Migraines and the Bacterial Microbiome: Are Probiotics a Solution?

For those of you who suffer migraines (or know someone who does): I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for an article relating those damn headaches to the gut biome.  (You knew it had to be coming…)  Considering that migraine is the 3rd most common illness in the world[i], I reckon many of you will be really interested in this. .

In 2016, research was published which showed that migraine sufferers have more bacteria (especially in the mouth) which produced the gas, nitric oxide, a known migraine trigger.  This was an association only – not proof – but it was a great first step in that it potentially explained why some people are more susceptible to the headaches and also, why certain foods (like chocolate and wine) may be problematic.[ii]

It turns out that when bacteria in the GI tract break down nitrates (such as those found in many foods, including some kinds of hotdogs), the nitrates are converted to nitric oxide which dilates blood vessels.  (It is already known that medications which contain nitrates (which are given for angina or heart failure) trigger migraines.)

This most recent study involved examining the bacteria from oral (172) and fecal (1996) samples from migraine sufferers.  In both types of samples, the bacteria that break down nitrates were at slightly higher levels than in the normal controls.  The researchers next step is to look at how foods affect blood levels of nitric oxide.

Some good news:  another 2019 study[iii] was conducted on 100 people with migraines (50 with episodic, 50 with chronic); half received a placebo, half received a probiotic.  The results were incredibly significant, and showed that those with episodic migraine, who received the 14 strain probiotic (which contained Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Bacillus subtilis) for 10 weeks had dramatic improvement:  “After a 10-week intervention, among episodic migraineurs the mean frequency of migraine attacks significantly reduced in the probiotic group compare to the placebo group…A significant reduction was also evident in the migraine severity…Episodic migraineurs who received the probiotic also showed significant reduction in abortive drug usage per…while there was no significant changes within the placebo group.”

Those with chronic migraines, who took the probiotic for 8 weeks, had equally dramatic improvement compared to controls:

“The frequency of attack fell by 45% among those with chronic migraine and by 40% among those with episodic migraine. For a reduction in migraine intensity, the corresponding figures were 31% and 29%.”[ii]

For those interested, the probiotic the experimental group was given was 2 capsules daily of Bio-Kult.

Now that I know a relationship between the gut biome and migraines is likely, I will be sure to watch out for ongoing research to share with you all.


[i] https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/

[ii] https://www.news-medical.net/health/-Is-There-a-Link-Between-Migraine-and-The-Gut-Microbiome.aspx

[iii] Jahromi, SR, et al. The effects of a multispecies probiotic supplement on inflammatory markers and episodic and chronic migraine characteristics: A randomized double-blind controlled trial.Cephalalgia 2019;39(7) https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102418820102

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