As bizarre as it may sound, preliminary evidence suggests that encouraging a healthy balance of friendly bacteria (probiotics) over harmful bacteria (pathogens) could be beneficial to those suffering with migraines.

A migraine is a headache caused by dilation of the blood vessels in and around the brain, and is often identified as being more painful than a 'normal' headache. Symptoms often include nausea, but all migraine symptoms vary from person to person. The causes of migraines can also vary, and are sometimes unknown. Research does suggest that migraines can be diet-related, and may hence be avoided by looking after the gut.

The substance Tyramine is widely believed to cause migraines. Tyramine can be found in foods such as chocolate, alcohol, and certain cheeses. It is also produced in the body by a bacteria called S. faecalis, which converts the amino acid tyrosine into tyramine. If the body's levels of good bacteria are low (find out more about 'dysbiosis'), S. faecalis is more able and likely to overgrow - and in turn produce more tyramine in the body which could lead to migraines.

Another bacteria that has been linked to migraines is Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). A 2002 study1 at the University of Milan found 18% of chronic migraine sufferers to be infected with the pathogen H pylori. When participants were given Lactobacilli probiotics in addition to the usual antibiotic treatment, intensity and frequency of headaches were significantly reduced; more so than in the group given the antibiotic treatment alone. Find out more about H. pylori here.

This research therefore suggests that supplementing with a reliable probiotic could decrease both frequency and intensity of migraines in the long-term. Research into this area, however, remains relatively sparse at present, and we would welcome larger human clinical trials on the topic.

1. The Associated Press, Study: Bacteria can help migraines, 04-27-2002, pp.A13

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