Migraines: Relief Might Lie in the GutTuesday Dec 6, 2022
How poor gut health can be linked to migraines
Living with Migraine Pain
Anyone who has experienced a migraine or who has seen a loved one suffer from one knows how debilitating they can be. For those individuals, life is a constant battle to keep these intense episodes of pain, nausea, and sometimes visual distortions at bay. Left with few choices to help manage their symptoms, both in the classical healthcare system as well as in alternative systems like functional medicine and naturopathic medicine, migraine sufferers struggle to find solutions. The future is beginning to look bright, however, as science is now looking to a new arena for possible therapies and solutions: the microbiome.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Brain
Keeping a healthy gut is important for overall health in general. So how does gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the healthy populations of microbes in the gut, affect those who are susceptible to migraines? It turns out, those individuals tend to have a higher prevalence of headaches in general. In 2016, when patients with celiac disease who were also migraine sufferers eliminated gluten from their diet for 6 months, they saw a dramatic improvement in their migraines. People with intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. This might be because their immune systems are reacting to bacteria escaping their intestines which causes a cascade of inflammation in different areas of the body.
This lends more weight to the healthy gut, healthy brain trend that is quickly gaining momentum. The more we understand about how our gut microbes can help take care of our nervous system, the better we can help to support that relationship. This can be done not only with healthy food but with making sure your gut has healthy microbes digesting that food.
How Brain Food helps lower overall inflammation and reduce migraines
We've known for decades that there are clear and common dietary triggers for migraines like chocolate and aged cheeses. However, more research has come to light recently on an entirely new connection between what you eat and how it may affect severe headache pain. The connection between the gut microbiome and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis, is seen as a superhighway of communication between the brain and the microbes in the gut. Turns out, it's not just what you eat, it's what microbes in your gut are digesting it, that factors into preventing severe headaches.
So we shouldn't be surprised when we find out that the diets that have been shown to be healthy for your microbiome in general, also help reduce the frequency of migraines. Diets that were higher in omega-3 fatty acids (eg., salmon, walnuts, and olive oil) actually helped reduce migraine occurrence compared with diets that were higher in the more unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids (eg., butter, steak, cheese).
The more inflammation there is in the body, the more often it presents as pain and a good way to combat this is a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods. This helps reduce the overall oxidative stress in the body, and thereby reduce the likelihood of experiencing a migraine. While we all know that a healthy diet is good for overall health, it does help to know that it is most likely helping to prevent severe headaches as well.
Can Probiotics Help?
Recently, probiotics have gained a lot of attention in not only helping to relieve chronic digestive distress, but in helping to positively affect the brain. Research on the effect of certain probiotic strains on migraines and other neurological conditions have gained momentum in the past decade. When choosing which probiotic strains to use to help prevent migraines, it would be wise to use an individualized approach. For those who have leaky gut, for instance, selecting probiotic strains that have been shown to help repair the intestinal lining would be a good place to start, strains such as:
For individuals who don't have leaky gut, crohn's disease, or irritable bowel syndrome, focusing on probiotic strains that help produce serotonin would be a good place to start. It's been known for decades that when an individual experiences a migraine, his or her serotonin levels are at an all-time low. And since a significant amount of our body's serotonin is produced by probiotic and beneficial microbes in our guts, choosing some of the many probiotic strains that do just that would be an obvious choice. Another approach that is often beneficial is to select probiotic strains that produce more of the metabolite butyrate since it has been shown to provide not only abdominal pain relief but also a general anti-inflammatory effect that might reduce overall pain.
Individualized approach and gut tests offer hope
It seems that even with all of the technological advances that we have adopted since the turn of the century, stress levels seem to be on the rise. Our environments are becoming more toxic and our lifestyles more sedentary. All of this makes it that much more difficult to manage chronic health issues, especially migraines. But more light is being shed on the gut microbiome and how much it can positively affect not only our overall health but that of our nervous system. And with an individualized approach to restoring and maintaining gut microbiome balance in each individual using probiotics, a greater hope for those who suffer from the chronic pain of migraine headaches lingers on the horizon.