Health Coaching


Is your gut causing migraines? I just finished up with a client who is suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome). It has been difficult because there’s no pathology to diagnose this but rather a process of elimination of other diseases. are-your-migraines-caused-by-gut-bacteria

Through the process of food eliminations, I found an article on high levels of bacteria involved in processing nitrates that could explain why some foods appear to act as migraine triggers. I know gut health is important but I had never associated the gut with migraines. It was an “ah ha” moment.

Apparently higher levels of bacteria often in processed meats and some other foods can cause vessels in the brain and scalp to dilate. When nitrates are broken down by bacteria in the mouth and gut it converts into nitric oxide in the blood. This can help boost circulation improving cardiovascular health.

However, there is a high percentage of cardiac patients who take nitrate-containing drugs for chest pain or heart failure that report severe headaches as side effects.

Dr Brendan Davies, a consultant neurologist at the University Hospitals of North Midlands and a trustee of the Migraine Trust, said the idea of gut bacteria playing a role in a migraine was medically plausible. “There’s something called a hot dog headache, where nitrates are suspect to be involved,” he said. “this is interesting work, but would need to be confirmed.”

I have known for years now that clients who eat a lot of chocolate seem to have more migraines but I never put together the correlation between the gut and the head. Although there is still no scientific evidence, it’s something to consider or suspect while helping clients who suffer from severe migraines.

Working with IBS has opened my eyes to many new theories and things to consider while coaching clients to a healthier lifestyle. If you suffer from migraines you may want to consider eliminating foods known to be involved in processing nitrates like processed meats, leafy vegetables, and some wines.

Here is a list of some of the foods high in nitrates:

  • lunchmeats/cured meats
  • spinach
  • mustard greens
  • coleslaw
  • broccoli
  • mixed greens
  • tomatoes
  • vegetable soups
  • bananas
  • applesauce
  • oranges

What to do? If you suffer from severe migraines you may want to try eliminating some of the foods high in nitrates (unless specified “nitrate free on the package”). In health school, we were taught “everything in moderation” which makes sense because there are some benefits from nitrates in a healthy vascular system as well as reduction of inflammation in the body.

If you’re concerned about nitrates in your diet and the potential of nitrates causing migraines, consult your doctor for the most recent evidence and for guidance on what you should do.


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