Can another woman’s cycle trigger your menstrual migraine?

Can another woman’s cycle trigger your menstrual migraine?


As someone who experiences menstrual migraines–migraines that occur on the days leading up to and/or during menstruation–I’m always on the lookout for ways to reduce my risk of triggering one. For instance, I take magnesium daily. I stick to a regular bedtime. I try to keep stress in check. And I avoid hot dogs, wine and other food and beverages that have migraine-inducing compounds.

Now there may be one more way I can minimize my risk of experiencing a menstrual migraine: Avoid living with another woman who has menstrual cycles.

That’s the word from a new study in the journal Headache where researchers compared the frequency of menstrual migraines among 18 college-aged migraine sufferers with female roommates and 18 female migraine sufferers who lived alone over a three-month period.

What the results showed:

A full 50% of menstrual migraine sufferers who lived with other cycling women experienced period-related head-pounders during the study.

Just 16.7% of female migraineurs who lived alone experienced menstrual headaches during the same time.

Why would female migraine sufferers who live with other cycling women experience more frequent migraines? The researchers admit they don’t really know.

They ruled out the possibility that it’s because roommates might increase the prevalence of migraine triggers, such as a lack of sleep, a diet that includes headache-causing foods and stress. Simply co-habitating with another cycling woman was its own trigger independent of any other.

Their hunch is that perhaps it could come down to a phenomenon called “menstrual synchrony”–where women who live together tend to have menstrual cycles that sync up. It’s thought to be caused by scentless chemicals called pheromones present in sweat that send signals to other women, spurring their hormone patterns to become similar so they end up having their period and ovulating around the same times.

In fact, in this study, 44.4% of the female migraineurs menstruated on the same days as their roommate and 61.1% had migraines that coincided with their roommate’s period.

So, it may be that a female roommate’s own menstrual cycle is an additional hormone-related trigger to your own menstrual migraines.

However, the study authors also admit that the research on menstrual synchrony is far from conclusive–and the phenomenon may not even exist at all. For instance, one study from 1993 found that cohabitating lesbian couples didn’t show any kind of menstrual cycle syncing–a finding that stymies ardent menstrual synchrony believers.

Since this was a small study and the first of its kind to explore the relationship between menstrual migraines and co-habitation, it needs to be replicated to confirm the results and explore the link.

Till then, if you’re plagued with menstrual migraines and have a choice between living with a female cycling roommate or living alone, you might want to consider opting to go solo.

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