Why do probiotics cause headaches for some people when taking a probiotic supplement or consuming fermented food? This is puzzling since studies indicate that probiotics can help prevent headaches and migraine.Multispecies probiotic supplement on and chronic migraine – PubMed (nih.gov)
In this post, two common reasons for headaches are a bit surprising.
1. Probiotics promote elimination of waste
Probiotics can cause headache when it triggers the body to eliminate unwanted microorganisms, toxins, heavy metals, and waste. The elimination process uses several exit routes—the skin, the colon, and urination. Therefore, symptoms can vary depending on which exit route is activated. But headaches are common.Probiotics and heavy metal detox (asm.org)Probiotic bacteria as potential detoxification tools – PubMed (nih.gov)Effect of probiotics on bisphenol – PubMed (nih.gov)
When beneficial bacteria destroy harmful ones, bad microorganisms can release powerful toxins causing headaches, muscle aches, skin rash, and other symptoms. Therefore, such headaches are harmless and caused by an improvement in the gut environment.
Most people just feel good when consuming probiotics while others get minor reactions for a few days. A stronger reaction might be due to infections like candida overgrowth. For others, headaches appear when probiotics improve a poor gut environment—lowering inflammations, removing toxins, and waste.
How can headaches from probiotics be avoided?
One obvious way is to lower the probiotic dose or the amount of fermented food consumed. For some, it might be best to stop entirely with probiotics and rethink the strategy. Try emptying a probiotic capsule in glass of water or juice and to drink this slowly during the day. This is like a superslow release and can remove headaches and other symptoms.
Read about other ways to support the gut.
Summary: Headaches from probiotics is unpleasant but harmless. Reasons why probiotics cause headaches include gut infections, inflammations, the presence of heavy metals or other toxins that are removed. Probiotics improve the gut environment which can require days or weeks, rarely longer. Though unpleasant, headaches is a good sign since it means the probiotics is working.
2. Headaches from biogenic amines
This is another reason why probiotics might cause headaches. Many commercially produced foods are fermented and contain high levels of biogenic amines. This is a substance that in sensitive people can cause headaches and other symptoms. Many are sensitive to amines without knowing about it.
Why are amines present in fermented food?
Amines are substances formed when certain bacteria break down amino acids in vegetables and other foods. There are great variations of amine levels in similar products from different producers which makes it hard to know what to avoid. If an individual is sensitive to amines, he or she can get headaches after consuming certain fermented foods. However, in such cases it’s actually not probiotics causing headaches but the amines.Effects of dietary amines on the gut – PubMed (nih.gov)Diet and Headache – PubMed (nih.gov)Biogenic amines formation – PubMed (nih.gov)Technological Factors Affecting Biogenic Amine Content in Foods – PubMed (nih.gov)
Two amines are common culprits in headaches:
- Tyramine: present in commercial yogurt, aged cheese, red wine, commercial sauerkraut, soy sauce, and many other products.
- Histamine: present in commercial sauerkraut, vinegar, chocolate, and other products.
Other adverse reactions to amines include:
- Stomach problems
- Skin rash
- Many more
How to avoid headaches from amines
If you’re sensitive to amines, then a good recommendation is to stick to fresh food—buy, cook, and consume fresh food. Avoid canned and processed food as they are often very high in amines. And spoiled food can contain extremely high levels which is a reason they cause food poisoning. A great help is to keep a daily food diary as this can identify what causes the headaches.
Probiotic supplements do not contain amines. However, they can contain artificial coating, soy, wheat, gluten, and other substances that can trigger headaches.
What about fermented food prepared at home?
Interestingly, studies indicate that homemade fermented vegetables generally contain very low amounts of amines, too low to cause headaches in most people. One reason seems to be that other kinds of bacteria are involved when fermenting at home compared to commercially fermented foods. A suitable starter culture prevents high levels of amines from developing.Reduced biogenic amine contents in sauerkraut (researchgate.net)Biogenic amine contents in sauerkraut – Academia.edu
Summary: Industry fermented foods can contain high levels of amines that in sensitive person can cause headaches. Keeping a food diary helps to determine which foods to avoid. Homemade fermented food using a starter is safer. Probiotics supplements do not contain amines.
It varies from a few days to several weeks. Most people don’t get headaches from fermented food. And most of those that do get headaches have it only for a few days. However, in case of a poor gut, inflammations, or infections the headaches can last longer.
Each individual is different so it might requires some research. When it comes to amines, sticking to fresh food helps. Many also find it practical to prepare a list of foods that should be avoided. This list will be highly personal and tailored for your needs and depends on factors like how sensitive you are to amines, how much you eat, level of fitness, and lifestyle.