The dreaded migraine. Rated as one of the most painful and debilitating experiences in everyday life, for many, living with migraines is a constant battle of avoiding triggers (such as certain foods) and managing symptoms. Unfortunately, despite extensive research, the etiology and progression of migraine headaches are poorly understood. Now, new research published by the American Society for Microbiology draws a link between oral bacteria, nitrate and migraines.
Previous research has shown that migraines can be provoked by nitrates, the chemicals that are found in wine, chocolate, and preserved meats. Bacteria in the oral cavity and digestive tract begin the process of breaking down nitrate to nitrite by removing an oxygen atom. From there, nitrites are converted into nitric oxide, which has vasodilating effects. This vasodilation can lead to non-migraine headaches as well, sometimes seen in people taking nitroglycerine for cardiac symptoms.
To investigate whether these nitrate-reducing bacteria were seen in greater numbers among migraine sufferers, 172 oral samples were collected from migraine and non-migraine sufferers who had no history of inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes or antibiotic use in the last year. These samples were then analyzed using newly available technology to quantify the levels of expression for nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reductase genes. These genes code for enzymes that enable the bacteria to reduce nitrate to its downstream products, and are a good measure of the abundance of nitrate-reducing bacteria present in each patient.
The researchers found that nitrate-reducing bacteria were significantly elevated in migraine sufferers as compared to people who did not suffer migraines. This interesting correlation merits further investigation into the possible bacterial connection to migraines, but researchers caution that there is a complex array of factors including genetics, diet and hormones that must also be taken into account for any theoretical model. However, knowledge of the bacterial contribution could pave the way for a multi-system treatment approach to migraines, and could eventually come under the purview of dentists, whose role in whole-body health is only growing.