Your Quarantine Headaches May Be Related To Your Gut + What To Do

Have you been getting excess headaches this year? Your gut may have something to do with it.

While gut health, stress, and headaches may all seem like independent issues, they’re often intertwined. The gut is often considered the “second brain” because it controls everything from mood to digestion to immune functioning.

In the midst of a pandemic, unhealthy habits and stress may be wreaking havoc on your gut. Because of the gut-brain axis, whatever goes on in the gut may also affect the brain—including the formation of headaches.

How gut health can affect headaches.

“Gut dysbiosis (or an imbalance in your healthy gut bacteria) is a major contributor to not only headaches but primarily migraine headaches,” integrative neurologist Romie Mushtaq, M.D., tells mbg. 

On top of that, stressful situations, like a pandemic, can trigger patterns of emotional eating, sleep fragmentation, and poor mental health. “This can lead to poor food choices and habits and hence gut pain, inflammation, and headaches,” board-certified neurologist and mbg Collective member Ilene S. Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., says. ADVERTISEMENT

How to manage these symptoms. 

First and foremost, it’s important to visit a neurologist who can diagnose the headache and help distinguish a general tension headache from an oft-overlooked, and more serious, migraine. 

Once you’ve worked with a doctor and ruled out the latter, managing stress headaches may begin in the gut. Here are a few expert-approved tips to help: 

1. Eat a nutrient-rich diet.

Eating a diverse, nutrient-rich diet high in fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics can help nurture the bacteria in the gut microbiome. If migraines persist, Ruhoy recommends an elimination diet to help identify specific foods that may be interfering with gut health and potentially causing headaches. “It is important to find a physician to help guide you through an appropriate elimination diet,” she adds. 

2. Take a probiotic.

Probiotic supplements introduce good bacteria to the gut microbiome, helping balance any dysbiosis.* Renowned integrative physician Robert Rountree, M.D., likes to think of them as “the good cops, and the good cops can keep watch over the bad guys,” he previously told mbg.  

Take note of your body’s response—if you begin to feel less bloated, less gassy, etc., after taking the probiotic, that likely means it’s working.* Then, assess whether your headaches have begun to improve. If so, that’s a good sign the gut dysbiosis was a contributor.  

3. Test for food sensitivities.

To get to the bottom of the gut dysbiosis, Mushtaq recommends getting tested for possible causes of inflammation. “Clinical evaluation could include testing for food sensitivities, screening for Helicobacter pylori infection, irritable bowel syndrome, and other causes of inflammation,” she says. Working with a trusted doctor or gastroenterologist can be beneficial for this step.

Bottom line.

Amid COVID-19 and days spent in quarantine, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and develop habits that trigger inflammation in the gut. This may even lead to additional tension headaches.

With the help of a doctor or neurologist, you can get to the root of these issues. Beginning to support gut health and manage stress levels can be helpful.


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