We have more than 100 trillion bacterial cells living in and around our bodies. Collectively, those bacteria make up your microbiome, and each person’s microbiome is unique—like a thumbprint. Now, researchers believe that thumbprint may be the reason some of us are more likely to experience migraine headaches.
Using data collected as part of the American Gut Project, scientists at the University of California determined that what makes a person more susceptible to migraines may have to do with how the body processes nitrates. According to their findings, the more nitrate-processing bacteria a person has, the more likely he or she will suffer from migraines.
Nitrates are found naturally in many foods but are also added to some processed foods as preservatives. Findings from the study reveal that when we eat foods containing nitrates, the bacteria in the mouth and eventually the gut carry out the digestive process, breaking down nitrates into nitric oxide. But nitric oxide, while good for circulation, comes with a less appealing side effect: headaches.
“There is this idea out there that certain foods trigger migraines … especially foods containing nitrates,” said lead author Antonio Gonzalez, PhD. “We thought that perhaps there are connections between what people are eating, their microbiomes and their experiences with migraines.” He and his fellow scientists are encouraged by their findings and plan to further study the link between nitrates, microbes and migraines.