Migraines, TRP channels and cinnamon

Cinnamon, may help people with diabetes have better blood sugar control, (about 1/2 teaspoon per day which is quite a bit, try it stirred into hot breakfast cereal perhaps), however for people with a tendency to have migraines it may be a cause or become a cause if eaten regularly. Migraines can become more sensitized to things after long term use or certain chemicals can be triggers possibly due to overactivity of TRP ion channels. 

Cinnamon contains the phytonutrient cinnamaldehyde which can activate TRPA1 channels.  Environmental chemicals may also be irritants that can cause migraines due to activation of TRPA1 channels; including “environmental irritants and industry pollutants, such as acetaldehyde, formalin,(formaldehyde), hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorite, isocyanates, ozone, carbon dioxide, ultraviolet light, and acrolein (a highly reactive α,β-unsatured aldehyde present in tear gas, cigarette smoke, smoke from burning vegetation, and vehicle exhaust) [3745]” (1) Older computer monitors may emit ultraviolet light but not modern laptops or smartphones. They do emit bluelight which may inhibit sleep. (2)

In the last post I mentioned that wearing blue light blocking glasses in the evening for any screen time. It has been found helpful to prevent sleep difficulties to wear them during the three hours prior to trying to go to sleep. The blue light blocking glasses are not needed for use throughout the day however. Eyestrain from a long day working with a light screen may cause dry itchy eyes and eyedrops for moisture and taking occasional breaks may help prevent that problem. Read more: (4).

The tip about keeping gel packs in the freezer for use as a cold compress for the forehead that I mentioned for insomnia in the last post is something that I have found helpful in the past for migraines. I tried it recently for insomnia after learning in the course about sleep and neurobiology that a “biothermal device” had been found helpful in sleep lab studies for patients with insomnia. (Sleep, Neurobiology, Medicine and Societycoursera.org)

The drawing suggested they had an electric blanket type compress size cooling device that laid over the forehead and slightly over the ear area, so a little bigger than a gel pack designed for sprained ankles. However a gel pack for sprained ankles is already at stores and electric cooling biothermal devices are not yet available to my knowledge. The point – my trial use with a freezer gel pack for insomnia was very helpful at slowing my thoughts and helping my body reach a relaxed state fairly quickly. I didn’t immediately go to sleep but it did seem to help. I’ve tried it several times now and one night got another out of the freezer when I was awake but sleepy in the middle of the night. 

Throughout the history of science discoveries there have been many researchers who try things for themselves or discover things because of their own health issues or a patient with a unique problem. Migraines are very painful and medication can be expensive and may lead to rebound headaches when used too often – if migraines last three days and you have one twice a week than how helpful can four migraine pills a month be? Proper references for citing other’s work is important and the gel pack idea is one I tried based on the biothermal device idea. A different research team found a cooling plastic cap helpful for insomnia, which also sounds like it is based on some sort of cooling electric blanket effect. (gizmodo) Pain hurts and insomnia can increase risks for hypertension, diabetes, epileptic seizures, and also migraines.

Cinnamon, tasty, but not for me, it causes migraines for me. Read labels if you suspect it might be a migraine trigger, it may be added to herbal tea in addition to baked goods or breakfast cereals. Food triggers for migraines generally cause symptoms for me the next day or within 8-12 hours or so. Chemical irritants such as ozone, formaldehyde, or pollutants in cigarette smoke that are inhaled may cause migraines sooner, within a few hours or less sometimes for me. Additional information here: Tips for Avoiding Migraine Triggers, WebMD, getting adequate sleep is one of the tips.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

  1. Benemei S, De Cesaris F, Fusi C, Rossi E, Lupi C, Geppetti P. TRPA1 and other TRP channels in migraine. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2013;14(1):71. doi:10.1186/1129-2377-14-71. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3844362/
  2. Dustin Eves, Do Computer Screens Emit UV Light? techwalla.com, https://www.techwalla.com/articles/do-computer-screens-emit-uv-light
  3. Do Blue Light Blocking Glasses Really Work? 2018, nymag.com,     http://nymag.com/strategist/article/blue-light-blocking-glasses-work.html
  4. Tips for Avoiding Migraine Triggers, WebMD,   https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/avoiding-migraine-triggers#1

Sleep and health

The sleep/wake cycle impacts health in many ways. The hormone melatonin has become more familiar as it now more available over the counter as a supplement that may help with sleep. It may help with getting to sleep – but timing – when it is taken, and how much – not an excess, are important factors, and it may not help with staying asleep. Sleep and wake are very complex processes within the brain and body, with many chemical signals causing activation or inhibition of different areas of the brain which then signal activation or inhibition of body functions. Reviewing all of them is beyond the scope of this post – including just the summary points is my goal.

  • Insomnia seems to be a hyperarousal of the system, both the brain and body remain more metabolically active than within normal sleep causing difficulties falling asleep and then leaving the person lest rested after sleeping because it was never reaching deeper relaxation of the brain’s activity levels. The hyperarousal tends to continue during the day so the person with insomnia may be irritable and not able to concentrate as well but may not feel tired or sleepy as might be expected after missing that many hours of sleep. The risk with ongoing insomnia though is the person is in need of deeper sleep and accidents may be more likely to occur in physical activity or in oversight of details in mental activity, especially when there are multiple demands on attention.
  • The wake/sleep cycle is essential for health for many reasons but the overall point is that different functions of metabolism occur when awake than during sleep, and both are important to overall health. Repair and detoxification, roughly, are the focus of the sleep hours and energy use and activity and learning/creating new connections between brain and nerve cells are the focus of wake hours.
    • Sleep and wake have different specialized genes and proteins for metabolism – what gets made or what gets cleaned up and reused or excreted/detoxified. Wakefulness activates genes that are used in active metabolism, using sugar for energy, and sleep activates genes that are important for using fats for building cell membranes or myelin sheaths around nerve cell connections.
    • Chronic sleeplessness can cause insulin resistance and lead to increased risk for diabetes or metabolic syndrome, whether the sleeplessness was due to inadequate hours of sleep because of a busy schedule, or due to poor sleep quality because of insomnia or other health problems or overuse of caffeine or stimulating lights late at night. More about insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome is available in a TEDmed video talk about obesity and insulin resistance. A doctor suggests that the approach medical research has taken in looking at obesity as a cause of insulin resistance may be wrong – insulin resistance may lead to obesity. Peter Attia-What If We’re Wrong About Diabetes?, TEDmed.
    • Hypertension, high blood pressure, is also a risk of chronic sleep problems.
    • Add up the problems of reduced myelin sheath production, blood sugar and blood pressure problems, and it is easy to see that long term risks of poor sleep quality may include dementia whether typical forgetfulness type due to loss of connections between brain cells or the loss of brain cells in Alzheimer’s dementia.

Solutions vary depending on the type of sleep problem however general tips for an ideal sleep setting include:

  • A cool room temperature – the body temperature is at its lowest during sleep.
  • Complete darkness – for the pineal gland to make melatonin the use of a light blocking eye mask on long airplane rides may help provide deeper sleep. In the home setting or when traveling cover alarm clock lights or other digital lights during the night and close curtains. Complete light blocking curtains are ideal.
  • Stop using digital screen devices about a half hour to an hour before intended time to try to sleep. Additional tips about electric light: Digital screens are a very bright type of light and blue lens glasses are available for eye protection for anyone who spends many hours per day using laptops or smartphones. The light settings on the device may also offer a dimmer evening setting which may help reduce eyestrain.
  • Avoid coffee or other caffeine containing stimulants for about four to six hours prior to intended time to try to sleep.
  • Have a regular time to go to sleep and wake up each day. The average person does need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night and teenagers and toddlers ideally may need 10 hours of sleep for best cognitive performance and physical health.
  • Avoid high fat, hard to digest meals or snacks in the hours prior to intending to try to sleep.
  • A cool compress on the forehead or over the eyes or on top of the head may help relax sooner if insomnia and racing thoughts are a problem or feeling hot and jittery. Reusable gel packs designed for sprained ankles or other sore muscles can be kept in the freezer and then wrapped in a few layers of thin fabric to protect the skin from being overly chilled. The gel pack will eventually lose its coolness but use on the forehead may help slow down the metabolic activity of the brain, which then helps slow down signals to the body to be jittery – 20 to 30 minutes with a cool gel pack may help reach a more relaxed state before the pack is warm. Having several in the freezer could allow you to rotate the warm one with a chilled one if reawakening in the middle of the night is a problem. 
  • If reawakening in the middle of the night is a problem but you are still sleepy, try not to use any bright lights while visiting the bathroom or kitchen, etc. If wide awake, then it is recommended to just get up and do something for a while until feeling sleepy again rather than tossing and turning in bed and getting more anxious or jittery.
  • If reawakening in the middle of the night is consistently happening around 4:00 am then low serotonin levels may be a problem.  (University Health News) Taking the precursor to serotonin, 5HTP or the herbal St John’s Wort, may help provide your body with serotonin.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for sleep issues has been found to be as or more effective than sleep promoting medications while they are in use, and more effective at long term benefits even after the therapy or medication is no longer in use. Anxiety may be an issue but habits can also affect insomnia, naps and early bed times may disrupt sleep and staying awake during the day, and ideally getting some bright sunshine or full spectrum light during wake hours can help with the body’s 24 hour metabolic patterns. (CBT-I, National Sleep Foundation)

Environmental cues and genetic differences can effect sleep patterns. (Sleep, Neurobiology, Medicine and Society, coursera.org) (How Nature and Nurture Shape the Sleeping Brainnature.com)

There is more on this topic however this is an overview of the importance of sleep.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Duty to Warn

Duty to warn is phrase used in medical care regarding an ethical duty to warn patients or research participants or anyone at risk of the potential harm. My own health and my experience helping others has made me appreciate wellness and sharing what has helped or what can be harmful are things I feel ethically it is my duty to warn or inform anyone who might be interested. We are one – your pain is my pain and the Earth needs more health. It is hurting too.

Empathy – feeling emotionally connected can also feel painful, a short article discusses the idea of the pain that may occur with feeling compassion for other’s suffering:

The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe, (andrewboyd.com)

The words sympathy, empathy and compassion are used somewhat interchangeably however they can refer to slightly different things. In medical settings the care of patients can be affected positively or negatively by how the caregiver provides help. Research with patients receiving cancer treatment found that patients felt that empathy and compassion were beneficial while sympathy was perceived more negatively. Compassion was felt to be most beneficial by the patients. What is the difference? Sympathy seems to be regarded as pity-based remarks or attitude about the chronic illness that was offered without having been asked, with less of a feeling of being understood. Empathy may be closer to feeling emotionally understood and compassion included feelings that the caregiver was acting with love and kindness out of a altruistic – giving mindset. (3) The risks of rudeness in a medical setting and possible value of kindness is discussed in a review of a research study on rudeness in a neonatal clinic setting: A Message to you Rudy, about Rudeness, SGEM#227.

Feeling like there is a physical problem and being told that it must be hypochondria or mental illness is not as helpful as being told that a reason for the symptoms are unknown at this time. Chronic itch, chronic pain and other vague symptoms of inflammation may be labeled as psychosomatic instead of unknown cause. Overactive TRP channels can be involved in chronic itch and chronic pain and the variety of possible substances and other reasons for a flair up in symptoms can make it very difficult to notice the pattern. I would rather be told we don’t know what is causing your symptoms than to be told to see a talk therapist or to be prescribed medications for mental illness that may cause additional symptoms due to side effects. The following chart is something I created after noticing a pattern, a very complex pattern, in my own symptoms and researching what the connection might be —- TRP channels. Not all substances or factors would cause symptoms for all of the conditions or for all people with a certain type of condition, however they may in larger amounts, or they may when the symptomatic condition is in a more severe state of inflammation. In reading about patients with some types of chronic itch symptoms I could feel their itchiness and mental hurt when treated as just difficult patients with anxiety problems – anxiety other extreme itchiness perhaps.

More about chronic itch and inflammatory stress conditions is available within a longer page/chapter I wrote about G3:Relaxation & StressG3.5: Negative stress chemicals may cause symptoms like itching, migraines, pain or IBS. (effectivecare.info) Preeclampsia is a prenatal condition that can become life threatening for the woman and expected infant and it affects a significant percentage of pregnancies – more information about TRP channels and a physical position that might help reduce internal pressure on the channels is available in the section on G5: Preeclampsia & TRP Channels. It is a yoga style position that was recommended to reduce risk of a breech birth during my own pregnancies and I found it relaxing. (effectivecare.info) I feel a duty to warn – a duty to inform other expectant mothers about a simple strategy that might protect their infant from a potentially life-threatening condition.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

  1. Shah SK, Hull SC, Spinner MA, et al. What Does the Duty to Warn Require? The American journal of bioethics : AJOB. 2013;13(10):62-63. doi:10.1080/15265161.2013.828528. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4816221/
  2. Andrew Boyd, The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe, andrewboyd.com http://andrewboyd.com/the-agony-of-being-connected-to-everything-in-the-universe/
  3. Sinclair S, Beamer K, Hack TF, et al. Sympathy, empathy, and compassion: A grounded theory study of palliative care patients’ understandings, experiences, and preferences. Palliative Medicine. 2017;31(5):437-447. doi:10.1177/0269216316663499.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405806/
  4. Dr. Simon McCormick, SGEM #227: A Message to you Rudy, About Rudeness, Aug. 22, 2018, A Skeptic’s Guide to Emergency Medicine, http://thesgem.com/2018/09/sgem227-a-message-to-you-rudy-about-rudeness/