Your gut microbiome is home to trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms. These microbes are essential for digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function. And while the gut microbiome primarily exists within the intestines, it also has a significant impact elsewhere in the body — including your brain. There’s mounting evidence that suggests an altered gut microbiome may be a contributing factor in migraines. As such, there have been proposed links between migraine headaches and dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbiota) and increased intestinal permeability. In this article, we’ll explore the link between migraines and your gut microbiome as well as how you can balance your own personal ecosystem to avoid triggering factors in order to prevent future attacks.
What Is a Migraine?
A migraine is a neurological disorder characterized by recurring headaches and hypersensitivity. The pain of a migraine is typically throbbing, unilateral, and pulsatory. It is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia. Other symptoms can include fatigue, irritability, restlessness, sensitivity to loud noise, and difficulty concentrating. Migraines are believed to be linked to both genetic and environmental factors, such as stress or fasting. Certain foods and beverages may also trigger migraines in susceptible individuals. These include alcohol, caffeine, aspartame, excess amounts of carbonated drinks, monosodium glutamate, tyramine found in red wine, and nitrates in processed meat.
The Gut-Brain Connection: How Your Gut May Be Contributing to Migraines
A growing body of evidence suggests that the state of your gut microbiome can have a significant impact on the state of your health — including your neurological health. While the gut microbiome is primarily found within the digestive system, it also has a presence in the blood. Research suggests that communication between the gut and the brain happens via the vagal nerve, which runs from the gut to the brain. This neural pathway may be responsible for transmitting messages about the state of your microbiome as well as feelings of wellness. While the precise mechanisms involved in the gut-brain connection are still being explored, researchers believe that the following conditions may be affected by alterations in the microbiome: - Mood and anxiety disorders - Migraine headaches - Neurodegenerative diseases - Sleep disorders - Child development disorders - Food allergies and intolerances - Autism spectrum disorders
Discovering the Link Between Migraines and Your Gut
Gut malabsorption is a condition that occurs when the digestive tract is unable to properly absorb nutrients from food. In some cases, gut malabsorption can lead to nutrient deficiencies that can cause symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, and migraines.
One study found that migraine sufferers have a significantly lower percentage of healthy gut microbes than healthy controls. This suggests that a disrupted microbiome could be a potential trigger or risk factor for migraines. Moreover, migraine sufferers who took probiotic supplements saw improvements in their symptoms. These supplements are thought to have altered the microbiome and may have helped to alleviate migraines by reducing intestinal permeability (see below). In another study, patients with migraine-associated headaches were given a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) — in other words, they received a sample of healthy poop. The patients who received the FMT experienced reductions in their migraine frequency, as well as improvements in their quality of life.
Intestinal Permeability and Migraines
As mentioned above, one hypothesis behind the connection between migraines and your gut is a compromised intestinal barrier. This barrier is a layer of cells that forms a semi-permeable wall around your intestines to protect you from harmful toxins and pathogens. When this barrier is disrupted, toxins and microbes can cross into your bloodstream, triggering an immune response. This can lead to a wide range of symptoms and health issues, including migraines. The following factors may contribute to this issue: - Malnutrition - Excess alcohol consumption - Too much caffeine - An unhealthy diet - Stress - Parasites - Medications - Hormonal changes - Infection
Dysbiosis and Migraines
Dysbiosis occurs when harmful bacteria outnumber the beneficial microbes in your gut. These bacteria are thought to produce substances called “obligate metabolites” that trigger migraines. The types of harmful microbes that trigger migraines are highly individualized and can only be identified by taking a sample of a person’s stool. After collecting a sample, researchers analyze it to determine what types of bacteria are present and at what concentrations. The presence of “bad” gut microbes has been linked to a variety of health conditions, including migraines. In one study, researchers took stool samples from migraine sufferers and healthy controls. They found that people with migraines have intestinal microbiota that can promote the production of “obligate metabolites” that can trigger migraines. They also identified specific types of microbes associated with migraines.
The gut-brain connection is a two-way street. Whatever happens in one part of your body can have an impact on the other. The gut microbiome is heavily influenced by diet and lifestyle choices, which can either promote beneficial bacteria or stimulate harmful microbes. It’s important to note that not everyone is equally susceptible to dysbiosis or the triggering effects of certain microbes. Some people may be more vulnerable to certain conditions and less responsive to others. You can protect and promote your gut health by eating a balanced diet. Avoid sugary foods and processed sweets, as well as excess amounts of caffeine, alcohol, and processed meats. Avoid fasting, particularly if you have frequent migraines, and consider supplementing vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and magnesium to compensate for any nutrient malabsorption. A quality probiotic may be beneficial as well. Remember that the gut-brain connection is two-way street, taking steps to support your gut health can have wide-ranging benefits for your whole body and mind.