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Migraine headaches could be caused by gut bacteria reaction to nitrates such as those found in red wine, chocolate, and bacon.

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There is this idea out there that certain foods trigger migraines - chocolate, wine and especially foods containing nitrates. 

Research shows sufferers have higher levels of bacteria involved in processing nitrates, and could explain why some foods appear to act as migraine triggers.

The study, published on Tuesday in the journal mSystems, sequenced bacteria found in 172 oral samples and 1,996 faecal samples from healthy participants, who had also reported whether they were affected by migraines.

In both oral and faecal samples, people with migraines had slightly higher levels of bacteria linked to breaking down nitrates.

Around one in seven people suffer from migraines, with the majority having an attack more than once a month and about half being severely affected when they get a migraine. Symptoms typically involve a throbbing headache, nausea and lethargy. Some people also experience a visual aura, which appears as shimmering light in the peripheral vision.

Diet, stress and lack of sleep are all known to be triggers, and hormones are also thought to play a role - migraine affects three times as many women as men.

Chocolate is sometimes cited as a migraine trigger, but previous research suggests that often people crave sweet food during a preparatory phase of the migraine before symptoms have started. That is, you want to eat chocolate because you’re about to get a migraine, rather than chocolate being the cause.

The scientists are now planning a controlled diet study of migraine sufferers to see whether nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream are linked to migraine attacks.

In the future, the researchers said, it might be possible to “have a magical probiotic mouthwash” that would alter the balance of bacteria to help prevent migraines.

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