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.

Regarding TRPA1 channels and trigeminal pain sensing neurons – lots more to read later: trigeminal pain sensing neurons TRPA1 channels Substance P .

History note: Substance P was one of the first neuropeptides/ brain proteins discovered and it was initially purified in powder form and so was called Substance P for powder. (Neuropeptide Substance P and the Immune Response)

/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.  Lack of sleep for adults seems to negatively affect reasoning and verbal performance more than short term memory. (3)
  • 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)

*Modern laptops or smartphones emit bluelight which may inhibit sleep. (1) Wearing blue light blocking glasses in the evening for any screen time may help reduce the effect. 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: (2).

**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. 

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./

  1. Dustin Eves, Do Computer Screens Emit UV Light? techwalla.com, https://www.techwalla.com/articles/do-computer-screens-emit-uv-light
  2. Do Blue Light Blocking Glasses Really Work? 2018, nymag.com,     http://nymag.com/strategist/article/blue-light-blocking-glasses-work.html
  3. Conor J Wild, Emily S Nichols, Michael E Battista, Bobby Stojanoski, Adrian M Owen; Dissociable effects of self-reported daily sleep duration on high-level cognitive abilities, Sleep, , zsy182, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsy182

Brain cells and aging

Within the majority of the brain the type of brain cells that send nerve signals generally do not get replaced, however they also generally don’t lose function. Dementia – loss of memory and other cognitive skills – is not a normal part of healthy aging. Age related forgetfulness has to do with loss of the connections between brain cells but the brain cells remain functional – so continuing to take part in learning and social activities may help prevent dementia and forgetfulness by helping to maintain current connections between brain cells and add new connections formed during learning or socializing. 

And yet Alzheimer’s dementia now “afflicts 5% to 10% of the U.S. population over the age of 65 and as much as 45% of the population over 85.” (page 694, Neuroscience, 6th. edition, 1)

Research for medications for Alzheimer’s treatment have focused on reducing the levels of certain types of protein that collect in the damaged areas of the brain of a patient with the condition, however even if successful at reducing the amount of the protein the medications have not been found very helpful for restoring the patient’s cognitive health. (previous post) People with normal brain function also can have excess of the protein and it is also found in the brains of people with autism disorder – confusing, yes. Adequate quality sleep may help the brain waste removal system keep the levels of excess protein from building up to damaging amounts. (previous post on sleep and the glymphatic system)

Things that may increase risk include chronic stress and the excess cortisol and inflammatory oxidative stress chemicals production. Moderate exercise may help reduce stress and promote detoxification of inflammatory chemicals. Staying socially and mentally active also may be protective of brain function. Prevention is the best medicine for conditions that cause irreversible degenerative changes such as the damage in Alzheimer’s Disease. Learning about new foods and recipes and then making healthy meals to share with others can be a way to combine physical and mental activity and gain from nutrients that help detoxify inflammatory oxidative stress chemicals. (previous post, Foods for beneficial T-cells) – (Nrf2 promoting foods)

T cells are a type of blood cell with immune system functions. Beneficial T cells can help clear excess protein found in Alzheimer’s (2) while other types can increase inflammation and the types can transform based on the level of oxidative stress chemicals that are present so having antioxidants and other phytonutrients in daily meals can help signal the T-cells to take the beneficial forms instead of the inflammatory forms. (The non euphoria producing endogenous cannabinoid 2-AG (acts at the CB2 receptor, somewhat similar to CBD) may also help signal T cells towards the less inflammatory type, and reduce migration of them. page 96)

Nrf2 is a gene and protein that help promote the more beneficial types of T cells and help the immune system in other ways and also promote our own production of antioxidants for reducing the oxidative stress chemicals that are a natural waste product left from energy metabolism – when blood sugar is turned into a usable form of energy.

The long story is complicated, the short story remains,

  • include moderate exercise most days of the week,
  • have adequate sleep, 6-8 hours/night, ideally with complete darkness, blackout curtains and cover the light from an electric bedside alarm clock (put it in a nearby drawer or cover it with something),
  • get some natural sunshine or full spectrum light during the day if possible (may help with vitamin D, bioactive sulfate, and circadian rhythm metabolism within the body which includes production of melatonin,
  • stay mentally and socially active,
  • reduce stress when possible and/or practice relaxation techniques,
  • drink adequate water and regularly eat a good variety of colorful fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and include omega 3 fatty acid sources on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Clean air quality is also important. Formaldehyde (from secondhand smoke or even excessive use of decorative candles), and other air pollutants (released by plastics or new carpeting/flooring for example) can collect in poorly ventilated buildings. See this post for more information about formaldehyde sources and ways to reduce it: Formaldehyde: Health Risks, and Environmental and Dietary Sources.(effectiveselfcare.info)
  • Adequate water, not getting dehydrated regularly, is important enough to repeat because dehydration allows toxins within the body, including formaldehyde, to collect, instead of being removed by the glymphatic/lymphatic and vascular system, and to then be excreted by the kidneys. Brain Formaldehyde is Related to Water Intake Behavior, Ting Li, et al, 2016, (PubMed) A discussion of how much water is typically needed for health each day, and how much protein to eat for basic needs without being too much for long term kidney health, is available in a previous post: Make Every Day Kidney Appreciation Day. (effectiveselfcare.info)

More of the long story – the Cannabinoid Receptor Type 2 is also activated by a phytonutrient called beta-caryophyllene (BCP) which is found in many aromatic herbs and spices including: oregano, cinnamon,  clove , rosemary,  thyme, black pepper, (4), and copaiba oil. (5) Benefits may include reducing inflammation and pain, anti-anxiety, anti-cancer, (4), and protection of the brain by helping reduce increased activity after brain trauma which can lead to scar like tissue walling off the area of trauma instead healing.(5)

The problem in Alzheimer’s may not be the protein itself but instead the cells that over-actively making it in response to inflammatory signals so the solution would be not trying to remove excess protein but to stop the production of excess protein by signaling the overactive cells that all is well again, stop walling off the supposed injury. Formalin, a more dilute buffered form of formaldehyde was the toxin used to create inflammation in an animal based study of the potential benefits of beta-caryophyllene. A dose of 5 mg/Kg purified beta-caryophyllene essential oil given by mouth (rather than by an injection) was found to help reduce inflammatory pain from the formalin. (4) For a 75 kilogram adult that would be a capsule with 375 milligrams of the purified oil.

The herb rosemary is pine needle like plant that has been used as a pain killer in traditional folk medicine for arthritis pain and was thought of a s a memory aid. Studies more recently have found the essential oil beneficial for improving memory. (6)  **Use care when purchasing essential oils, some are intended only for external use either on the skin when diluted in a small amount of milder oil such as almond oil for massage or topical pain relief, or as an aromatic for scent (example, put a few drops on a cotton ball that is attached to a fan or on the outlet of a humidifier to circulate the aroma through a room).

/Disclosure: 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.  Neuroscience, 6th Edition, Editors D. Purves, G.J. Augustine, D. Fitzpatrick, W.C. Hall, A.S. LaMantia, R.D. Mooney, ML. Platt, L.E. White, (Sinauer Associates, Oxford University Press, 2018, New York) (Barnes&Noble)
  2. Anna Mietelska-Porowska and Urszula Wojda, “T Lymphocytes and Inflammatory Mediators in the Interplay between Brain and Blood in Alzheimer’s Disease: Potential Pools of New Biomarkers,” Journal of Immunology Research, vol. 2017, Article ID 4626540, 17 pages, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/4626540. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jir/2017/4626540/
  3. edited by Karsten Sauer, Klaus Okkenhaug, Lipid Signaling in T Cell Development and Function, Frontiers Media SA, Nov 12, 2015 page 96
  4. A.-L.Klauke, I.Racz, B.Pradier, et al., The cannabinoid CB2 receptor-selective phytocannabinoid beta-caryophyllene exerts analgesic effects in mouse models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. European Neuropsychopharmacology, Vol. 24, Issue 4, April 2014, Pages 608-620, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924977X13003027
  5. Guimarães-Santos A, Santos DS, Santos IR, et al. Copaiba Oil-Resin Treatment Is Neuroprotective and Reduces Neutrophil Recruitment and Microglia Activation after Motor Cortex Excitotoxic Injury. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2012;2012:918174. doi:10.1155/2012/918174. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3291111/
  6. Rachel Hosie, Surge in Rosemary Sales as Aromatic Herb Found to Boost Memory, May 19, 2017, independent.co.uk,  https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/rosemary-sales-surge-herb-boost-memory-holland-barrett-a7745231.html