The Gluten-Migraine Connection: Could a Gluten-Free Diet Manage Migraines?

Gluten can be the culprit for a whole host of symptoms. Most people are aware of gluten causing dull aches, bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms. However, gluten can also be the reason for frequent headaches. Approximately 30 percent of people with celiac disease experienced migraines or chronic headaches, according to research published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

What is a migraine?

Some people experience a regular headache and assume they have a migraine. A migraine is a bit different and more intense. A migraine can come on slowly or abruptly, and it can become disabling. The pain can last for several hours or even days. Between the intense throbbing in the head, nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to sound and light, it’s no wonder many people have to climb under their blankets in the dark to try and get some sort of relief from their pain. Some people describe the feeling of a migraine similar to having the flu.

The cause of migraines is not known, but according to experts, it could be related to the trigeminal nerve system, or nerves in your face, along with a chemical imbalance in the brain.

What is the connection between gluten and migraines?

According to the journal Headache, individuals with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and inflammatory bowel disease have an increase in migraine headaches compared to people without those conditions.

The details of a study in this journal showed that 500 of the individuals who met the exclusion criteria went under analysis. There were 188 individuals with celiac disease, 25 with gluten sensitivity, 111 people with irritable bowel disease and 178 controls. Chronic headaches were reported by 14 percent of the control group, 23 percent of those with irritable bowel disease, 56 percent with gluten sensitivity, and 30 percent of those with celiac. The subject groups each had a significantly higher rate of migraines than the control groups.

What can you do?

It may seem obvious to steer clear of gluten to avoid migraines for those with celiac or gluten sensitivity. However, it’s not always that easy. Some people may notice a vast improvement with migraines when they give up gluten, but others still experience agonizing pain. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to lower your chances of suffering this chronic pain.

Focus on your sleep—Too little or too much sleep can bring on a migraine. Try to aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Be aware of hormonal changes—Many women notice a prevalence of migraine headaches either right before their menstrual period or during a mid-cycle. This could be brought on due to estrogen level chances.

Monitor medications—Be cautious of the medication you take. Some medicine, like cold medicine, nitroglycerin or birth control pills, can bring on a crippling migraine.

Vitamins are key—According to Amy Burkhart, MD, RD, who writes a blog called TheCeliacMD, vitamins are critical with celiac, so monitor them to stay within the best range. Make sure your iron level is normal. Oftentimes individuals with celiac disease can experience low iron. Vitamin D should also be within the optimal range. Additionally, have your doctor check your zinc, B12 and magnesium. Each of those vitamins are important, but when you have celiac, you could be deficient in those areas, causing more migraines.

Celiac disease can already be hard to live with for some people. Adding migraines to the mix just makes it worse. Staying on top of your health and lifestyle, along with making sure your vitamins remain optimal, is a vital part of keeping migraines at bay.

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