A stripe too far? Why your obsession with Breton tops could give you migraines

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Anna Brech
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We love Breton tops as much as the next woman, but we never stopped to consider the detrimental effect they could be having on our health.

Researchers from the University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMC) in the Netherlands have found a link between stripes and the potential for developing migraines or seizures.

Scientists discovered that even looking at static patterns made up of bars and lines can trigger a rise in neural activity, indicating a cause for debilitating headaches.

By attaching small electrodes to the scalps of volunteers, the UMC team were able to identify the way in which parallel lines sparked strong “gamma oscillations” in the brain, in a way that other images did not.

This impact can be provoked by a host of material objects caught up in the landscape of modern life,  from stripy tops to zebra crossings, barcodes, radiators and repetitive brickwork.

This grating effect is especially potent for people who are already sensitive to light. In the most severe cases, it can even lead to epilepsy.

“Our findings imply that in designing buildings, it may be important to avoid the types of visual patterns that can activate this circuit and cause discomfort, migraines, or seizures,” says Dr Dora Hermes, leading the research.

“Even perfectly healthy people may feel modest discomfort from the images that are most likely to trigger seizures in photosensitive epilepsy.”

Around one in five women and one in 15 men suffer from migraines in the United Kingdom, resulting in a loss of 25 million working days a year.

We guess we’ll be viewing our repertoire of stripy tops with a little more caution in the future...

Image: iStock


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.