Migraines respond well when we maximize our health, and this includes the health of our digestive system. Bacterial overgrowth may not directly affect your Migraine attacks, but it may have an indirect influence that shouldn't be ignored. It can be so easy to fix - if you know you have the problem.
In part one, we created an analogy of cows and deer, grass and weeds to describe how good and bad bacteria work in the digestive system. Now we'll talk about why this is important to know...
Feeding the good, starving the bad
To have healthy cows, we must be sure that the grass in our pasture is healthy. If all we have is weeds, then the only thing we have that can survive is deer, and we don't want deer.
In this analogy, we need to feed our good bacteria. Good bacteria especially love to be fed fiber. Yep, the same fiber found in bran muffins, apples, celery, oatmeal and lots of different good-for-you foods. Healthy bacteria need 30 grams of fiber each day. In those patients who have diets low in fiber, it is not unusual to see a multitude of bacterial overgrowth related problems including diarrhea, constipation, yeast infections and malabsorption to name but a few.
By keeping the pasture healthy, the cows will proliferate and our guts will be full of good bacteria, with few bad bacteria to complicate things. Bad bacteria cannot eat fiber. They exist on sugar. Sugar comes from carbohydrates. Those whose diets tend to be low in fiber also tend to be high in carbohydrates, so is it any wonder that they are sick?!
The ideal diet for human beings is one that is low in carbs and high in fiber. We need animal products to survive (vegans supplement the missing nutrients) but we subsist primarily on fruits and vegetables - this is how our bodies were designed. The average American diet today is outrageously high in carbs and so low in fiber that the majority of people live in a constant state of digestive upset and low or errant immune function.
You medicine could be making you sick
The number two reason for bacterial overgrowth is a direct result of medical treatment. The medicines we are taking to help us can in reality make us very ill.
It's unfortunate that most doctors have begun to rely heavily on medicines to do the work that can be done without them. The fact remains however, that Migraineurs depend on many medicines to get them through life with Migraine disease. This means that it is really important that we learn how to optimize our good gut bacteria so we can stay as healthy as possible, hopefully minimizing the chance that episodic Migraine will transform into chronic Migraine.
The most common medicines to alter gut flora balance are antibiotics. Since stress can also alter gut flora balance, it's possible that any treatment or disease can contribute to bacterial overgrowth, but antibiotics kill the very bacteria we need to survive.
Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria and they are very good at their jobs. However, they are very non-specific. They kill everything. All bacteria. This means that they kill the bad bacteria in our digestive system and any infection we might have, but they also kill off all the necessary good bacteria as well. We re-populate our gut flora after the antibiotics have been completed (you really do NOT want to ask me how) but because our diets are so poor in fiber and high in carbs, we tend to become riddled with bad bacteria that can be so harmful to us.
E. Coli is very well known by most everyone. Have you ever wondered about it? How and why it gets into our food chain?
A long time ago, people realized that feeding cows a lot of sugar made their meat very sweet. So, farmers "finish" feeder cattle off with enormous amounts of grain and sugar over a short period of time. This results in a very sweet tasty steak, but because they have essentially eliminated all good bacteria from their digestive systems, they are now riddled with bad bacteria including E. Coli. Their livers can get fatty and swollen and sick. If a steer was forced to remain on this diet for long, it would actually die. When the animal is butchered, the proliferation of bad bacteria is more likely to be accidentally spread to the meat, causing illness in those who eat it. This is one of the causes of the immense resurgence in grain fed beef - the meat itself is healthier because the cow it came from was healthy and fed a healthy species appropriate diet.
E. Coli is in your digestive system right now. It is one of the main *bad* bacterias we have in us all the time. The trick is in learning to keep it under control so that it doesn't make us sick. We do this by starving it, and by feeding our good bacteria.
So what do we do if we have had antibiotic therapy?
Thankfully the difference between good and bad bacteria was discovered a long time ago. Good species necessary for our survival were cultivated and can be purchased as a supplement to re-populate the digestive system. We call these healthy bacteria Probiotics.
Physicians do realize the benefit of probiotics, they just don't typically make it a habit of prescribing them, which is unfortunate. Patients who are forced to undergo prolonged antibiotic therapy are however, required to take massive doses of probiotics to keep the gut populated with helpful bacteria. Remember, without it we would die of malnutrition.
There is much to discuss when we start down the path that connects the gut and the brain. More posts will follow later on this vital connection. The facts are fascinating and might help you in your journey toward better health :)
~patient educator and advocate