An estimated 15% of the population suffer from migraine headaches at least once. With more women than men affected. Those affected tend to need long term medication. But, prescribed medicines tend to be only partially effective, and have side effects. This leaves many people living with severe pain on a regular basis without hope of a cure. Could there be an underlying cause that we could find and address? Scientist have started to think so. Impaired gut health could be one such underlying cause. So, can a leaky gut cause migraines?
Though we don’t have all the answers, research is ongoing. We know that there is greater risk of migraine if someone else in the family has them. But environmental factors may be more important than genes. A person may have the genes that predispose them to migraines but may never have one. So, one theory is that something in the migraineurs environment triggers off the condition.
The gut-brain connection
We know now that there is a strong link between the gut and the brain. People with digestive problems have more headaches than people with healthy guts. And, researchers know that there is an association between irritable bowel syndrome and migraine. Also, some believe gut bacteria influence brain function and even brain diseases like migraine.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a common digestive complaint. Other inflammatory digestive complaints include the bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. As discussed in previous posts gut inflammation increases intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Inflammatory chemicals can leak from the gut into the bloodstream. And in some people these chemicals occur in large numbers during migraine attacks.
These inflammatory chemicals can travel in blood to anywhere in the body causing irritation. They can even act on the nerves and brain. How people react to these chemicals may depend on their genes. But, studies show they can affect receptors on the trigeminal nerve and cause a migraine attack. So it is at least plausible that having a leaky gut could be a factor in migraine development for some people.
Increased intestinal permeability is common in people with digestive disorders. Especially in people with food allergies or sensitivities. It is also associated with other brain diseases such as depression, autism and stress. And other conditions associated with chronic pain such as fibromyalgia.