Red Wine and Chocolate Give You Migraines? Microbes Living in Your Body May Be to Blame

By Mike Pomranz |

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Next time your indulgence in things like red wine and chocolate triggers a migraine don’t blame the food and drink. Heck, don’t even blame yourself. Instead, recent research suggests that the blame may belong to the tiny microbes shacked up in your digestive system… as if bacteria didn’t have a bad enough rap already.

The findings stem from a study published this week by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Chicago that discovered, as the title states, “Migraines Are Correlated with Higher Levels of Nitrate-, Nitrite-, and Nitric Oxide-Reducing Oral Microbes in the American Gut Project Cohort.” In slightly plainer English, some of the bacteria that live in our mouths process the nitrates found in items like wine, chocolate, processed meats and green leafy vegetables into byproducts that can lead to migraines and other tension headaches. Looking at 172 oral samples and 1,996 fecal samples pulled from the American Gut Project, the scientists found that people who get more migraines also tend to have more of these bacteria in their mouths and gut.


Unfortunately, determining the correlation doesn’t necessarily mean bacteria are the problem. “We now … have a potential connection to migraines,” said Embriette Hyde, project manager for the American Gut Project and one of the paper’s co-authors, “though it remains to be seen whether these bacteria are a cause or result of migraines, or are indirectly linked in some other way.”

Probably even more frustrating for migraine sufferers is that using this knowledge to create a solution to the issue is predicted to be far from a coming into fruition. One issue is that nitrates are thought to improve cardiovascular health, meaning messing with the way our bodies process nitrates could be troublesome in its own right. “[Perhaps far into the future] we will have a magical probiotic mouthwash for everyone that helps your cardiovascular health without giving you migraines,” said the study’s lead author, Antonio Gonzalez.  For now though, he says the best advice is the same annoying thing people vulnerable to migraines have heard a million times before, “If you suspect that nitrates are causing you migraines, you should try to avoid them in your diet.”
Based on what Gonzalez said, maybe we’d be better off getting a magician to look into all of this.

[h/t Quartz


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