New research has suggested that eating processed meats, such as sausages and bacon, can increase the risk of triggering migraines.
38 million Americans and 8 million Britons suffer from regular migraine attacks, which involves nausea, dizziness, and debilitating headaches. 75% of migraine sufferers are women, with many of the triggers known to be caused by eating nitrate-rich food, such as processed meat.
While painkillers and other forms of medication are able to reduce the symptoms of migraines, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have discovered new ways to eliminate the cause, which is by reducing the amount of nitrates in the diet.
Nitrates are chemical compounds that contain one nitrogen particle and three oxygen particles (NO3), which can be found naturally in the human body, certain types of vegetables, wine, chocolate, and processed meats.
Manufacturers add nitrates to processed meats as a method of preservation, which also helps to retain the salty taste and the vibrant red/pink color.
Nitrates help to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, and have also been linked to improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of cancer, and lowering blood pressure.
How do they trigger migraines?
Researchers have discovered a link between migraine headaches and elevated levels of nitrates in the body, particularly in the digestive system, which suggests that migraines are triggered by nitrate ingestion.
Bacteria in the gut converts nitrates into nitrites and then into nitric oxide, which is the substance known to trigger migraines and severe headaches.
Researchers from the American Gut Project studied 172 oral and 1996 stool samples and found that 4 in every 5 heart patients taking nitrate-containing medication had reported suffering from headaches and migraines. It was one of the world’s largest human gene research projects, which has served as the catalyst for exploring the connection between the human microbiome and health.
The team found that migraine sufferers had an abundance of bacterial gene sequences, mostly in the oral cavity, which can be linked to a higher level of nitric oxide in the body. This means that some people are more sensitive to the nitrates in food than others, which can trigger migraine responses in the body.
Dr. Embriette Hyde, the lead researcher of the study, said: “We now have a potential connection between nitrates and migraines, though it remains to be seen whether these bacteria are a cause or a result of migraines, or are indirectly linked in some other way.”
Dr. Antonio Gonzalez, a programmer analyst in the laboratory of Rob Knight, the director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego and senior author on the study, said: “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. More research is needed to directly link nitrates to migraines, but if you suspect that they are causing you migraines you should try to avoid them in your diet.”