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Are the Microbes in Your Mouth Causing Your Migraines?

Researchers have found that people who get migraines have more oral bacteria that turn nitrate into nitrite. What about the microbes in your mouth?

People who frequently suffer from migraine headaches are often told to avoid certain trigger foods. Research suggests, however, that it might not be the foods themselves that are the culprits, but rather how the microbes in your mouth interact with these foods.

What Do Microbes in Your Mouth Have to Do with Migraines?

The American Gut Project is a fascinating citizen science initiative in which people submit samples of their mouth and/or fecal bacteria and answer questions about what they usually eat. Other lifestyle habits and health topics are also covered on the questionnaire. (If you’d like to join as a citizen scientist, here’s the link.)

The Findings from the Analysis:

Investigators at UC San Diego analyzed the data from 172 people who provided samples of mouth bacteria and 1,996 fecal samples. They found that those who reported suffering from recurrent migraines had more mouth bacteria that can change the nitrates in foods into nitrites or nitric oxide. Though the differences were small, they were statistically significant.

What nobody knows yet is whether the microbes in your mouth working on foods like chocolate, processed meats or aged cheese are causing the headaches. It is also possible that people who are susceptible to migraines for some other reason tend to harbor more nitrate-metabolizing bacteria in their mouths.

mSystems, online Oct. 18, 2016

Nitric oxide is beneficial for the health of the circulatory system, so no one would want to get rid of these bugs. But perhaps scientists will figure out how to control them better so that migraines become less frequent.

You can learn more about migraines and other types of headache from our Guide to Headaches & Migraines. You may also want to listen to our hour-long interview with Cleveland Clinic headache doctor, Jennifer S. Kriegler, MD (Show #1055).


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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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