A migraine is the number one cause of disability in the world and is defined as a brain disorder that involves a number of abnormal neuronal networks that interact at numerous levels of the nervous system [R]. That sounds pretty complex and rather scary, doesn’t it? And we often downplay migraines because they're “normal” and everybody gets them. While they are common, it's important to understand what causes them and therefore, how we can possibly prevent such debilitating times. Unfortunately, most migraines are labelled as having no identifiable underlying cause, but there are certainly some pathophysiological occurrences that have been shown to trigger the onset of a migraine.
For example, dehydration, dysbiosis, toxicity and, our favorite - stress, all may prelude, and therefore trigger, a migraine.
How many times do you get a migraine and think “Have I had enough water today?” If you´re not asking yourself that when you start getting a throbbing ache in your head, now is a good time to start. Dehydration is simply when the body doesn't have enough fluids (and electrolytes) to meet its needs. So why does this lead to pain in your head? When the body is dehydrated, the brain can physically contract (temporarily) and in doing so, pulling away from the skull [R]. This causes what is commonly known as a - dehydration migraine. The good news is, this type of migraine can easily be prevented and treated by taking in more fluids, and in particular fluids with electrolytes. Think - coconut water, lemon with salt, or your favorite natural and organic electrolyte mixture.
If you´re a nutrition enthusiast, then you’re probably well-aware of the importance of the gut microbiome in overall health. Having optimum levels of health-promoting bacteria in our gut is essential to well-being while the presence of too many disease-promoting bacteria is detrimental. Dysbiosis is characterized as any change to the microbial community in the gut that causes a negative imbalance between good and bad bacteria [R]. But how does this link to migraines?
Early studies suggested that inflammation in the gut could play an important role in the development of migraines. However, the link to gut bacteria still wasn't clear until recently. One study, published in 2019, showed that gut dysbiosis triggered a migraine in mice by up-regulating the levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) which is a cell-signaling protein involved in systemic inflammation [R]. Whoa!
Because of these findings, probiotics are logical compounds to study as potential cures for dysbiosis-induced headaches. Interestingly, one recent study found that a 14-strain probiotic mixture was effective in reducing migraines by restoring health-promoting bacteria in the gut [R]. If you’ve been struggling with migraines, and you’ve tried everything under the sun like hydration, elimination diets, and even probiotics – and these approaches simply aren’t isn’t doing the trick - Try taking it one step further - eliminate what is causing the imbalance of your gut microbiome in the first place. Think - anti microbial herbs, anti -fungal herbs, and my personal favorite - anti parasitic herbs.
It's no surprise that stress has been identified as the number one most common trigger for migraines [R]. This is due to the changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis when a body is under stress. When stressed, the hypothalamus communicates (via hormones) with the neighboring pituitary gland, which subsequently communicates to the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol, telling the body to go into stress mode. Cortisol has many effects on the body, one of which is increasing the permeability of the gut barrier. This allows the easy movement of bacteria and other pro-inflammatory compounds from the gut into the bloodstream. One of these compounds is lipopolysaccharide, which has been shown to activate pain receptors in the brain, thereby triggering a migraine [R]. The funny thing about stress is that it can be caused by both external and internal factors. Things like work, the news, pandemics – are all stressful, right? I agree, but sometimes it’s the stressors that we don’t really think about that cause the most stress in the body. Things like inflammatory foods, heavy metals, parasites, yeasts, and fungi, are major factors here and definitely some things to consider eliminating if you have been dealing with migraines for quite some time.