Just A Gut Feeling: New Study Indicates That Gut Bacteria May Be The Key To Migraines
By Kurtis Bright
Migraines May Come From Somewhere Far Away From The Skull
As more information emerges on how the balance of bacteria in the gut affects all functions of the body, more avenues are opened up to stunning new research. Probiotics, for instance, and how they help us to maintain a healthy biome in the gut has been shown to affect not only physical health, but mental health as well.
Now a breakthrough study has uncovered a possible link between gut bacteria and migraine headaches, news that could have big implications for diet, and help ease the debilitating pain migraines cause for millions of sufferers.
Foods high in nitrates were shown to work as a trigger for migraine sufferers, setting off the debilitating migraine attacks as their bodies process nitrate-laden foods, such as wine, processed meats, and leafy vegetables.
Interestingly, there has long been anecdotal evidence among migraine sufferers that these foods can set off attacks. Still thought, this is the first study to show what seems to be a solid link.
"There is this idea out there that certain foods trigger migraines - chocolate, wine and especially foods containing nitrates. We thought that perhaps there are connections between what people are eating, their microbiomes and their experiences with migraines," said study lead author Antonio Gonzalez of the University of California San Diego.
But perhaps counterintuitively, it's not that migraine sufferers are unable to process nitrates. Rather, it's that the levels of the necessary bacteria in the guts of migraine sufferes to do this processing are too high.
Most people have a certain limited level of the relevant bacteria. This in turn sets a limit on the rate at which the nitrates are processed: the migraine sufferers in the study showed sufficiently high levels that their bodies processed the nitrates much more quickly.
The result was blood vessels near the scalp and in the brain dilating more quickly, and thus causing migraines.
This dilation is normally a useful and even necessary process. As we break down nitrates in food, beginning with bacteria in the mouth and then the gut, they are then converted into nitric oxide in the blood stream. This chemical in turn dilates our blood vessels, it just happens much more quickly--and painfully--in migraine sufferers.
However we need nitric oxide: it helps our cardiovascular health and increases circulation.
Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, 80 percent of those who suffer from cardiovascular distress and who take nitrate-comtaining meds to treat it report severe headaches.
The study has made quite an impact already; even doctors who were not involved in the study were intrigued by Gonzalez and team’s findings.
"There’s something called a hot dog headache, where nitrates are suspected to be involved,” neurologist Dr. Brendan Davies told the Guardian. “This is interesting work, but would need to be confirmed."
Interesting indeed, and worthy of further study. As any migraine sufferer will tell you, they would gladly give anything to make the pain go away.