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Gluten sensitivity and migraines

Over the years I have seen many patients whose headaches improved on a gluten-free diet. Most of these patients tested negative for gluten allergy, or celiac disease (CD). Until now, it was difficult to explain why eliminating gluten would help not only headaches, but many other symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhea, and fatigue.

A study just published in BMC Medicine by a group of American and Italian researchers appears to have found the answer. Researchers from Maryland and Naples compared a group of healthy subjects with patients who had proven celiac disease and patients whose symptoms suggested celiac disease but whose tests for celiac disease were negative. They called the latter group gluten-sensitive (GS). Gluten-sensitive patients improved when they were on gluten-free diet and worsened when gluten was introduced into their diets. Celiac disease is usually diagnosed by a blood test for antibodies to gluten and by intestinal biopsy. The gluten-sensitive patients had normal biopsies and no antibodies to gluten, but their blood did show signs of an immune reaction of a different type.


This study still needs to be repeated by other researchers, but if these findings are confirmed they will explain why gluten can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches. The bottom line is that if you have headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, as well as fatigue and mental “fog”, it may be worth trying a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free diet is not an easy undertaking since many products (including beverages) besides bread and pasta contain gluten. You can find a detailed list of foods containing gluten on the Celiac Disease Foundation website and on the Mayo clinic website.

It is possible that a similar mechanism plays a role in patients who find relief on a dairy-free diet even if they are not lactose-intolerant. In my practice I find that fewer patients are sensitive to dairy products than to gluten and I have seen some patients who are sensitive to both.

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

Comments

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    Gluten free is really very simple IF you cook using basic ingredients and not processed foods.

  • Anne
    5 years ago

    Except, when someone goes gluten free they’re excluding other possible migraine triggers. There’s been a lot of talk lately of particular sugar found in wheat called FODMAP that may be the real culprit for those who think gluten is the culprit.

    Which is good news for those on a severely restrictive diet.

  • India Whitney- White
    7 years ago

    Makes sence to me. Shawn, check this out. 🙂

  • Alley DaSilva Hicks
    7 years ago

    from 7 years of age, to 36 I suffered with horror migraines. GF now 8 months no migraine? is this the cure? All I know is I feel so much better!

  • R.D.Hayes
    3 years ago

    It really worked for you? What kind of migraines do you have?

  • Kathy Oliver
    8 years ago

    Love being gf. It has greatly improved my migraines. Still get them but now only about 5 times a month instead of 15! Gained weight at 1st and had to learn to control the gf goodies. gf 2 years and will never go back!

  • Nene
    8 years ago

    I have been gluten free for 18 months now and it has reduced my migraines by about 75%. AFter 2 months it cleared up some of the “brain fog” that I have lived with for a long time and it makes me feel as though I am two steps away from a migraine instead of ready to “tip off the cliff” at the slightest breeze. I decided to try it because I had some abdominal pain and thought – at least it’s not more drugs. It took about 2 months of vigilantly sticking to it to notice migraine frequency decrease – and now I will never go back. When I see a piece of bread I think – nothing is worth a migraine – and it is like I don’t even see it or want it now. I am not celiac – but I don’t need a label to know it works. So grateful this helps. It doesn’t cure my basilar-type migraines, but still made a difference. Maybe it will help you? At least it’s not more drugs. Take care, everyone.

  • Christina Winburn
    8 years ago

    Certain foods and drinks I’ve learned has trigger migranes for me. Each individual is different and the things that bother me may not bother someone else. I appreciate information about migranes. There maybe something that I haven’t thought of before.

  • Krissy Edge
    8 years ago

    Paleo lifestyle is gluten and casein free. It works!

  • Tara Lane
    8 years ago

    Ellen Schnakenberg What is a paleolithic diet? I have been on a diet of rice, apples, bananas, white bread, and chicken broth for about a week now and am quite satisfied not to eat anything else. I feel my internal system is starting to regulate itself, it is easy on the budget, and after over 40 years of so many medications I am horrified to look at the list, my gastrointestinal system must look like swiss cheese.

    I am sure I don’t have celiac disease because losing weight has never been my problem, but I have had a lot of diarrhea that has been plaguing me with almost everything I eat, along with increased intolerance of most foods – all dairy, soy & soy products, all of which (incl. yogurt my favorite) give me bad migraines w/in 4 hrs). I was at the point when I did not know what to eat, when one of my docs. put me on this diet. I cheated a bit at first with some cookies, but now I am not eating those because they seem to bring on migraines as well.

    Sugar may be out for me too. Whole grains are anathema. I don’t even know who to talk to about this. There is one person in Charleston SC who runs an Environmental Nutritional Clinic that tests for all this stuff and is an MD who started evaluating it in the 70’s. The initial stay is 2 weeks, but you have to stay in a hotel, near the airport, which is not cheap, and the tx is not cheap either, and I doubt my medicare would cover it. Anyone ever here of this place? Am I allowed to say the name of the DR on this forum?

  • Krissy Edge
    8 years ago

    Hi Ellen! I guess you could approach the Paleo diet as being told what to eat. Granted it is not easy to give up foods most of us were raised on but I have to say it gets easier the longer I am on the “diet”. There are so many benefits of the Paleo lifestyle I couldn’t possibley list them all here. I refuse to take anything stronger that motrin for my migraines I would much rather manipulate my lifestyle.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Krissy, I’ve talked to quite a few people who have gone on paleolithic diets and had a lot of success. Sometimes I think it is easier to eat what I’m told rather than trying to NOT eat what I’m told to avoid.

  • Adriana Giglio
    8 years ago

    Thank you…

  • Adriana Giglio
    8 years ago

    si yo mas por lo de la cabeza…

  • Lourdes Kahlo
    8 years ago

    amiga yo hago una dieta gluten free y no sabes como me alivie de los dolores de estomago, te acuerdas que te comente? llamame y platicmaos

  • Jessica Madore
    8 years ago

    As a person who has Celiac disease, I may need to revisit trying a gluten free diet. I tried one years ago and found it to be way too expensive to buy the specialty products. But if there is an off chance that my headaches would decrease I suppose it may be time to try again. I may not be able to eliminate gluten entirely, but I could certainly reduce the amount I eat. Looking at losing the part time job I have and not getting much in the way of food stamps really limits any kind of diet I can follow. My family has to eat too! I’m all for the research, but how about some info on how to actually afford the food changes!

  • Jeff Drobny
    8 years ago

    I’ve been gluten free for a year, it has eliminated the daily headache and greatly decreased the severity of nausea during an acute episode. It is a complete lifestyle change, but worth it. In addition to improvements in headaches, I have also lost about 30lbs in this last year and (migraines aside) this is probably the best I have ever felt. Cooki is correct, a lot GF foods are not that great. Bread and pizza crust from Udi are very good, though, and Kikkoman GF soy sauce is must, many Thai food products are GF and a great substitute if you like Chinese food. I stick to meats, veggies, rice and quinoa. It really is only as difficult as you make it. Try it for a few weeks and see if it helps with your headaches or any other issues you may have. I really noticed after 10 days that the everyday headache (5 on the pain scale) was gone and I wasn’t as lethargic. Good luck.

  • Jeff Drobny
    8 years ago

    …(oops) GF, though. Fruity/Cocoa Pebbles, Chex Cereals, the Udi products are good and if she doesn’t like them her parents should, plus they are much better for you than regular bread. Jen found out that the #3 ingredient in regular wheat bread is high fructose corn syrup. Not great. HyVee and Bakers both have good gluten free areas in their health food sections. Otherwise, just basic proteins, fruits/veggies, dairy, and a lot of label reading. Modified food starch is a vague ingredient that is often best avoided. Let me know if you need anything.

  • Jeff Drobny
    8 years ago

    Heather, I would see if her parents would try a three week trial of going GF. They don’t need to go nuts and buy everything, it can get expensive. There are simple things that are

  • Kenny Estee
    8 years ago

    Jeff, I’m not surprised at all! Grains have always been a huge cause of medical problems. I’m happy for you! It takes a revolutionary act to eat healthy. When was the last time you saw a skinny person eating a Mcdonalds?

  • Heather Binns Keppy
    8 years ago

    This is great info Jeff! Thanks for posting it!! My friend’s daughter HAS to be Gluten sensitive like the article explains. She did not test as having the allergy, so her parents don’t think that’s her major gut issue. I hope they’ll do a trial period of GF foods to see if it helps. I’m going to share this article w/them.

  • Jeff Drobny
    8 years ago

    My last doc, a neuro, wanted to argue with me each time I saw him about me being GF because I wouldn’t go have the expensive test. Not the blood test, the invasive one. I had some improvement and felt better, but he wouldn’t get on-board with it unless I went and had tests done. After three visits of arguing about it (and minimal other progress) I switched docs.

  • Steve Eckerman
    8 years ago

    My wife has been GF for just over a year….we generally eat Organic and GF!….Genetically Modified foods and the Hormones and chemicals in everyday foods everyone eats but never thinks much about..makes you sick…then when we get sick the Medical community wants to give you a scan or a script $$$$$to get well….when generally most everything can be related to diet or environmental causes…….

  • Patty Forrest
    8 years ago

    I thought I’ve tried every food trigger possible, but……in the past few weeks I’ve been eating a gluten free cereal and with just that minor change my CONSTANT migraine/headache pain has decreased. I’ve been eating whole foods, lots of organic, nothing processed for almost 7 months…….I WILL READ a little further about gluten free. I hope it works so I can get off some of the migraine meds that really don’t work, but I stay on them for fear the migraines could always be worse 🙁

  • Allison Harrison
    8 years ago

    I’ve been gluten free for a couple of years and it has made a huge difference in IBS symptoms and migraines are much easier to cope with. You do need to change how you eat but a gluten free diet isn’t that hard to do. Of course if you cook your own food rather than eat out or buy convenience and packaged foods, it is much easier. I don’t have Celiacs but I am most definitely gluten intolerant.

  • Laura Martof Miller
    8 years ago

    This article is vague at best – what did the researchers in Maryland and Naples find in the gluten sensitive patients that connected gluten and headaches?

  • Janene Zielinski
    8 years ago

    I was wondering the same thing.

  • Cooki Camyre
    8 years ago

    I find this rather interesting.. hmmm..might have to try this..although I have tasted some of the gluten free foods…. they need an aquired taste… but if it would remove this pain from my life I might aquire it….. I’ll keep researching this further…

  • Cooki Camyre
    8 years ago

    thank you so much Ellen….

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Perry, Please try to maintain a positive & supportive environment in the discussion forums here at Migraine.com. While we appreciate your participation, maintaining a balanced learning environment is one of our top priorities. Repeatedly posting negative commentary is not conducive to creating a comfortable environment for the rest of the community members.

    Posts which do not comply with our Forum Rules can be deleted by our moderators (please visit http://migraine.com/forums/ for more information).

  • Cooki Camyre
    8 years ago

    PERRY SHUT UP!!!!!

  • Perry Jones
    8 years ago

    It’s wearing your draws to tight.. It’s causing a backup that causes the tissue in your nose to swell. Get that fixed !

  • Cooki Camyre
    8 years ago

    it has nothing to do with my sinus’s….. trust me .. we have checked that .. that is not what cause’s everybodys migraines…. stop diagnosing .. that is not the reason …

  • Cooki Camyre
    8 years ago

    no its not!!!!! that is not my problem ……

  • Perry Jones
    8 years ago

    It’s that tissue swelling in your nose and not letting your sinuses work correctly. Get that fixed !

  • Cooki Camyre
    8 years ago

    And I told you ,, that I have a tumor that is sitting on my optic nerve… and the reason for my headaches is because of the swelling of my blood vessels and not allowing them to constrict… it cuts off the blood flow.. My issue doesn’t have anything to do with any tissue in my damn nose….. i wish it was that easy… but trust me .. I have see enough dr’s to know.. that if it was that easy of fix, i would have had that done way back when …

  • Perry Jones
    8 years ago

    i told you its that tissue at the inner top of your nose that swells and that causes those head aches.. Now get that fixed ! : )

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