People who suffer from migraines also have mouths that are home to a significantly larger number of microbes with the ability to modify nitrates than people who do not get migraine headaches, according to new research.
Nitrates, found in foods such as processed meats and green leafy vegetables and in certain medicines, can be modified into nitrites by bacteria found in the mouth. Under certain conditions, the nitrites can then be converted to nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide can aid cardiovascular health by improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure. However, roughly four in five cardiac patients who take nitrate-containing drugs for chest pain or congestive heart failure report severe headaches as a side effect.
The study, conducted by the researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine. analyzed bacteria in the mouths and guts of people who had identified themselves as having migraines. Many of the 38 million Americans who experience migraines have seen an association between consuming nitrates and their migraines.
“There is this idea out there that certain foods trigger migraines — chocolate, wine and especially foods containing nitrates,” said Antonio Gonzalez, an analyst in the laboratory of Rob Knight, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego and senior author on the study. “We thought that perhaps there are connections between what people are eating, their microbiomes and their experiences with migraines.”
How The Study Worked
Using publicly available data from the American Gut Project, a crowdfunded citizen science effort managed by the Knight lab, Gonzalez and colleague Embriette Hyde, PhD, sequenced bacteria found in 172 oral samples and 1,996 fecal samples from healthy participants. The participants had previously filled out surveys indicating whether they suffered from migraines.
The bacterial gene sequencing found that bacterial species were found in different abundances between people who get migraines those who do not.
“We know for a fact that nitrate-reducing bacteria are found in the oral cavity,” said Hyde, project manager for the American Gut Project and assistant project scientist in the Knight lab. “We definitely think this pathway is advantageous to cardiovascular health. We now also have a potential connection to migraines, though it remains to be seen whether these bacteria are a cause or result of migraines, or are indirectly linked in some other way.”
Gonzalez and Hyde said the next steps will be to look at more defined groups of patients, separated into the handful of different types of migraines. Researchers can then determine if their oral microbes really do express those nitrate-reducing genes, measure their levels of circulating nitric oxide and see how they correlate with migraine status.
Your Mouth And Bacteria
Until further research is conducted, we don’t know if good oral health can better control the mouth bacteria that may cause migraines.
What we do know is that bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease.
Bacteria secrete acidic waste products. This creates an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and leads to decay. Over time, without proper oral hygiene and dental care, the plaque clinging to teeth works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections.
Your best defense is consistent removal of the bacterial plaque. If its left alone for about 48 hours, it begins to harden – this is called tartar – and is extremely difficult to remove by simple brushing and flossing. You need professional cleanings to remove tartar. Even if you do brush regularly, it’s easy to miss tartar that can be lurking between your teeth, in tiny chips and cracks, or just under the gum line.
The vast majority of the population of the U.S. will experience gingivitis (the mildest form of gum disease) during some point in their lives; while 30% to 40% of us will experience periodontitis (the severe form of gum disease).
Treatment requires removal of the bacterial plaque and its associated calculus (tartar) from the teeth and gums, and sometimes treatment with antibiotics.
But infections caused by bacterial plaque can stubbornly resist antibiotics. Regular professional cleanings – teamed with consistent, careful oral health care at home – is the best way to prevent bacterial decay and disease.