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A Gut-Brain Connection In Migraine?

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We know that Migraine is a genetic neurological disease. But, we also know that no one body system operates independently of the others. Recent reading as well as my experiences with Migraine and those of other Migraineurs have me contemplating the relationship of our digestive system to Migraine disease.

An article in the journal Headache reported the findings of a study showing that Migraineurs experience gastric stasis between Migraine attacks, not just during them.

Dr. Michael Gershon, in "The Second Brain," explores the field of neurogastroenterology, which he says,

"began when the first investigators determined that there really is a second brain in the bowel... the gut contains nerve cells that can 'go it alone'; that is, they can operate the organ without instructions from the brain or spinal cord."

You may have read about lesions being detected on the brains of Migraineurs. They're also found in patients with other neurological diseases, and the type of lesions found in the brains of those with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases have also been found in the nerve tissue of their enteric (digestive) nervous systems, what Dr. Gershon calls "the second brain." Gershon also states that "95% of the body's serotonin is made in the bowel." Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters affected by a Migraine.

In a search of medical literature, I came across an article in the journal Alternative Medicine Review. The article, "Treatment of Migraine with Targeted Nutrition Focused on Improved Assimilation and Elimination," reports on a clinical trial of a Migraine preventive therapy based on the "gut-brain" connection, actually called Gut Brain Therapy™.

The authors of the article noted the following points:

  • "A good response to prophylactic treatment is defined as a 50-percent reduction in the frequency or severity of migraine attacks,"
  • "Few studies have compared the response to particular migraine preventive drugs, leaving physicians with little guidance for choosing among various agents,"
  • "Botanical and nutritional approaches to migraine prevention have shown some promise."

These points were given as background to their approach to their study:

"The approach utilized in this study is based on classic naturopathic medical philosophy; i.e., disease is the deterioration of normal function in one of two areas – either the body is not getting what it needs due to faulty assimilation or the body is unable to remove wastes and toxins due to poor elimination, or both. Naturopathic philosophy also suggests that genetics determine underlying susceptibility to disease or dysfunction, but not actual disease manifestation. The goal is to remove obstacles to cure by focusing on improving assimilation and elimination, allowing the body’s inherent abilities of repair and recovery to function properly."

This was a 90-day open label trial with 40 participants. The participants were given the Gut Brain Therapy™ Migraine prevention formula developed by ForeverWell, which consists of two nutritional formulations. The first, Combination A, contained an enzymatically rendered fish protein with a high level of bioactive peptides, amino acids, and a blend of four probiotics. The second formulation, Combination B, is a blend of twenty-one different ingredients designed to improve the nutritional status of the liver and kidneys.


  • Eight of the 40 participants experienced no improvement in their migraine frequency or duration
  • Twenty-four (60%) of the participants experienced almost total relief from Migraine attacks
  • The remaining eight participants experienced varying degrees of improvement in the duration and frequency of their attacks.

To measure the effect of Gut Brain Therapy™ on quality of life, study participants were required to complete the Medical Outcomes Trust Migraine Specific Quality of Life (MSQ) Questionnaire (Version 2.1, copyrighted 1992, 1996, 1998 by Glaxo Wellcome Inc. before the study, at 30 day intervals, and at the end of the study. Each of three MSQ dimensions was scored separately and ranked a scale from 0 to 100:

  • Role-function restrictive (the degree to which performance of normal activity was restricted or limited by Migraine): Study participants registered a combined quality of life scale of 38 at the beginning of the study. By the end of 90 days it was at 76.
  • Role-function preventive dimension: Scores rose from a baseline of 56 to 84 at the conclusion of 90 days.
  • Emotional function: Scores rose from a baseline of 30 to 77 at the conclusion of 90 days.


How closely is "the gut" tied to Migraine disease? As with other questions, ask different researchers, and you'll get different answers. That doesn't mean anyone is right or wrong, but that we're far from knowing everything. At the very least, we have some interesting reading and something else to discuss with our doctors.



Aurora, Sheena K., Kori, Shashidhar H., Barrodale, Pat, McDonald, Susan A. & Haseley, David (2006) "Gastric Stasis in Migraine: More Than Just a Paroxysmal Abnormality During a Migraine Attack." Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 46 (1), 57-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2006.00311.x

Gershon, Michael D., MD. "The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine." Harper Paperbacks. New York. 1999.

James Sensenig, James, ND; Marrongelle, Jeffrey, DC, CCN; Johnson, Mark , BS; Staverosky, Thomas, BS. "Treatment of Migraine with Targeted Nutrition Focused on Improved Assimilation and Elimination." Alternative Medicine Review, 2001;6(5):488-494.


Published April 20, 2006
© Teri Robert


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