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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

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. García‐Martín, E., Martínez, C., Serrador, M., Alonso‐Navarro, H., Ayuso, P., Navacerrada, F., ... & Jiménez‐Jiménez, F. J. (2015). Diamine Oxidase rs10156191 and rs2052129 Variants Are Associated With the Risk for Migraine.Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.


  • Ujima Moore
    5 years ago

    Thank you! I have been living with migraines for 36 years with an early childhood onset. My mother’s began at two and my father had food allergies so she was very aware and paid attention to food triggers from infancy onward for my brother and I. Relatives and family friends accused us of being spoiled because we did not eat and imbibe everything put in front of us or she was willing to provide different meals for family based upon food restrictions. As an adult I live and don’t resent my dietary restrictions as this is just a normal life function for me. Even learning about certain triggers and paying attention I had no idea that probiotics and digestive enzymes played a factor and I am 42! Yogurt and kosher gelatin was often a go to meal growing up due to nausea and vomiting. Over the last few years I haven’t been doing so well with yogurt despite experimenting with different brands. I assumed that the migraine or nausea following attempts to eat yogurt were related to going long periods without food. I usually can only finish a couple spoonful’s of this old dietary standby now. Thank you for broadening my knowledge base. As always I pass along knowledge and look forward to sharing this new nugget. Thank you!

  • Shan43
    5 years ago

    Wonderful article! I am wanting to take probiotics but all the ones I’ve tried give me a nasty migraine. I have food intolerances so really need to take something! If anyone has some advice for what strains would work well for me..and for others with this reaction..I would be so thankful!!

  • BeeG
    5 years ago

    What do I need to look for in a DAO supplement? Dose? Or is there a good brand?

  • Tammy Rome
    5 years ago

    Great article! This is one of the best articles I’ve read on nutritional options for migraine management. Kudos!

  • Poll