From stress to ‘leaky gut,’ new research shows that probiotics could help you take back control of your triggers. Here’s how
I’ve suffered from migraines since my teens. And, while I’ve learned over the years to be wary of the triggers (stress, dehydration, lack of sleep), it’s sometimes not enough to stop a whopper from coming on. My prevention plan features a healthy supply of ‘just in case’ painkillers (I’m the office’s walking pharmacy) however, new research points to a very different type of pill that could provide some welcome relief - probiotics.
The encouraging development centres around a study presented at the International Headache Conference in Vancouver. It found that when sufferers of chronic migraines (at least 15 migraine days per month) and episodic migraines (1 to 14 migraine days per month) took multi-strain probiotic Bio-Kult Advanced two times a day, the frequency of their attacks reduced by a huge 40 to 45 per cent. Their severity was also found to be significantly less too.
There's a clear connection, but why does our gut health play such a key role? “It is suspected that the link between the gut and migraines is due to what is colloquially known as ‘ leaky gut ,’” Dr Davinder Garcha, Medical Science Liaison at Bio-Kult tells me. “This is where toxins from the gut, derived from bad bacteria, leak from the intestines into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation. This can ultimately trigger a migraine by stimulating pain receptors on a major cranial nerve called the trigeminal nerve.” This goes some way to explain why those who suffer from migraines are also more susceptible to developing gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome , irritable bowel disease and coeliac disease.
More research is no doubt going to be done, but the potential and the link certainly seem to be there
How probiotics can help
It’s fascinating stuff, made all the more interesting by the array of ways that probiotics can help stop a range of different triggers in their tracks. Firstly, Dr Garcha tells me that probiotics can improve and maintain the intestinal barrier, therefore preventing the occurrence of a leaky gut. They’re also said to stimulate the release of the ‘happy’ hormone, serotonin, which works on the nervous system to relieve and prevent migraines too.
They also secrete chemicals called bacteriocins which help remove harmful gut bacteria, as well as reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (ideal if stress is your migraine trigger). Lastly, they can also alter the activity of pain processing centres in the brain too. Talk about some serious multitasking.
This all sounds promising, but don’t expect to see a change straight away. Dr Garcha recommends taking a probiotic such as Bio-Kult Advanced , £9.49, for at least eight weeks (as in the study) for the best results. “If there is no improvement by this point, then consider stopping the probiotic,” he says, although he points out that there’s no harm done if you do choose to continue with them. “If an improvement is seen, the recommendation would be to continue taking the probiotic on a routine basis in order to ensure that gut health is maintained.”
How taking a probiotic helped this migraine sufferer
A sufferer of migraines for the last seven years, fashion PR and influencer Marie Louise Pumfrey's attacks would often result in her experiencing everything from toothache to vomiting and last for up to 48 hours. “My migraines were very regular,” she recollects. “And would often come on in the middle of the night.”
Like me, her first port of call was a painkiller to prevent a headache from developing into something more. She’d tried everything over the years in her attempts to find a long-term solution, including giving up gluten after an allergy test revealed that she was intolerant to it and it could be a trigger. This did help, but she was still suffering from nightly headaches. After attending a gut health talk, she bought a three-month course of FODMAP-friendly probiotic, Symprove to see if it could make a difference - and it did. Not only have her attacks reduced in number, but she now eats a little gluten here and there without fear of getting a migraine afterwards.
Independent dietitian, Laura Tilt , explains that Symprove's migraine-bashing power lies in its ability to positively affect serotonin levels, gut permeability and inflammation. “More research is no doubt going to be done, but the potential and the link certainly seem to be there,” she says.
Dr Garcha also agrees that further studies are needed in order to establish a more solid link, specifically larger-scale ones that delve deeper into the precise mechanisms, as well as analysis into the microbiota of migraine patients to provide more information on the bacterial connection.
The research as it stands at the moment though offers up a valuable insight into one of the potential causes of this debilitating condition, which, as highlighted by the NHS , have been largely unknown. Furthermore, it shows just how far-reaching the gut-mind connection really is. No wonder it’s dubbed ‘the second brain.’
Disclaimer: Certain supplements are used for different reasons and a one-size-fits-all approach should never be adopted. In addition, pregnant women and anyone on medication should always consult a doctor before embarking on a supplements programme.