Migraines can be debilitating. Stress is often indicated as one of the primary contributing factors but what is less well-known is the link between migraine and diet. As this week is Migraine Awareness Week (3rd to 9th September 2017) we cover the links between migraine and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Studies have shown a link between migraine and the condition of IBS.
Maybe this shouldn’t come as such a surprise as food allergies are the number one cause of headaches of all types but the studies have interesting implications for migraine sufferers.
The first clinical double-blind randomised cross-over trial of the effects of diet restriction on migraine was conducted in 2010 by Alpay et al.
The study wanted to establish the impact of IgG antibodies, produced by the body in response to food antigens, on the course of migraine attacks. IgG (Immunoglobin G) antibodies are produced by the body to protect itself against bacterial and viral infections.
Thirty patients took part in the study which began by detecting 266 antigen foods. Patients were then randomised to a six-week diet which either excluded or included specific foods with raised IgG antibodies. Following a two-week diet free period, the same patients were given the opposite six-week diet. Patients were monitored for the number of headache days and migraine attacks experienced.
The diet which eliminated antigens produced a reduction in the number of headache days and migraine attacks compared to the diet that contained antigens. Researchers concluded that restricting the diet is an effective strategy in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.
This followed another study in 2007 (Food allergy mediated by IgG antibodies associated with migraine in adults, Rev Alerg Mex.) which also concluded that elimination diets appear to be successful in controlling migraine without the need for medication.
What are the implications of such studies for individuals who suffer from migraines? The IBS Treatment Center in the US cites the case of a woman who had suffered from headaches since the age of 12.
The centre tested her for food allergies and the results indicated that she was highly reactive to eggs, dairy products and sesame. She eliminated these foods from her diet and within three weeks her headaches began to lessen. After five weeks, she was feeling so much better that she decided to risk eating an egg. The next day she developed a headache that lasted five days. Since then she has continued to avoid eating these “problem” foods and continues to keep her headaches under control.
IBS is a common chronic disorder characterised by abdominal pain/discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation or both. Sufferers can also experience fatigue, muscle pain and sleep disturbance.
Migraines are vascular headaches that cause severe pain around the eyes, temple, jaw and neck.
Researchers are unclear exactly what causes the link between headaches and digestive disturbance. Some suggest it is a genetically sensitive nervous system becoming over-vigilant. Stress is also a primary factor in the link between head and gut.
What is very clear is the need to eat healthily, drink plenty of water and avoid an over-reliance on alcohol and/or comfort foods at times of stress.
If you are a migraine sufferer, you might want to take some time to read up on the links between diet and migraine and pay particular attention to foods that cause a flare up in either IBS symptoms or headache. It could change your life.
Working with a specialist that can correctly diagnose IBS and rule out other digestive disorders with similar symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.