Migraine Headaches and Gluten-Free Diet

Man with headache

If you have celiac disease, you may want to investigate the link between migraine headaches and gluten free diets, especially if you are one of the 11 out of 100 people who suffer from these often debilitating headaches. As odd as it may seem, your diet of gluten free foods can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.

What Is a Migraine?

If you have ever suffered from a migraine, you are well acquainted with the unique pain and other symptoms brought on by migraine headaches. Migraines usually have a trigger, whether it is bright lights or certain perfumes. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, you are more likely to suffer from migraines if you are a woman.

Having a migraine can be a frightening experience. You may suffer from blurred vision or you may develop a temporary blind spot, the classic aura symptom which usually warns of an impending migraine. A migraine can be accompanied by throbbing pain, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms can come on suddenly and last up to 48 hours.

Migraines and Celiac Disease

Researchers have studied the connection between migraine headaches and gluten free diet. Evidence shows a significant link. A 2001 study published in the journal, Neurology (56:385-388), found going gluten free brought migraine relief to 9 out of 10 patients. While this was a small study, the evidence is compelling.

A 2003 study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology (98:625-629) confirmed these findings with a change in their approach. The researchers tested migraine sufferers for celiac disease using the gliadin IgA and IgG test. The study found a significant portion of migraine sufferers also had celiac disease, suggesting a positive link between the two conditions. In these cases, gluten may be the trigger of migraine headaches.

Migraine Headaches and Gluten Free Diet

The same inappropriate immune response which causes damage to the villi of the small intestine may cause the abnormal brain activity which occurs when you have a migraine. If you suffer from migraines, one of the best preventives is to reduce your contact with potential triggers. By going gluten free, you accomplish that exact recommendation.

Migraines may not be a common symptom of celiac disease which is more commonly associated with gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal cramping and pain. Other less common symptoms of celiac disease include vertigo and panic attacks which suggest a neurological link.

Migraines and Malabsorption

One symptom of celiac disease is the malabsorption of nutrients. As the disease progresses, the villi of the small intestine become damaged resulting in a lower absorption of nutrients and reduced surface area within the small intestine.

As a consequence, you may suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to malabsorption. Other symptoms unrelated to the actual cause of celiac disease may occur, such that the illness manifests itself differently in some individuals. These secondary effects may explain the link between migraine headaches and gluten free diet.

Several studies have shown a link between low levels of magnesium in the blood and the occurrence of migraine headaches. If eating gluten-containing foods can cause malabsorption, you may not be able to receive enough magnesium from your diet, resulting in migraine headaches.

Celiac Disease Screening

The link between magnesium and migraines suggests that if you suffer from these headaches, you should be screened for celiac disease, as recommended by the American Journal of Gastroenterology study.

Fortunately, your body will often respond quickly to going gluten free. IgA anti-gliadin antibodies, for example, decline rapidly after you remove gluten and its protein, gliadin, from your diet. Your body's quick response can help you find fast relief from migraine headaches.

Unfortunately, if you have untreated celiac disease, your life revolves around pain whether it is the pain in your belly or the headache that seems to last forever. Going gluten free can put you on the road to a pain-free life.

Migraine Headaches and Gluten-Free Diet