Gluten & Migraines – Is There a Link?

Gluten & Migraine

A Migraine Disorder is a type of headache which is normally throbbing and pulsating in character. This type of headache usually occurs on one side of the head. Migraines are usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting, photo and phono sensitivity.

A migraine attack is usually preceded by certain warning signs, which is medically termed as an aura. An aura can include flashes of light, halos, or tingling on one side of the face. These attacks may last for hours to days making an individual virtually bedridden until the pain subsides.

There are both preventive and abortive medications available to treat migraine attacks. Just like any other medical condition, there are certain triggers which may start a migraine attack. This may include exposure to loud sounds, bright lights, perfumes, and certain food items.

Studies have suggested that gluten which is a protein present in cereals like wheat is known to trigger migraines but studies are not definitive. This article gives a brief overview on whether there is a Connection between Gluten and Migraines.

Gluten & Migraine

Is There a Link Between Gluten and Migraines?

As stated, some studies have shown a link between Gluten and Migraines. The reason given for this is that gluten causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract especially in those people who have intolerance to gluten.

This results in an autoimmune response by the body which releases an enzyme called cytokines. These cytokines enter the brain and cause inflammation ultimately causing anxiety and depression.

This inflammation of the brain caused by cytokines released as a result of Gluten intolerance is what causes Migraine Headaches. However, this is usually seen in people who have a known diagnosis of celiac disease and adhering to a gluten-free diet provides such people with complete relief of symptoms.

Studies also suggest that people who have migraine disorder are at a greater risk for having celiac disease which further confirms a link between gluten and migraine disorder. Thus, to find a definitive connection between gluten and migraines it is important to study the connection between migraines and celiac disease.

It is well known that migraines do not have a known cause, although they are triggered by certain environmental factors, once such factor is imbalance of chemicals in the brain, serotonin to be more precise.

The function of serotonin is to regulate the perception of pain throughout the body. This means that lower the serotonin levels the more will be the perception of pain.
Studies have confirmed that gluten lowers the levels of serotonin in the body, especially when the cytokines are being released as an autoimmune response. It is also seen that during a migraine attack the levels of serotonin drops significantly.

When this happens, the trigeminal system of the brain releases neuropeptides which travel to the meninges which are the outer covering of the brain which causes the classic headache pattern seen in migraine headaches.

Thus it can be said that gluten intolerance and celiac disease can be linked to migraine headaches. To link gluten with migraine headaches, we know that gluten is a well known trigger of celiac disease but this does not prove that all people with celiac disease will end up having migraine disorder even though the risk of having them are pretty high.

In case if an individual has migraine disorder and is known to have celiac disease then a gluten free diet is good enough for the individual to get rid of Migraine Headaches. With this being said, a study recently conducted in which about 40 people with known celiac disease and migraine disorder were observed and only one of the 40 had complete relief of headache symptoms from gluten free diet while the other had varying responses but every one of them had some improvement of symptoms of headaches caused due to migraines while another study showed about 40% results with the patients having partial to complete relief of headache pain after going to a gluten free diet.

Even though both studies showed some connection between gluten and migraine headaches it does not confirmatively prove that Gluten causes migraine disorder, although it may act as a trigger for migraine attacks based on the results of the study conducted.

In summary, there is no concrete evidence found to support gluten’s role in migraine disorder, it is proved that people with celiac disease are at an increased risk for having a migraine disorder and a gluten free diet definitely improves the symptoms of migraine headaches in people with known gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 1, 2017

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