Researchers have discovered a possible contributor to migraine headaches. Patients who suffered from migraines were more likely to have certain microbes in their mouth. Large quantities of nitrate-reducing bacteria were found in the mouths of people who regularly got migraines. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal mSystems.
Migraines are similar to bad headaches but can be accompanied by nausea, throbbing pain, and light sensitivity. Most migraine sufferers experience one or two migraines a month but over 14 million Americans experience them daily or near-daily. Migraines make it impossible for most people to function normally and many can’t do their jobs during a migraine headache. There has been a lot of research on possible causes. Foods containing nitrates, such as processed meats, are common triggers but the reason for this was unknown.
A team of researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine analyzed data from the American Gut Project. The database included 1,996 fecal samples and 172 oral samples. The samples were from both migraine sufferers and healthy patients who didn’t experience migraine headaches. The team used gene sequencing to determine which bacteria and other microbes were present. They also used a tool called PICRUSt to further analyze the microbiota present in the samples.
The team found that nitrate-reducing bacteria were more common in the mouths of patients who experienced migraines. These types of bacteria convert nitrate into its reduced form, nitrite. Nitrites can react with other chemicals to become nitric oxide, a compound that improves cardiovascular health. The compound has unfortunately also been linked to migraines. Cardiac patients who take medications with similar compounds often experience serious headaches as a side effect.
The findings show another link between nitrates and migraine headaches. Specifically, migraine sufferers have larger quantities of nitrate-reducing bacteria in their mouths. These bacteria rapidly convert nitrates from food into nitrites. Nitric acid has already been correlated with serious headaches in previous studies. The team’s results may lead to improved migraine treatments and preventatives.
Gonzalez et al. Migraines Are Correlated with Higher Levels of Nitrate-, Nitrite-, and Nitric Oxide-Reducing Oral Microbes in the American Gut Project Cohort. mSystems (2016).