The Gut Instinct Connected to the Brain
Migraines can lead to a multitude of gastrointestinal problems, especially nausea and vomiting; however, studies suggest that it could be working the other way, too. A dysfunctional gut may increase your risk of migraines, and a healthy gut can help prevent them.
The gut is a fantastic organism, with a “mind of its own” and the ability to “talk back” to the brain’s messages. The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” because it makes about 90% of serotonin and contains an intricate network of neurons, chemicals, and hormones that connect to the brain and other internal organs.
A Multitude of Studies
As we know from earlier studies, low serotonin is linked to migraines, which is why SSRI antidepressants are so common in treating migraines.
In 2014, research found that dysfunctional gut was associated with headaches. Mothers who had migraines were more likely to have colicky infants. People with frequent GI upset and problems like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, or celiac disease had greater migraine frequency.
A HEAD-hunt study out of Norway – with 51,000 participants – noted that people with GI symptoms were more likely to suffer from migraines or other headache, when compared to the group who did not have GI symptoms.
Activating the CNS and ANS
We already knowthat migraines can lead to changes in bowel habits and stomach upset. Digestion plays a huge role in migraines. The brain neurons will become “excited” at the onset of a headache, which leads to central and autonomic nervous system activation, which significantly interferes with messaging and chemical make-up in the entire body, especially the gut.
Furthermore, the gut microflora outnumbers our brains cells 10:1. New research has found that the microflora can influence diseases like:
The above are linked by the chemical and neuronal connection between gut and brain.
Migraines and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
In a study with over 125,000 participants, scientists found that 60 out of every 1000 IBS sufferers also had headaches, compared to 22 out of every 1000 people who did not have IBS.
IBS is a gut condition characterized by:
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Changes in bowel habits
- Increased intestinal permeability
In some larger scale studies, there was a 60% chance of headache presenting in IBS patients. Smaller studies showed a 25-50% chance.
Migraines and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
There are two forms of IBD:
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
Symptoms are similar, but they differ in the following ways:
- Crohn’s disease can happen anywhere between the mouth and rectum, but ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon
- Crohn’s disease can affect all layers of the bowel walls, but ulcerative colitis affects only the inner most lining
- Ulcerative colitis is continuous inflammation, whereas Crohn’s disease may present with healthy parts of the bowel interspersed with the diseased portions.
There are several triggers to IBD, including:
- Antibiotic overuse
Do the above look similar to the migraine triggers I have discussed in previous posts? They should, especially stress and infection. Is it any wonder that gut dysfunction is directly associated to migraines?
In one study, 30% of patients with IBD reported having migraines. Migraines are noted to be more prevalent in Crohn’s disease than ulcerative colitis
What is Next?
How do we respond to this connection? Well, the first thing you can do is remove triggers like:
- Processed foods
- Refined carbs
- Sugar or corn syrup
Eliminating food allergens often results in drastic improvement of migraines and gut problems. Studies from the last 5 decades will confirm this finding; however, these studies could never explain why patients would benefit so much when there was no initial response to allergy testing.
It is because foods can take up to three days to cause problems!
We need to pay closer attention to the gut when treating migraines since it is clear there is a connection.
Start with the elimination diet to help your gut detoxify, which will make it easier to absorb the good vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly. As with all health changes, however, be sure to talk to your provider first.