By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Researchers have put their heads together to show that sufferers of migraines, cluster headaches, tension headaches or other headache disorders are at greater risk of developing an under active thyroid condition called hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body can’t make sufficient thyroid hormones, causing symptoms such as mood swings, weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, constipation and irregular menstrual cycles.
“Our study is one of the largest studies published to date suggesting that headache disorders are a risk factor for the future development of hypothyroidism,” explains Andrew Martin, lead author of study by University of Cincinnati College of Medicine researchers.
The Fernald Study involved 8,412 people over a 20 year span and examined the health outcomes of residents living near a former uranium processing plant near Cincinnati, USA.
There was a 21 percent increase in those residents developing new onset hypothyroidism while those with possible migraine showed an increased risk of 41 percent, says Vincent Martin, co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Centre at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.
The data showed migraine sufferers were particularly susceptible to hypothyroidism and the most likely to develop this disorder, explains Vincent Martin. Migraine affects 3 million people in Australia (10-15%) with 23 percent of households having at least one migraine sufferer. Though rarely life-threatening, migraine and hypothyroidism both lead to decreased quality of life if not treated adequately.
“Similarities with previous studies were female gender, increasing age, obesity and hypothyroid-inducing medications” were associated with new onset hypothyroidism, says Susan Pinney, PhD, co-investigator and professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati.
Radiation is a known risk factor for developing hypothyroidism, but no association of uranium exposure and thyroid disease was found in the Fernald study, says Pinney. “Most of the radiation exposure to the community around Fernald came from radon gas, which would not cause thyroid cancer. Radiation exposure from the types of uranium dust released by the plant was relatively small,” she says.
“There are several proposed mechanisms that might explain the association between headache disorders and hypothyroidism” explains Andrew Martin. The immune system is activated by headaches and this could predispose the person to developing hypothyroidism in the future. “Stress induced headaches could further induce this as well as other environmental or genetic factors,” he said.
According to Vincent Martin, MD it is thought that the development of hypothyroidism in a headache patient might further increase the frequency of headache as past studies have found that treatment of hypothyroidism reduces the frequency of headache.
This study alerts medical practitioners to be more vigilant in testing for hypothyroidism in those with headache disorders.