Do you suffer from migraines? You may have leaky gut

Whenever I hear the term “leaky gut”, it makes me cringe. After all, who wants their guts leaking out? The vast majority of migraineurs are not aware of the close link between their stomachs and migraine episodes. Most migraines, in my opinion, develop as a result of what goes on in our digestive system. If you have an unhealthy digestive system, you are likely to suffer from a variety of ailments, not the least of which is repeated migraine attacks. Therefore it is important to understand whether a “leaky gut” could be the cause of migraines in your case.

What is “leaky gut”?

Imagine a sewer system that flows through your city. It is surrounded by concrete. If the concrete develops one or more cracks, eventually the filthy water will seep through and contaminate clean water, in addition to the surroundings. If the sewage water accumulates in one area and festers, it becomes toxic and starts building combustible gases.

Leaky gut occurs when the lining in your intestines has developed larger cavities and undigested foods are allowed to enter the bloodstream. One of the most important functions of your intestine is to take in valuable nutrients and discard harmful agents. These agents can be various toxins, yeast, and other forms of waste that should not get into your blood supply. The intestine protects us from different kinds of diseases and essentially houses our body’s immune system. If certain harmful agents are allowed to enter the bloodstream, as a result of leak gut, your body’s immune system will be compromised. It does not matter what you eat, as particles and molecules that should not enter the bloodstream get through. The longer this is allowed to occur, the higher the likelihood that your body will get contaminated.

It is quite possible that your leaky gut is a result of low stomach acid or hypochlorhydria.

What happens once the foreign agents are in your body as a result of leaky gut?

Your immune system responds, after your liver has failed to clear the vast majority of these agents. However, since the leak is so vast and more and more agents are spewing in, your immune system fails in taking care of all of the issues and the impurities get absorbed into tissue and inflame. Your immune system cannot cope with all of the different areas that are getting inflamed and, eventually, some areas become ignored. In these specific areas, foreign agents accumulate and weaken your body’s immune system. This can then lead to various ailments including irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”), fibromyalgia, and above all else, migraines.

OK, that’s all great but how do I know if leaky gut is behind my migraine episodes?

If you suffer from migraines and get a reaction to most things you are putting into your stomach, you are very likely suffering from leaky gut. If you have been keeping a food journal and find that one particular food affects you one day but does not affect you on the next, it could likely be a positive sign for leaky gut as well – once the impurities build up, you get a migraine episode no matter what you put into your stomach. Do you often feel constipated and/or experience diarrhea? In my case, I developed gas all of the time after ingesting anything. I would belch from sunup to sundown, and in some cases, I would throw up in my mouth. I would wake up and have a glass of water, only to start belching immediately. It felt as if I had stuff sitting at the top of my throat constantly. Something even more worrisome was that I would get sick for two weeks with just a run-of-the-mill cold that should only last 4-5 days. These are signs that your immune system is compromised as it fights off inflammations arising from leaky gut and ignores other, more pressing issues in your body.

Can leaky gut be cured?

Absolutely! It takes time, patience, and discipline but your stomach will heal. You should always first consult with your health care professional in terms of your specific circumstances to identify leaky gut. Your case may be different from that of someone else. In my case, here is what I did in specific sequence to cure leaky gut.

1. Eliminated gluten completely from my diet

–  This sounds easier than it is as most things we consume today contain gluten. However, it should be noted that all grains are off limits and anything that could potentially be cross contaminated. If you look at this extensive list and say to yourself, “You got to be kidding!”, I completely understand. However, you will likely come to realize, as I did, that it is best to cut out all of these immediately because this allows you to very quickly find out if you have leaky gut and if gluten is a major factor for you (it was for me).

Grains:

  • Wheat
  • Barley (malt)
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Spelt
  • Durum (semolina)
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Corn (maize)
  • Rice (does not include wild rice varieties but does include brown rice)
  • Groats
  • Graham
  • Amaranth (not necessarily a grain but can be cross contaminated)
  • Buckwheat (not necessarily a grain but can be cross contaminated)

 

The following should be avoided to be completely gluten free

  • MSG
  • Modified food starch
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate
  • Hydroxypropylated Starch
  • Pregelatinized starch
  • Vegetable gum
  • Vegetable protein
  • Extenders and binders
  • Maltodextrin
  • Dextrin
  • Maltose
  • Non Dairy Creamer
  • Seasonings
  • Natural Flavors
  • Smoke flavors
  • Artificial Flavors
  • Natural Colors
  • Artificial Colors
  • Caramel color and flavoring
  • Soy Sauce
  • Miso
  • Bouillon cubes or stock cubes
  • Candy (dusted with wheat flour?)
  • Canned soups
  • Cheese spreads & other processed cheese foods
  • Chocolate
  • Cold cuts, Wieners, Sausages
  • Dip mixes
  • Dry sauce mixes
  • Honey Hams
  • Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt – Grass fed dairy recommended or avoid dairy altogether
  • Instant Teas & Coffees
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Oil, frying
  • Poultry and meats
  • Sour cream
  • Dry roasted nuts & honey roasted nuts
  • French fries in restaurants
  • Gravies
  • Vitamin supplements (Check for gluten)
  • Baking powder

 

 Other items that I stay clear of:

  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oat grass
  • Beer
  • Any grain based alcohol

2. Took a comprehensive ALCAT food intolerance test

–  I highly recommend this step even though it is expensive. Before I took this test, and after I started keeping a food journal, I found it odd that I would develop a migraine 48 hours (two days) after consuming an offending food. When I mentioned this to a number of doctors, the answer was always that if I didn’t develop an allergic reaction within 3 hours of a meal, it was not a food allergy. We agreed to disagree.

–  Most medical practitioners will tell you to take a regular food allergy test which is done by pricking your arm or back with 50 or so different needles containing certain foods known to cause allergies. This test does not work for someone with chronic migraines who may be suffering from leaky gut.

–  It can take up to 72 hours for a migraine to develop as the food slowly gets digested and any toxin build-up gets high enough to trigger a migraine. The ALCAT test will show you which specific foods you have mild, moderate, or severe reactions to. I was amazed to see some of the results but felt vindicated when I saw many of the foods I had long suspected of contributing to my migraines.

 

3. Eliminated most refined sugars and cut down on the amount of carbohydrates that I consume

–  Sugars, and carbohydrates that turn into sugars, feed the bad bacteria in your stomach. By cutting down on sugars, you are essentially starving the bad bacteria while allowing the good bacteria to grow.

4. Started taking probiotic supplements (gluten-free of course + non-dairy)

–  With leaky gut, your stomach flora is out of balance and the bad bacteria, in many cases, take over. By taking high-quality probiotics, you start building up the good bacteria in your stomach. A word of caution though; not all probiotics are created equally and the cheaper the product, the less likely that it will be of help to you.

–  Also remember that if you don’t cut back on sugars, your effort will be wasted. You need to reduce the bad bacteria by cutting off sugars and carbohydrates. Then you can rebuild the good bacteria with probiotics

Things to look for (subject to the approval of your health care professional):

  • Raw & gluten-free
  • Non-dairy
  • No binders, fillers, or carriers
  • Should contain at least 50 billion live cultures
  • 30+ probiotic strains

 5. Added supplements to my daily diet.

–  In my case, I started taking a significant amount of vitamin D, a comprehensive multi-vitamin containing a fair amount of zinc, in addition to fish oil (Omega-3). The multi-vitamin should also contain a significant amount of vitamin C.

–  I also started taking L-glutamine in order to strengthen the gastrointestinal tract

Leaky Gut – Conclusion

In terms of curing leaky gut, you should also be aware that changes will not be instantaneous and remember that, in all likelihood, your condition has been developing for years. It will take time for your stomach to heal. If you have leaky gut, and if you feel that your migraines are a result of this condition, then this approach should allow your stomach to improve and heal.

Once healing starts to occur, you will find that your migraines will lessen in severity and frequency. You will likely also be able to start consuming some foods that previously gave you issues.

** Read this article to find out HOW histamines affect migraine sufferOrs. **

6 responses to Do you suffer from migraines? You may have leaky gut

  1. Carrie Schuessler

    Hi there- thanks for the article! I have chronic migraine and am experimenting with my diet a lot lately. How long did it take for you to feel “healed” from leaky gut? I’m also wondering if you “cheat” and eat gluten or sugar for a day if the healing process has to start all over, ya know? Let me know. I have done strictly paleo for about a month and didn’t notice a change in my head, but wondering if it wasn’t long enough for the proper healing to be done.

    • LWM LWM– Author

      It can take up to 3 months to notice a meaningful change. Every once in a while I will eat gluten but is not enough to derail the healing. What can be really problematic is if you continue to eat a lot of sugar since this acts as an inflammatory in your gut. The paleo diet alone would not necessarily help you if you have a food intolerance. I would make sure to rule out any such intolerance and stay away from caffeine and dairy as well.

  2. Toni

    HI..thank you for this article. You have named so many of my symptoms. I get headaches,some more severe than others,lots..about 3 or 5 nights a week,and they almost always happen at night. After I have a bm they may go away but not always.Some days are a write off. 🙁 I find that I cannot eat chicken for some reason. I have had 4 day and night migraines from eating a meal with chicken or turkey. I have been taking supplements,like L-glutamine for quite a while now,over a year,psyllium,aloe vera..and other gut healing things as well. I was diagnosed with hep c in 1997,but have cleared the virus,my liver function tests all come back normal,yet I feel my liver does not function properly. I eat mostly vegetables,and some fish. I use cream in my tea ( just quit drinking coffee too although I didn’t drink a lot. But ….I am frustrated and tired of feeling like this. I am 61 years old,and would like to feel as young as my heart and mind do.Do you have any suggestions? thank you.. ( I eat fish as a protein because otherwise I feel hungry so soon after and when I am working it is hard to eat right when I am hungry..and how does one eat when one has to cook a meal of veggies or make a salad or something all the time lol Anyway,any suggestions would be helpful. Is the ALCAT test something I can get ordered by my doctor ( I live in Canada)
    thanks again.Toni Hayward

    • LWM LWM– Author

      Hi Toni – I am sorry to hear that you are having these issues. It might make sense to check whether you are allergic to beef/ pork/ poultry. I would also recommend checking whether you have low stomach acid (Hypochlorhydria). If you are unable to digest proteins, it could be a sign that your suffering from low stomach acid. One way to find out is with the challenge test using betaine pepsin HCI. This post has some useful information.

      The ALCAT test is useful in understanding whether you have an underlying food intolerance. However, it will not point out the cause for the intolerance. Eliminating coffee can be a double-edged sword. Often times, a cup of coffee can abort a migraine very quickly. Early on, I would suggest an elimination diet, removing coffee altogether. But, it can make sense to introduce caffeine as a way to abort a migraine without drinking coffee. Taking a caffeine supplement can alleviate migraine symptoms without disturbing your stomach. You can read more on this here.

      Best of luck and let me know what you find out.

  3. Heather

    Great article! My 16 y/o son has been diagnosed with New Persistent Daily Headache and Chronic Migraines. Basically he has had a headache 24/7 for about 8 months, sometimes it is worse than others. Sometimes it is a full blown migraine attack. He is on Topomax and has occasionally takes Imitrex. We can’t tell either one help. In fact, we wonder if the Topomax isn’t making it worse. So I am desperate to figure out what is causing these headaches, instead of trying to mask his symptoms with drugs. I strongly suspect leaky gut. He had a food sensitivity test, although I don’t know if it was called ALCAT. It was done through BioTek and tested for IGg and IgE (I think) reactions. From the test his main issues identified were eggs, dairy, shrimp, and mushrooms. He had slight reaction to gluten and some other things. My questions are as follows:
    1.) Does this suggest leaky gut or just that he reacts to these certain things?
    2.) By the time we take out the foods he reacts too, plus foods commonly known to cause migraines, plus everything known to damage the gut there is very little left. And on top of that he is a picky eater. Can we start with just eliminating the foods he reacts too or must we do all of that? I am really concerned that it will be SO restrictive he won’t be able to do it. We are dedicated to this because we are desperate to get his life back. Any advice here or were to look or where to get guidance with this process would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance for any advice or information you may have.

    • LWM LWM– Author

      I am sorry to hear that Heather. If you read about my own experience here, you will find that I have not taken doctor-recommended medication that aimed to treat or alleviate migraine symptoms. As you cite, these generally mask the real reason why the migraines are happening in the first place. Furthermore, the side effects can be quite substantial.

      The test you mention appears to be a blood test for certain antibodies and is very different from the ALCAT test. An important difference between the ALCAT test and others is that it is designed to find food intolerances that can take days to develop, compared to other tests. However, before embarking down this road, I would want to find out the timing between any potentially offending food and a reaction. Otherwise, the ALCAT test might not be needed.

      I would recommend pursuing a strict elimination diet and going to a neutral base for the next week or so, keeping a detailed food journal (Please see the post on writing your first food journal here.

      I know it seems daunting but it is the only way to isolate offending foods. I would also immediately eliminate dairy, gluten, and significantly reduce the sugar intake for the next month. If he is eating cereal in the morning, substituting this with boiled gluten-free oats can be a good way to go as long as he is not allergic. You can add agave nectar or raw honey instead of sugar, if he can handle this. I would recommend boiled carrots, celery, and either white rice or potatoes for your neutral base if he has no reaction to these. Instead of dairy, it may be possible to substitute either coconut or almond milk; again, to the extent he is not allergic.

      In the journal, I would also note sleep patterns, migraine times and severity, and what, if any, supplements he may be currently taking.

      Best of luck

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