The Gut / Migraine Connection

Studies suggest that a dysfunctional gut increases your risk of migraines while a healthy gut can actually help prevent them.

The Gut Instinct Connected to the Brain

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.

Leaky Gut SyndromeAs 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.

Activating the CNS and ANS

We already know 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:

  • IBS
  • IBD
  • Depression
  • Migraines
  • Allergies

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
  • Bloating
  • 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
  • NSAIDs
  • Stress
  • Infection

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:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Wheat
  • Processed foods
  • Refined carbs
  • Sugar and corn syrup
  • Dairy

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.



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