11 Reasons Why Migraines Are in the Gut
We know that migraines can wreak havoc on your gut, but a run-down gut can also increase migraine risk.
Here are eleven reasons why your gut can both trigger and prevent migraines:
1. A new study found that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) occurred in more than half of migraine patients and in about a third of headache patients (study link). This isn’t shocking, it’s well established that rates of IBS are higher in migraine patients and vice versa (study link).
Do I have IBS? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a generic term for having stomach discomfort or pain for at least three days per month (Medscape). It’s kind of like saying, “something is wrong with your gut, and we have no clue why.”
2. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients are 2.7 times more likely to have migraines (study link).
IBD is a generic term for chronic inflammation in the gut. IBD is poorly understood and is often misdiagnosed (study 1, 2). IBD is like saying, “there is some serious inflammation in your gut, and we don’t why.”
3. Gut disorders such as IBS or IBD are associated with a “leaky gut” and increased inflammation levels (study 1, 2). Migraines are associated with increased inflammation and the nerve associated with migraines can be triggered by inflammation (Study link).
4. The gut is considered the “second brain” because it is connected to the brain through an extensive network of neurons, hormones, and a highway of chemicals that influence our mood. For example, the gut is thought to produce the majority of our serotonin, which regulates happiness (research link). Low serotonin levels are found in migraine sufferers and medications that boost serotonin levels such as anti-depressants or triptans are used to treat migraines.
5. It’s a two-way street. Dysfunction in the central nervous system leads to dysfunction in the gut. This means a migraine could both trigger and be triggered by gut discomfort. (study link). The research also implies that a healthy gut could help prevent problems in the central nervous system from spiraling into a full-blown migraine.
6. Studies suggest that stress, the top migraine trigger, can release hormones in the central nervous system that travel down to the gut and cause inflammation. The inflammation markers can then travel back to the brain and disrupt brain neurochemistry, which makes people more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and migraines. Because this is a two-way street, the research suggests that a healthy gut will help control brain neurochemistry and controlling stress may improve gut function (article link—this is a great overview by the American Psychological Association).
7. This entire communication system between the brain and gut is called the autonomic nervous system. This autonomic nervous system is dysfunctional in migraine sufferers and can be treated with cryotherapy. You can learn the exact steps to improve autonomic function in my article: “Can The Iceman Freeze Migraines, Forever.”
8. A leaky gut is associated with increased food allergies (study link). The theory is that an inflamed gut may allow proteins to sneak by the gut and enter the blood stream; your body then identifies those food proteins as a problem, and you end up allergic to more foods (study link).
This could explain why migraine sufferers have been found to have significantly more allergic reactions to foods than the general population (study link).
9. An inflamed gut will not be able to effectively process vital nutrients for migraine prevention. Water, minerals, and nutrients such as ketones are critical for migraine prevention (migraine minerals article, ketones article).
10. The ability to detoxify amines, such as histamine and tyramine, depends on the health of your gut (study link). Amines are major migraine triggers that are found in aged meats, aged cheese, beer, wine, soy products, etc. In small quantities, amines may be harmless, however combining large quantities of amines in processed foods, such as pizza, is known to trigger migraines (full article).
11. In one migraine/IBS study, participants enjoyed a 44 percent drop in migraine attacks and a significant reduction in the length of their migraines after they eliminated personal food allergens (study link).
What should I do?
Reduce or eliminate the top triggers that affect the gut and migraines: dairy products, wheat, eggs, processed soy, processed corn, refined carbohydrates, sugar, corn syrup, and inflammatory foods (research 1, 2, 3, 4).
These studies ↑ note that we must remove top triggers (not just personal allergens) for the greatest number of patients with complete migraine remission. ALD 403 is a next generation migraine drug that is not yet available.
There are studies from the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s that have shown that eliminating top food triggers results in dramatic reductions in migraines (full article). However, these successful studies could not explain why some patients benefited from the elimination of foods that they showed no allergic reaction to during a standard IgE allergy test. An IgE allergy test only measures immediate reactions to food and does not explain why most food triggers took two to three days to trigger a migraine (book link).
Due to this controversy and despite the overwhelming success of elimination diets, “in the 1990s and the first ten years of this century, there has been almost no interest in studying the relationship between migraine and diet” (study link). A few recent studies on both IBS and migraine have found that an IgG allergy test can help identify food triggers. An IgG test shows delayed reactions to foods and may explain why food triggers can take two to three days to trigger migraines. However, the test is not completely accurate and the science behind why it works is poorly understood (study link, full study).
Both IgE and IgG allergy tests (or more recently the ALCAT test) can be helpful for finding individual triggers, but it is still necessary to eliminate the most common food triggers. Unfortunately, the exact science is poor on this subject and even though we’ve had incredible success with elimination diets, there is very little money being spent on the science behind healing the gut and eliminating migraines.
Critical attention must be paid to the gut, and because all migraine triggers that affect the health of the brain and central nervous system can affect the gut, we need to pay attention to all migraine triggers (guide link). My articles on ketones, migraine minerals, cryotherapy, and the top ways to eliminate migraines will help both the gut and migraine prevention.