Migraine headaches are a common, often chronic and recurring condition. Though I have only ever had one migraine headache myself, I remember how bad it felt and so I can understand how devastating recurring migraine headaches could be. In my post Can a leaky gut cause migraines? I discuss a possible link between gut health and the occurrence of migraine headaches. Here I discuss the findings of a recently published literature review that supports this link.
The review explains that people that have migraine headaches are also more likely to have digestive disorders, such as, but not limited to, inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease. They go on to suggest there may also be a link between having colic as a baby and suffering with migraines in later life.
One connection between the gut and the brain is the so called gut-brain axis. A two way communication, that may occur via the vagus nerve, other nerves, the blood or the immune system.
Gut microbes and the gut-brain axis
The gut lining is a thin layer of cells that are held together by proteins called tight junctions. This layer of cells forms a pervious barrier that prevents entry to harmful microbes and toxins. Whilst allowing through the nutrients that our body needs.
Having a healthy and diverse population of microbes in the gut helps to keep the gut lining cells healthy and the tight junctions intact. This is important since scientists believe that the permeability of the gut lining may be a factor in the gut-brain axis.
Microbes in the gut may influence brain function possibly by increasing production of certain chemicals that affect the blood-brain barrier. Research shows that certain gut bacteria can increase the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, one of the feel good chemicals in the brain. In this way it is also thought that certain bacteria may have anti-depressant effects.
We know that supplementing with probiotics (live beneficial bacteria) has benefits for gut health. In fact, brain imaging studies have shown probiotics can also affect the brain. Eating food containing probiotics for four weeks changed the activity in certain parts of the brain.
Gut microbes and migraine headaches
A healthy population of gut bacteria likely has a key role in the gut-brain axis. Whilst evidence suggests that an imbalance of bacteria, or dysbiosis, may be associated with neurological problems such as migraine headaches. Hence the link between digestive disorders and migraines.
Researchers suggest that increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, may provoke an inflammatory response that may trigger a migraine headache. In fact, there is evidence that reducing intestinal permeability may reduce migraine incidence in certain people. Specifically those people that have both digestive problems and migraine headaches.
Probiotics and migraine headaches
Strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are beneficial and help to improve the gut barrier. Possibly by improving the stability of the tight junctions between the cells. Which reduces the permeability of the gut lining.
There are not so many studies on probiotic use in migraineurs. But, in a study of 40 people that had migraines, everyone received a mixture of nutrients that included vitamins, minerals, herbs and probiotics for three months. After this time the participants reported significantly improved quality of life, and 80% had a near total alleviation of their migraine headaches.
In another study, 29 migraineurs took 2g of a multispecies probiotic supplement, for twelve weeks. After which time 67% of participants reported they had significantly less frequent and less intense migraines.
The review researchers mention that probiotic use had only mild side effects reported, including constipation, nausea, bloating or diarrhoea. They conclude that large scale randomised controlled trials are warranted to evaluate the safety and efficacy of probiotics for prevention of migraine headaches.