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Migraines and Oral Bacteria: What’s the Connection?

December 14, 2016

migraines caused by oral bacteriaRecent research performed at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggests that oral bacteria may be a potential contributing factor to the onset of migraines.

According to the study, the connection between oral bacteria and migraines may be nitric oxide, a cellular signaling molecule involved in many pathophysiological processes. Past studies have shown that increased levels of nitric oxide in the bloodstream may play a critical role in triggering migraine headaches as well as tension and cluster headaches. In this most recent study, researchers suggest that oral bacteria produce nitrites when they break down nitrates (a common food preservative), which can then be converted into nitric oxide in the bloodstream.

Breaking It Down

Certain foods like hot dogs, lunch meat, and bacon are processed with nitrates, which act as a preservative. When a person eats a food with nitrates, the bacteria in the mouth and saliva do what they are supposed to do: They break it down.

When bacteria eat sugar, they break it down into acids–which, as most healthcare professionals know, can ultimately dissolve tooth enamel and cause dental caries. With processed food, those same bacteria break the nitrites down to nitrates, which then get converted into nitric oxide in the bloodstream. And when circulating nitric oxide levels increase, it can trigger a debilitating migraine, tension headache, or cluster headache.

Balancing the Benefits of Nitric Oxide

We know that one of the best health benefits of eating dark green leafy vegetables is that they cause our bodies to produce nitric oxide, which has numerous benefits for the cardiovascular system. Nitric oxide has a relaxation effect on our vessels which can reduce blood pressure and reverse hardening of the arteries. That’s why many people with heart disease take nitrates.

But ask a room full of cardiac patients what their side effects are, and odds are you’ll hear headaches as a chief complaint.

So what’s the right answer? After reading this study, we’re inclined to ask more questions:

  • Are people with with periodontal disease and/or high levels of pathogenic oral bacteria more prone to these nitric oxide-inducing migraines?
  • Would oral probiotics have an effect on headache and migraine probability?
  • Are there specific bacteria that produce more nitrites than others?
  • Am I allowed to eat bacon, or not?

No definitive conclusions can be drawn from this study alone. However, it may give headache and migraine sufferers an extra reason to avoid heavily processed foods.

Oral Bacteria & the Human Microbiome

human microbiomeThis research, along with hundreds of other ongoing studies, continue to explore the inextricable health link between the mouth and the rest of the body. These studies are on the leading edge of a paradigm shift in medical research that is focused on the the microbiome on and inside of each of us. Widespread research in this human biome suggests that these organisms can either benefit or destroy our health. Leading medical experts expect to find major medical breakthroughs from this new focus.

The AAOSH community is made up of human biome specialists and practitioners who are passionate about creating health and wellness for our patients and our communities. We keep our fingers on the pulse of science-based medical evidence so that we may develop the best tools and practices to achieve our goals of creating health.

Our 7th Annual Scientific Session features dental and medical experts who study the science, tools and best practices surrounding genetics, immunity, and the microbiome. Don’t be left behind! Join our mission to improve health and wellness in your own community.

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