Chilli peppers are providing scientists with vital clues on how to cure migraines.
Research has found there are striking similarities between what happens in the brain during a migraine and the way skin reacts to having chilli oil rubbed into it.
Now, scientists are using the way the body deals with chilli to develop migraine drugs.
They found that when chilli oil touches the skin, the capsaicin in the pepper causes the body to release calcitonin gene-related peptides, or CGRP, leading to an increase in blood flow to the affected area.
Biotechnology companies are now targeting a chemical released during a migraine that carries a ‘pain’ signal from nerve to nerve.
By blocking a nerve receptor from receiving the message, these companies hope to develop drugs that prevent debilitating attacks.
One company developing a migraine drug is Amgen. To test the chilli theory, researchers injected the proposed drug under the skin of patients who had chilli oil on their skin.
The drug blocked the CGRP that causes increased blood flow.
One theory is that migraines are caused by enlarged blood vessels.
And by blocking a receptor in the brain from receiving the message, migraines could be avoided completely, Peter Goadsby, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Headache Centre, told Bloomberg.
‘What these antibody approaches hope to do is to either block the receptor or mop up the CGRP itself,’ he said.
Despite being such a common problem, no drugs have been ‘developed specifically for the treatment of migraines’, Rob Lenz, who is leading the migraine drug development for pharmaceutical company Amgen.
‘They were developed as anti-epileptics, or blood pressure lowering agent,’ he told the website.
Currently, the most widely used medication for migraines is triptans, which constrict blood vessels in the brain to relieve swelling and pain. But these are only taken once migraines are in full swing.
Botox is also approved as a preventative treatment for migraines, though only for severe sufferers.
It is thought the new type of drug being developed would be for people who suffer migraines less often.