Any number of triggers can bring on a migraine, including such different factors as drinking alcohol, experiencing a change in the weather, and not getting enough sleep. Now one researcher has determined that these common migraine triggers and a host of others can produce oxidative stress in the brain. Such stress is marked by a build-up of damaging molecules called free radicals and can lead to pain.

In a study published recently in Headache, Jonathan Borkum, PhD, of the University of Maine’s Department of Psychology, evaluated 2,000 studies about migraine triggers published between 1990 and 2014 and found that nearly all common migraine triggers are capable of generating oxidative stress. Based on those findings, he stated he believes oxidative stress can be a unifying principle behind the types of triggers countless migraineurs experience.

Dr. Borkum notes in the study that a variety of agents that reduce oxidative stress have been shown to prevent migraine, including vitamin E, ginko biloba, and feverfew. Additionally, regular, moderate aerobic exercise and biofeedback, both of which have been shown to prevent migraine, also increase the anti-oxidant activity of the brain. Still, there is caution about relying on anti-oxidants as a treatment approach, as some studies have shown that common anti-oxidant supplements, such as vitamins A and E, have been linked to higher death rates in people who took them than in those who did not.

In an article in The Boston Globe about this study, Dr. Borkum noted more work needs to be done regarding migraine triggers, oxidative stress, and treatments.

“As with all theories, it (the study) points in the direction of more research that needs to be done,” he said.