Managing Food Triggers With Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes
Is it possible to have our cake and eat it, too (possibly literally)? Elimination diets are a pain and no one wants to give up foods they don’t have to, so finding ways to manage food triggers without major (or any) dietary changes is a priority for many people with food triggers. It might be possible, but it depends on what you react to and why. It’s useful to start by doing an elimination diet so you know what foods you’re reacting to, then try to figure out ways to manage your reactions to those particular items.
Outside of eliminating foods that you have an intolerance to, probiotics and digestive enzymes are the most common ways to manage food intolerances. Some people swear by certain vitamins or supplements, colonic irrigation, meditation, and hormonal manipulation. I can’t speak to the credibility or utility of those latter methods, but I can tell you about the first two. Personally, probiotics have been helpful for me, but diamine oxidase, a digestive enzyme, has been nothing short of life-changing. I have no financial interest in recommending any of the products I mention. They’re what I’ve tried based on research and my naturopath’s recommendations.
Our bodies are full of bacteria, which is often classified as “bad” or “good.” Bad bacteria can contribute to disease, while good bacteria can promote health. (This is a very simplified explanation. Discover magazine’s website is a good place to learn about gut bacteria and the human microbiome. The microbiome slideshow is a great introduction.) Much of the research on the microbiome has looked at gut bacteria. Probiotics are essentially a capsule full of good bacteria, which you take once or twice a day. They can help promote good bacteria and improve digestion.
Sounds great, except that some strains can trigger migraine attacks in some people (the bacteria in yogurt is why it’s often a trigger). Like with food, different strains can be a trigger in different people. Finding out the probiotic strains that are not a migraine trigger for you is usually a matter of trial and error, which can be expensive. If you know someone who takes probiotics, ask if you can have (or pay for) one or two capsules. That’s far less expensive than buying an entire bottle that you might have to throw out. Ther-Biotic Complete and VSL #3 are two comprehensive probiotics that I’ve had success with. VSL #3 has been studied extensively in gastroenterological research, so it’s the one I use.
The human microbiome is an exciting areas of scientific discovery that’s in the early stages. What’s known about the microbiome is dwarfed by the unknown. I tell you this because if you explore the topic further, you’re likely to find claims about the wonderfulness (or terribleness) of probiotics for various conditions. Keep in mind that knowledge on this topic is nowhere near absolute or certain and be wary of anyone (or any company) that claims otherwise. The journal Nature has an excellent article that includes five crucial questions you should ask when reading about claims related to the microbiome.
Digestive enzymes can also help manage food triggers. Some people can eat their normal diet and use digestive enzymes to make up the difference, but it’s more common to use them in conjunction with a restricted diet. Good comprehensive enzymes not made from pineapple, which can be a migraine trigger, include Similase made by Integrative Therapeutics or Digestive Enzymes Ultra made by Pure Encapsulations.
Diamine oxidase (DAO) is a specific digestive enzyme (not a comprehensive one like I mention above) that may be particularly helpful for people with migraine. The body produces DAO naturally, but some early research shows that many people with migraine do not make sufficient amounts.1 DAO is what’s required to process the histamine that’s released as part of the digestive process and the histamine that’s present in many foods. Histamine’s role in migraine is complicated, but if your body has more than it can process, a migraine attack may ensue. DAO is the single most effective migraine prevention treatment I have ever tried.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?