When it comes to migraines, sex matters — so much so that migraines in men and migraines in women should be considered “different diseases altogether,” Harvard scientist Nasim Maleki tells Scientific American.
According to the article, women are as much as three times as likely as men to experience the debilitating headaches and their associated symptoms, including halos, auras and the smell of sulfur.
Maleki also found that in women with migraines, the posterior insula and the precuneus — areas of the brain responsible for motor processing, pain perception and visuospatial imagery — were “significantly thicker and more connected” than in men who have migraines. Additionally, the tissue in the posterior insula does not thin with age as it should. It “starts thick and stays thick,” the article says.
While Maleki doesn't know what this thickening means, she sees it as an indication that there are fundamental differences between the sexes vis-a-vis migraines.
“For treatment,” she said, “that knowledge could make a huge impact.”
Rings in a whale's ear
Just as rings in a tree's trunk can tell the story of that tree's life and the environmental conditions it faced, so can plugs of earwax chronicle the life of a whale.
In a recent Science Friday podcast, researchers Sascha Usenko and Stephen Trumble of Baylor University explained how the robust, waxy plugs can provide a record of a blue whale's health and illuminate such factors as pesticide exposure, stress and hormone levels, and sexual maturity.
Whales' blubber has been used to analyze pesticide exposure, but fat can indicate only whether the animal was exposed to certain contaminants. The earwax allows the researchers to find out when the exposure occurred.
“What we're able to do is to essentially go back in time,” the researchers said. “When we actually cut the ear plug in half, we can actually see the light and dark lamina, or the layers in there. The farther we go toward the center, the farther back in time we go.”
A major challenge has been acquiring the plugs, which is apparently more complicated than heading out to sea with a giant cotton swab. According to Usenko and Trumble, they get plugs only from dead whales, such as those that wash up on beaches.
Listen to the interview at www.sciencefriday.com.