Anyone who experiences migraines on a regular basis knows how painful they can be, not to mention the harrowing side effects — vomiting, nausea, blurred vision and sensitivity to light and sound — that come with them.
Some 12 percent of all Americans suffer from migraines, conditions that can last for several days and are three times more common among women than men.
As our understanding of the human microbiome expands, science is discovering new connections that link the microbes in our bodies to all sorts of health conditions, even migraines, according to a recent study in MSystems (an open access journal published by the American Society For Microbiology).
The nitrate trigger
To understand the relation between migraines and the microbiome, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine discovered a link in nitrates, common food additives used to preserve cured meats — think hot dogs — that are also found naturally in vegetables and in some medicines (heart drugs) and wines.
First, bacterial gene sequencing was used to uncover differences in 172 oral samples and some 2,000 fecal samples from healthy donors supplied by the American Gut Project.
This initial sequencing process found differing amounts of bacterial species based on whether donors suffered from migraines or not, yet the bacterial composition of both groups varied little.
The real breakthrough came when scientists used PICRUSt, a bioinformatics software tool, to analyze which genes were more likely to appear in migraines sufferers versus healthy folks.
That was where they discovered an increase in the number of genes that encode nitrate, nitrite and nitric oxide-related enzymes in patients who struggle with migraines. Plus, those genes associated with migraines were far more prevalent in oral samples.
A probiotic solution?
Interestingly, this discovery may lead to more targeted migraine treatments like a mouthwash or probiotic to restore the proper balance, according to Dr. Embriette Hyde, a co-author of the study as told to CNN. Could it be possible that probiotics could become a go-to treatment instead of migraine medication? Maybe some day…
This suggestion makes good sense, based on previous research that found probiotic strains of beneficial bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families were powerful enough to reduce tooth decay and thrush.