My near-mantra is that migraines are not a problem in the head. Rather, these headaches are a sign that something is wrong with your overall health. The evidence supporting this position is plentiful and some of this research can be found in a recent blog post that refers to migraines as a “progressive brain disorder.”
While migraines can begin at any age, it is not unusual to have them start as a toddler. I recently had a patient whose migraines began as early as 2 years of age. As a parent, I can think of few things more achingly painful than watching your innocent child suffer the debilitating pain of a migraine while all you can do is watch helplessly. No wonder some parents who seek help from pediatric neurologists resort to neurotransmitter-altering medications given at a time when the brain is undergoing some of the most dramatic changes of his or her lifespan.
But what if there is another answer? What if there was an early warning sign that something was wrong with your little one’s system?
What if you could change it THEN, possibly derailing the chance that your small child will suffer with migraines?
As you can guess, I wouldn’t bring this up unless there was an answer.
This particular study looks at the relationship between an infant who experienced infantile colic and his or her later risk of developing chronic migraine headaches. Here’s what they found:
- Children with migraine were 661% more likely to have had infantile colic.
- If the child had migraine without aura the risk was still massive at 701%.
- Migraine with aura 573% .
- However, this association was not present with tension-type headaches.
In other words, somewhere there is an incredibly strong connection between infantile colic and migraines. There are several mechanisms that might explain the association.
One possible explanation is that the gut produces a very high level of neurotransmitters, which is why the gut is frequently referred to as the “second brain.” An alteration in the production of these neurotransmitters in the gut could clearly affect brain function.
As an example, 2/3 of the body’s serotonin comes from the gut. When the gut is inflamed, it will produce even more serotonin. This could result in the infant’s brain being bathed in an unnaturally high level of serotonin, resulting in a lifetime of a sort of serotonin deficency. Serotonin clearly has an influence on the brain and some migraine medications (like amytriptaline) are used to treat migraines.
The other explanation can start with a personal story. When my little Keegan was an infant, he experienced colic. As any parent can tell you, colic can be heartbreaking and frustrating, especially in the middle of the night when the parent is going on virtually no sleep.
While most cases of colic are said to last about 3 months, Keegan’s was handled in about 4 weeks through a combination of probiotics, a visit to a pediatric chiropractor and cutting dairy out of mom’s diet while she continued to nurse.
There is absolutely NO doubt that food allergies can contribute to chronic migraine headaches. The changes made for Keegan were designed to shift his immune system back into balance (probiotics for Th1 stimulation, allergen avoidance to tone down Th2 pathways). An altered immune system can produce inflammation that is bad for the brain and bad for the blood vessels leading to the brain.
This study can give us further insight into what might cause migraines later in life. It may be that, in those who suffer from chronic migraine headaches AND had infantile colic, the identification and avoidance of food allergies and calming any inflammation in the gut may be a critical piece to the puzzle of solving migraine headaches for you or someone you care about.