, I suppose you could suffer from worse problems, couldn’t you?”
I felt completely humiliated, demeaned, belittled. And so I haven’t mentioned it to a Dr. since. I have, however, talked to friends who have (officially diagnosed) epilepsy, and I have done a small bit of reading up on seizures, so I feel comfortable saying that my “giggles” are a mild seizure disorder. I shall be discussing this with my new Dr. at my next appointment.
Moving along . . . because it gets EVEN BETTER . . . after reading this article I took the next logical step and googled “food sources of glutamate.”
And here is where the tears of vindication came. I found a website done by a veterinarian (yes, a veterinarian) who successfully treats dogs with seizure disorders by putting them on a glutamate/aspartate restricted diet. He also has seen such a diet work well in humans with a variety of chronic pain conditions. And? He lists foods high in glutamate/aspartate (and, yes, that is related to aspartame, and I shall never touch diet pop again).
Vet’s List of High Glutamate Foods E.’s List of Foods That Trigger Her Migraines
Peanuts (very high) Peanuts (first trigger food)
Grains (esp. wheat, barely & oats) Wheat
Dairy products Dairy products
Beans like soy, lentils, etc. Soy (I don’t often eat other beans anyway)
Meats & Eggs (though eggs are lower) Eggs
Seeds like sunflower and pumpkin *My sunbutter days may be numbered*
I’m not stupid. I know people must think I’m a huge hypochondriac when I say I can’t eat all these foods without getting bone-crunching headaches. For years now social situations have been embarrassing and awkward because there is usually so little I can eat at such things, which I don’t mind, really! Because I do not expect the world at large to cater to my problems. But somehow somebody always seems to notice me not eating, and then whoever the hostess is winds up apologizing, and I feel bad that she feels bad, and there are mutterings of, “Oh, if I’d known ahead of time . . .” but what am I supposed to do? Call ahead of time to RSVP that I will be attending and ask for special food? I don’t think so. Then I wind up explaining that there are so many things I can’t eat that I couldn’t possibly expect anyone to go out of their way to make refreshments for me, and then someone asks what foods I can’t eat, and I run down the list with a laugh, and then I just know that somebody is probably thinking I’m a HUGE nut job.
So reading that article about a gene variant that affects the body’s ability to clean up excess glutamate being connected to migraines, and then reading that list of glutamate-rich foods and comparing it to my own list? Made me cry. It’s making me cry again.
I’m. not. crazy. My headaches are horrible, and my food triggers are real. Just because I’ve figured them out on my own (except for the ones I haven’t figure out), the hard, painful way, without any help from Dr.s who couldn’t or wouldn’t help me, does not mean they aren’t legitimate. I’m. not. crazy. I may be a walking freak show as far as my eating goes, but I’m not a nut job.
My next step, of course, was to see if I could find any connection between hormones and the body’s ability to regulate glutamate, because I know there is a hormonal connection, so I googled “hormones and glutamate” and found Very Scholarly Articles. Things with titles like Hormonal Regulation of Glutamate Receptor Gene Expression in
the Anteroventral Periventricular Nucleus of the Hypothalamus.
I think that article was about a study using rodents of some kind.
I’m not stupid, people — academic scholarships, gifted programs and all that (though I freely admit I believe the years of migraines have killed off brain cells and brought me a tad bit closer to stupid) – but this was more than I could digest without a dictionary and a scientist at my side. So I will keep researching the connection between hormones and the regulation of glutamate, and if I find anything that I can’t really understand but think might be helpful I will take it with me to my next Dr. appointment.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to eat like a normal person again (well, in a healthy sense – I don’t actually want to eat like the typical normal person) but it is somehow freeing to see what appear to be pieces of my puzzle falling into place.
And George . . .