• Migraine sufferers may have to either give up wine or drink nitrate-free wine if they want to avoid neurological pain. (Vetta/Getty Images)Source: Vetta/Getty Images
As if encountering a migraine wasn't painful enough, sufferers may have to give up consuming nitrate-rich products like red wine, chocolate and bacon (basically, the good stuff). Here's what new evidence, released today, says about the cause of your migraine.
By
Yasmin Noone

19 Oct 2016 - 1:44 PM  UPDATED 19 Oct 2016 - 3:19 PM

Life, sometimes, is just not fair. What evil exists in this world that would prevent any human from being able to openly and honestly consume the deliciousness of chocolate, the velvet-like texture of a deserved glass of red, or a salty piece of breakfast bacon that screams ‘crunch’ when it touches your teeth?

That ingested evil, according to new research out today, is a classified group of preservatives called ‘nitrates’. Why are nitrates now so horrible, you ask? According to scientists from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine, nitrates could be the mysterious cause of your debilitating migraines.

Now, before I continue, I acknowledge that this finding might not be new to those among us who experience migraines. If you are a long-term migraine sufferer, it’s likely that you have developed your own theory about what ‘triggers’ your migraines, based on trial, error and Dr Google assumptions. Oh, and you may have also been advised by your real doctor that food preservatives ‘may’ be a ‘possible’ cause. 

Scientists now have clear-cut evidence linking nitrates found in our foods – chocolate, wine and processed meats – and nitrate-based medications (often prescribed to people with heart failure to regulate their condition) to migraines.

So what’s new about this special study published in the online journal mSystems this week?

It’s the fact that scientists now have clear-cut evidence linking nitrates found in our foods – chocolate, wine and processed meats – and nitrate-based medications (often prescribed to people with heart failure to regulate their condition) to migraines.

The study supports the researched connection between nitrate-rich foods and migraine headaches. It suggests that, in theory, migraine sufferers should listen to their doctor’s advice and avoid foods with nitrates in order to prevent migraines. And, it also shows how bacteria in our mouth feeds off nitrates in a process that causes migraines.

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The proof is in the chocolate pudding

So how did the researchers prove the link? The scientists collected oral cavities and fecal samples from over 2, 200 study participants to prove if nitrates could cause migraines in some people.

The researchers detected “observable and significantly higher abundances” of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reductase genes in people who suffer from a migraine compared to those who don’t experience the neurological condition.

The study concludes that nitrates – such as cardiac therapeutics and food additives – are common migraine triggers, and that nitric oxide plays an important role in causing severe headaches.

“The results show, for the first time, a potential link between bacterial nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reducers and migraines…” the study reads.

The study also focused on the link between migraines and the nitrite-producing bacteria that live in our mouths (bacteria that breaks down the nitrates in our food to use for their own fuel).

“In doing so, they remove one of the oxygen atoms from nitrates, which results in a chemical byproduct called a nitrite,” an article on Quartz explains.

“When nitrites enter the bloodstream, they can be converted into nitric oxide (with just one oxygen atom), which has been linked to migraines and other kinds of tension headaches.

“The results show, for the first time, a potential link between bacterial nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reducers and migraines."

Important information to throw around the dinner party table

So what else do you need to know in order to stake your claim to the non-nitrate food on the table at your next dinner event?

Nitrate-induced headaches manifests in two ways, the research says.

1. An ‘immediate headache’, rated as mild to medium in severity, developing within an hour of digesting nitrate medication or foods with nitrates.

2. A ‘delayed headache’, which can occur three to six hours after nitrate intake. This form of headache will present as much more severe and come with migraine-like symptoms that sufferers dread: nausea, aura, sensitivity to light and sound, and extreme neurological pain.

“Delayed migraines appear to be dose dependent and are more likely to occur in individuals with a family history of migraines,” the report says.

Immediate headaches appear to be connected to nitric oxide (NO)-mediated vasodilation.

In contrast, delayed migraines, similarly to migraines triggered by foods, stress, and other factors, appear to be activated by the release of glutamate and S-nitrosylation-mediated changes, which are dependent on the presence of NO.

The scientists now recommend future research to focus on working out the specific connection between oral bacterial nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reducers and migraines.

This form of headache will present as much more severe and come with migraine-like symptoms that sufferers dread: nausea, aura, sensitivity to light and sound, and extreme neurological pain.

Food for thought

Headache Australia says estimates that 12 to 15 per cent of the population suffers from debilitating migraines: that’s equal to over one in 10 people. The World Health Organisation has also labelled migraines as a form of temporary disability.

Given the high prevalence rate and recognised impact of migraines means that this study is extremely significant.

So next time a migraine sufferer reports that they can’t guzzle wine or eat copious amounts of chocolate and indulge in a bacon-laced meal at a dinner party, there will be no excuse for doubtful looks from fellow diners reading ‘I don’t believe you can’t eat yummy chocolate’.

Now, there is celebrated and published proof.

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