AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

What’s Causing Your Migraine? The Answer May Be Inside Your Mouth.

photo by user "taennit" on on

photo by user taennit on on

Have you ever been going about your day and suddenly you’re hit with the feeling of needles ricocheting against the walls of your skull? Frustration grows inside you as you ponder what could’ve possibly triggered your migraine this time. Millions of Americans are struck with similar pain and turmoil every day, which makes the cause of migraines an in-depth and on-going research topic. Though the cause of migraines remains a bit blurry, it is believed that neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are involved in the development of a migraine. Known triggers of this hindering head pain are hormonal changes, stress, and our diets. Author Tim Newman’s article Could Migraines Be Caused by the Bacteria in Our Mouths?, published on, suggests that migraines can be caused by the nitrate-filled foods millions of people consume on a daily basis.

Though you may resort to a glass of wine or piece of chocolate for relaxation after a hectic day, these two things can ultimately make your day into an all but relaxing evening. Both chocolate and wine possess high nitrate levels, as do processed meats and leafy, green vegetables. When nitrate is consumed through food, bacteria in the mouth converts nitrate into nitrite. Nitrites then enter the body and can be formed into nitric oxide which is helpful in reducing blood pressure and boosting cardiovascular health as a whole. Because of the benefits these forms of nitrate can have on the body, many people are given drugs containing nitrate in order to help with their health problems. Author Antonio Gonzales and programmer analyst Rob Knight found that four in five of the people that take these drugs also experience extreme headaches or migraines as a side effect. With this information, both Gonzales and Knight used information collected by the American Gut Project to further inspect the links between oral bacteria, diets, and migraines.

When someone takes drugs filled with nitrate or eat nitrate-sufficient food, their body must produce the necessary amount of bacteria or enzymes to break up the nitrate and turn it into nitrite or nitric oxide. Both Gonzales and Knight noted that people with migraines tend to have a significantly higher amount of nitrate-related bacteria located in the mouth, thus increasing the chance that the amount of nitrate-related bacteria in the mouth may correlate with the increased occurrence of intense headaches and/or migraines.

That all being said, the world of migraines is still a bit fuzzy to all of us and all we can do is continue to research the mysteries of this painful phenomenon. I won’t say that the results of these studies should be totally cast aside, but what I will say is that until nitrate-filled food and the presence of oral bacteria are a blatant cause of migraines, you shouldn’t flush those leafy, green vegetables, throw away the chocolate, or pour all the wine down the drain just quite yet.







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  1. oxergin

    I think that this topic is very interesting! Research that leads to more questions shows that the world of science is clearly making progress in our understanding of things. I think that it is also important to note that nitrate is also an affective drug to help the human heart. Because it opens blood vessels to increase blood flow, it has the ability to treat angina systems. Maybe this effect of increased blood flow is also related to the treatment to migraine when taking nitrate drugs. Below is a link that further discusses the common effects and forms of nitrate.

  2. evansymes

    Very interesting and very well written phospholipidbellayer. I’ve always heard that the primary cause of headaches is dehydration, so it’s nice to hear possible causes other than the ones you hear constantly. I think its funny though that you reference chocolate as a food that causes headaches as I’ve read that chocolate can also cure stomach aches! it’s pick your poison I guess!

  3. gabdomen

    This was very interesting to me, cause I get migraines a lot and I do eat lots of chocolate and sweets, also hotdogs which are actually filled with nitrates so that makes more sense now. I guess reducing that sort of diet would limit the amount of headaches all together? While you did say it was a bit fuzzy overall, it definitely makes the most sense! Cool article.

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