The head-aching cause of migraines


Elisabeth Hall ’18

Until four months ago, scientists believed that stress and sleep were the only causes of migraines, according to American Gut Project. However, scientists from the organization have recently discovered that abnormally high levels of nitrates in diets can cause intense headaches. This development will increase the effectiveness of treatment. 
Foods such as meats, leafy vegetables, and some wines contain high nitrate levels, according to After bacteria in the mouth and stomach break down food, the nitrates are converted into nitric oxide within the blood stream, according to Nitric oxide is a chemical that dilates blood vessels and advances blood circulation. This dilation causes severe headaches, according to

Elisabeth Hall '18
Elisabeth Hall ’18

Programmer analyst and chief author of the study Dr. Antonio Gonzalez and project manager Dr. Embriette Hyde led the American Gut Project and investigated this theory in further detail. They collected bacteria found in 172 oral samples and 1,996 fecal samples using the software Phylogenetic Investigation of Communities by Reconstruction of Unobserved States. They found that the samples contained high levels of nitrates.
“It opens a full area of research and connects two areas of research that have not been connected before,” Dr. Gonzalez said in an interview conducted by
Sacred Heart Greenwich school nurse Ms. Mary Walsh often encounters girls who experience migraines. The American Gut Project’s discovery intrigues Ms. Walsh who is eager to implement the most effective treatment for migraines in the Sacred Heart community. 
“Years ago, [scientists] always said migraines are caused by stress, but now, the more they research, they see there is a whole gamut of problems that cause them,” Ms. Walsh said.
Typically when a student comes into her office experiencing a migraine, Ms. Walsh advises them to lie down, take Advil, and turn off the lights in the room. Although Ms. Walsh’s previous techniques may relieve the pain of these headaches, this new research can better equip her to effectively treat Sacred Heart students.
Now, Ms. Walsh is looking at how certain foods affect students differently. Ms. Walsh recommends that all students who experience migraines should keep a food diary. A food diary can help a student monitor which foods she eats and which ones are potentially causing her headaches. Once a student collects the necessary information, Ms. Walsh advises her to consult a local neurologist to share her recent eating patterns and locate the source of her migraines. 
Junior Kalyna Carroll has experienced migraines before and has visited Ms. Walsh to mitigate the effects of her powerful headaches.
“Now that I know of this discovery, I will pay better attention to my eating habits in hopes of eliminating future migraines,” Kalyna said. 
– Elisabeth Hall, News and Photo Editor