According to The Migraine Trust, migraines are the third most common disease in the world (behind dental caries and tension-type headache) with an estimated global prevalence of 14.7% (that’s around 1 in 7 people). Chronic migraine affects approximately 2% of the world population. Migraine affects three-times as many women as men, with this higher rate being most likely hormonally-driven.
Following a conference I went to I am going to focus this blog on the health of the gut in relation to migraines as there is some incredible research into the gut microbiome, IBS, Leaky Gut and food intolerances and the link with migraines.
One study found that migraine patients with a long headache history, recurrent episodic headache attacks, and anxiety were more likely to have IBS. There are many more studies linking gastrointestinal health and brain related issues. It has long been known that the gut microbiota is connected to the brain via the gut brain axis and is influenced by several factors including dietary habits, stool consistency and frequency.
So what can you do? It is important to find out what foods you are intolerant too, the main culprits are wheat/gluten and dairy. If you get any bloating or abdominal pain it is best to avoid these items for at least 4 weeks and see how your symptoms change. Write a food diary over the 4 weeks and see if your migraines improve alongside any IBS symptoms. IBS is a massive subject and has been covered in another blog. Other foods that can trigger migraines are cheese, red wine, peanuts, coffee and citrus fruits. The aim is to reduce any items that cause a reaction and allow the gut to heal.
You may find you have what we call gut dysbiosis which is defined as the situation where potentially pathogenic bacteria outnumber beneficial bacteria, among other things driving the immune system towards inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to migraines so it is best to keep any inflammation down. Certain food types and also lead to inflammation such as red meat, dairy and a diet high in sugar or saturated fats. Foods that are anti-inflammatory are your Omega 3 rich foods like oily fish (salmon, herring), flaxseed and walnuts for example.
One area of helping with IBS is to improve gut microbiota diversity, this can be achieved with a focus on including various fibre-rich foods such as vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and wholegrains to increase diversity. In general, bacteria feed on fibre, which was eaten in large quantities by our ancestors.
Another way to improve gut health and is essential if you have had any antibiotics or stress is a big factor in your life as stress can also affect the gut microbiome. Is to take a multi strain probiotic. As already discussed, various studies have shown how brain health is influenced by probiotics through many pathways that connect the gastrointestinal tract with the central nervous system. If you don’t want to take a probiotic supplement there are certain probiotic foods that you can include in your diet like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and miso.
I mentioned leaky gut earlier alongside IBS and there is research to show that people with IBS can also have what we call leaky gut. This is where the villi in the small intestine are worn down and therefore unable to properly protect entry into the bloodstream, possibly leading to allergies and immune reactions. These can also lead to migraines. In a recent publication of ICHAN it has highlighted a bacteria called Akkermansia muniniphila can replenish the gut lining by degrading mucus. This degradation step generates nutrients for other bacteria that can then produce beneficial substrates, notably butyrate. It is this compound that feeds the gut epithelial cells and prevents ‘leaky gut’. I am sorry if this is a bit technical but I wanted to show you how amazing these different bacteria are and the importance of having a diverse microbiome is as they all have different jobs to do.
The main areas to look at with regards to gut and migraine is to:-
Remove foods that cause an irritation which can be bloating, abdominal pain, loose stools, heart burn for example.
Make sure you are eating foods to help your microbiome
Take a multi strain probiotic
It is worth seeing a nutritionist about this connection as we can do tests for any food intolerances and also see what your microbiome is and if it is missing anything. We can then help you heal your gut and hopefully reduce any migraines.