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Gluten and headaches

Posted on February 28th, 2008 by Alison Read 13 Comments - Add Your Own »

headache.jpgSometimes I just want to shake people (no one in particular) and say “DUH!” I know I see things differently with my gluten-free vision (yes, I am a superhero), and things seem obvious to me. So I get frustrated. Let me explain…

An article came out on the newswire yesterday about a study conducted in Norway to assess the association between headaches and gastrointestinal complaints. The article began like this: “The prevalence of headache is higher in people with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as nausea, acid reflux, diarrhea, and constipation, than in people who don’t have these bothersome symptoms.”

Immediately I think about the fact that headaches and migraines can be symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance. The gastrointestinal symptoms stated in the news article are also commonly caused by celiac disease or gluten intolerance. So it is clear to me that the people with the GI symptoms also have headaches because they are reacting to gluten in many ways, which is usually the case with people who cannot tolerate gluten. I was sure that the doctors who performed the study would draw the same conclusion, and probably also suggest that anyone with headaches be tested for celiac disease.

Alas, no. The conclusion of the study was simply that “headache sufferers generally are predisposed to GI complaints.” And at the end of the article one of the doctors from the study states, “It is important to consider the total burden of discomfort in these patients and to avoid headache medication with adverse gastrointestinal effects in those with much gastrointestinal discomfort.”

Huh? Those are the big conclusions? Oh, those poor headache people also have stomach problems. Boy did they get a bad deal! Well, let’s just be sure we don’t give them any drugs that could make their stomachs feel even worse.

It shouldn’t take a gluten-free superhero to see this gluten connection. It was concluded in a 2003 Italian study that “a significant proportion of patients with migraine may have celiac disease, and that a gluten free diet may lead to a improvement in the migraine in these patients.” I know people whose headaches went away once they cut out gluten. My husband is one of those people — he went from having frequent headaches and monthly migraines to having none since he started a gluten-free diet. No more Excedrin!

The bottom line of this post is that I know that many people suffer from headaches and migraines. If you are one of them, pleeease consider gluten as a possible cause.

Learn more:

Symptoms of celiac disease
Testing for celiac disease
Blood tests are not the final say

Gluten-Free Guide

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  1. I too suffer from frequent migranes. I am suffering as I write this response. I came to the conclusion the other day that I was going to cut gluten from my diet. I am also lactose intolerant.

  2. I had progressively worse headaches from about age 20 until CD diagnosis (age 44) when I was downing 800 mg of ibuprofen a shot to rid myself of them (by that time I was having 4 a week give or take, and esp around TOM).

    Since gf diet: no headaches.

  3. Sandra,
    Go for it! And please let me know what happens.

    Amazing! (well, not really, it makes sense!) But I’m happy for you that you finally got a diagnosis.

  4. Once I started a GF diet I no longer needed my Imitrex RX. People think it is hard to be GF. I think having migraine and stomach issues is WAY worse. I am so much happier on a GF diet.

  5. I also suffered from frequent migraines from high school until diagnosis at age 40. Since starting the GF diet, I maybe have had one or two migraines since. I still suffer from other different types of headaches, though.

  6. I went off gluten for 3 months and my headaches went away.
    In the past 3 weeks they have returned because I made some whole wheat, home milled and baked bread. Not withstanding the healthy nature of this bread I still got headaches.
    My wife has also had no headahes since going gluten free,and because she is more sensitive to gluten than me she has stayed gluten free and headache free.
    This is sure testament to the idea that gluten is an irritant and neurotoxin.
    Hope this helps. Feel free to send me any feedback

  7. I’ve been gluten-free since September and my headaches and migraines are almost completely gone. I used to suffer from minor headaches 2-4 days a week, with extremely painful migraines a couple times a month. Since going gluten-free, I’ve had maybe 3 headaches in the last few months – and these were probably related to inadvertent gluten consumption. Now I’m trying to get my mom and my sister to try a gluten free diet for their headaches!

  8. Kate,
    Thanks for the comment — I hope others will follow your advice!

  9. I’ve been gluten free for almost a year, and am still have daily chronic migraines. Do you have any advice regarding other foods that I should try to eliminate to stop the migraines. I was really hoping gluten free would stop the headaches, and my antibodies have gone way down, so I don’t think I’m accidentally being glutenated. I really enjoy your website, it’s very helpful.

  10. Susanne,
    You might consider IgG antibody testing — although controversial in mainstream medicine (you’ll see some doctors roll their eyes), there are many doctors and health practitioners who use this testing regularly to determine delayed food reactions. It can be so difficult to figure out your own food sensitivities, so this kind of testing can be guide to help you.

  11. I have suffered from migraine from my childhood, That also caused me to put extra efforts in studies, as lot of times I had to be in bed, in dark and with ice cubes.

    I was advised by doctors to take some analgesics in SOS and be physically active to get rid of problems.

    Now that I have turned 30, I finally found that keeping gluten free diet helps me living a migraine free life.

    I came to this website after I had already found that gluten is causing me migraines, So I totally agrees with the author.

    I am now working on, what dietary supplements are needed, to avoid any deficiencies.

  12. I happened upon a gluten free diet as a happy coincidence. I’m currently on a strict low carb diet as part of a weight loss and body building training plan. By cutting out carbs I of course have cut gluten from my dient.

    I have suffered from headaches since I was a toddler, in my 30’s a headache was a daily occurance. I’ve sometimes suffered over a dozen or more migraines in a month. I am currently 47 and nothing I have ever done has helped, short of expensive migraine prescriptions. ]

    In 10 days of a gluten free diet my daily headaches have almost disappeared, and I have only suffered from one mild, short-lived, easily managable, hormone induced migraine in the same time frame. What a difference. I immediately sent this info to my 23 year old daughter, who also suffers from headaches, balance issues, pain sensitivity, and episodes of confusion with some of her worst headaches. I’m hoping she takes my adivce and tries the gluten free way.

    I will now suggest this option to anyone I know who suffers from headaches or migraines.

  13. Last year I decided to go on a diet since I had gained way too much wait and felt awful. The only way I could maintain healthy eating was to give up anything made with flour (like giving up cigarettes. I knew if I didn’t give something up, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I began to lose weight and after about 6 months, woke up one morning and realized that I hadn’t had my daily headaches which always began by around 3:00 if it didn’t start off in the morning (always attributed it to sinus and my working environment)I do not get those headaches anymore that I have been plagued with for years. I am not totally gluten free since occasionally I may have a sauce or something coated with flour,but stay away from breads, rolls, pastries, cakes etc. I know it has to be the reason my headaches are gone. I also no longer have the insatiable cravings I used to have. I am a believer.

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