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Migraines Linked to Oral Microbiome

Migraine Headache

Story at-a-glance -

  • Migraine headaches affect 1 billion people worldwide, and 38 million Americans each year
  • Recent research found those who suffer from migraines have a different variety oral bacteria than those who don’t, breaking down more nitrates and increasing production of nitric oxide
  • Strategies to prevent migraines and reduce pain include reducing foods high in nitrates, essential oil application to your head, increasing intake of foods high in magnesium and CoQ10 and more

By Dr. Mercola

Migraines are the third most prevalent illness in the world,1 affecting 38 million men, women and children in the U.S.2 and 1 billion people worldwide.3

As the majority of sufferers are in their most productive work years, between 35 and 55 years of age,4 migraines may have a significant financial impact on your family, employer and community.

The most significant characteristic is a severe and debilitating pain in the head, but migraine headaches are more than just a bad headache. They are a neurological disorder and considered to be the most common disorder of the nervous system.5

Other symptoms may accompany a migraine headache including nausea, visual disturbances, dizziness, numbness in your extremities or face and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell and touch.6

Personal healthcare costs may be up to 70 percent higher for a family with one person suffering from migraine headaches. No one cause or trigger has been identified, but scientists have recently discovered a significant difference in the oral bacteria of people who suffer from migraines compared to those who don't.

Oral Bacteria May Predict Your Migraines

In a recent study published in the American Society for Microbiology,7,8 researchers found people who suffer from migraines have a higher growth of oral bacteria that reduces nitrates into nitrites. Your body then converts the nitrites into nitric oxide.

In separate research, scientists linked an increased amount of nitric oxide with a higher potential for suffering from migraines.9

Further research investigating the use of drugs to reduce the amount of nitric oxide production to alleviate headaches was successful with headache reduction, but had significant cardiovascular safety concerns.10

Knowledge of how the nitrates are triggering migraines may lead to further interventions that address the oral and gut microbiome. According to lead author Antonio Gonzalez, a programmer analyst and research assistant at the University of California San Diego:11

"There is this idea out there that certain foods trigger migraines — chocolate, wine and especially foods containing nitrates. We thought that perhaps there are connections between what people are eating, their microbiomes and their experiences with migraines."

While the researchers have found a link, whether the change in bacterial growth is the result of migraines, or is the cause of the migraines, is a topic for further research.

Hormones May Also Be Involved in Migraine Headaches

Hormonal involvement can be traced from physical to emotional and mental health. In a recent study at the University of Cincinnati, researchers found those who suffer from migraine headaches were also at greater risk for thyroid disorders.12 

Although previous studies have also shown a higher risk of hypothyroidism with headache disorders, this study followed nearly 8,500 people for an average of 12 years, making it one of the largest studies published to date linking chronic headaches with hypothyroidism.13

Those who suffered from migraine headaches had a 41 percent increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.14 Those who suffered from other types of chronic headaches, such as cluster or tension headaches, had a 21 percent increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.

Links from migraine headaches to other hormonal changes also exist. Scientists have found a higher prevalence of migraines in women, linked to estrogen.15

Recent research has demonstrated that women who suffer from migraines experience a 10 percent greater drop in their estrogen levels prior to menstruation than women who don't get migraines.16,17 

Greater reduction in estrogen may increase your vulnerability to the negative effects of stress, lack of sleep and food choices, thereby increasing your risk of migraines.

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Migraines Linked to Vitamin Deficiencies

In this 18-minute video, "America's Pharmacist" Suzy Cohen speaks to the nutritional aspect of migraine headaches. Research from Cincinnati Children's Medical Center discovered a link between migraine headaches and below average levels of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and riboflavin.18,19

People with chronic migraines appeared to be more deficient in CoQ10 and riboflavin than those with episodic migraines. The study also demonstrated that more girls and young women were deficient in CoQ10.

This study confirms previous work that identified deficiencies in CoQ10 and the potential for supplementation to reduce the effects of the migraines. In one study, researchers compared prophylaxis between CoQ10 and a placebo.20

They found it was well tolerated and reduced the frequency and number of headaches requiring treatment for nausea by nearly 50 percent.

A second study concluded that a deficiency in CoQ10 may be common in a pediatric and adolescent population that suffers from migraine headaches.21 Supplementation demonstrated decreased frequency of headaches and reduced disability.

Magnesium Deficiency Also a Consideration in Migraine Treatment

These are not the only associations between mineral and vitamin deficiencies and migraine headaches. In a paper published in 2012, researchers acknowledged the integral relationship between magnesium and multiple bodily processes.22

A lack of magnesium may promote a number of different illnesses, including depression, platelet aggression, serotonin receptor function and influence production and use of neurotransmitters.23

Researchers theorize that migraine sufferers may develop magnesium deficiency from a variety of reasons, including poor absorption, renal wasting, increased excretion due to stress or low nutritional intake.

No matter what the reason, past research has demonstrated migraine sufferers are more likely to suffer from magnesium deficiency.

However, as testing for magnesium deficiency is not easily accomplished, and as magnesium administration is widely available and very safe, researchers suggested empiric treatment with an oral supplement is justified in all migraine sufferers.24

Eat a Vitamin-Rich Diet

Although you may be considering supplements, it is important you receive as many vitamins and minerals from your diet as possible before supplementation.

Your body can metabolize and absorb nutrients from your diet more effectively and efficiently than from supplements. You are also more likely to absorb the vitamins you need in the form your body can use.

In addition to adding these foods to your daily diet, it's important you look for non-genetically modified (non-GMO), organic and pastured products to reduce your exposure to toxins and additional stressors. 

Foods Rich in Magnesium25

Dark leafy greens

Raw nuts and seeds

Wild Alaskan salmon



Yogurt made from raw, organic grass-fed milk with no added sugars

Foods Rich in Riboflavin (vitamin B2)26



Beet greens


Crimini mushrooms

Pastured eggs



Foods Rich in CoQ1027


Grass-fed beef


Organic pastured chicken

Rainbow trout

Sesame seeds



How to Ease Migraine Pain Without Drugs

Migraine headaches are painful, debilitating and recurring. By knowing your particular triggers and environmental factors that may worsen your symptoms, you can develop a plan of natural interventions to help prevent future attacks and lessen the pain when you do have a migraine.28

Turn Down the Blue Light

Within full spectrum light is a blue wavelength. Many digital devices and LED light sources emit mostly blue light. Research has found that this light increases your migraine pain and activates your trigeminal nerve, associated with the pain of migraines.29

A recent study published in the journal Brain from Harvard Medical School, found individuals suffering from migraine pain would experience a reduction in pain and photosensitivity when exposed to pure green light.30

Blue blocking sunglasses will block light linked to increasing your migraine pain. You may also consider eliminating your exposure to your digital devices while you're in the middle of a migraine.

Eliminate Processed Foods High in Nitrates

Dr. Brendan Davies, a consultant neurologist at the University Hospitals of North Midlands (U.K.) commented on the study linking your oral microbiome with migraines, saying:31 "There's something called a hot dog headache, where nitrates are suspected to be involved."

Foods high in nitrates include cured and processed meats, canned vegetables and packaged seafood which may contain added nitrates used as a preservative.32

Reduce Your Intake of Foods That Trigger Your Migraines

The number of other foods high in nitrates is lengthy and includes dark chocolate, onions, kale, honey and pistachios.33 Other foods that are known migraine triggers include processed sugar, aged cheeses, refined grain products, products with gluten or yeast, red wine, MSG and pickled or cured fish.34

Develop a Strong Intestinal Microbiome

By significantly reducing nutrients needed by bad bacteria in your gut (sugar) and increasing nutrients good bacteria use to grow (fiber), you can make a positive impact on your gut microbiome.

Fermented foods or a high quality probiotic can also help to strengthen your immune system. You can read more about how to achieve this in my previous article titled, "Surprising Health Benefits of Vegetables."

Use Essential Oils to Soothe Tension and Reduce Stress

Stress reduction may help prevent migraine or tension headaches. Essential oils may be applied to the side of your head or neck to help reduce tension and stress. Several drops of oil to a heated towel and applied directly to your head may also stop the pain. Oils that are effective include peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, frankincense and rosemary.

Get Seven to Nine Hours of Quality Sleep Each Night

Adequate amounts of quality sleep are essential for stress reduction and optimal health. If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, my previous article titled, "Want a Good Night's Sleep? Then Never Do These Things Before Bed," shares over 30 suggestions to improve the quality of your nighttime routine and your sleep.

Use Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Pain

Practices that help you develop a strong mind-body connection and both identify when you're stressed and help reduce your stress, include meditation, yoga, biofeedback, deep breathing and guided imagery.

+ Sources and References