Does Gluten Trigger Migraines?
Does gluten cause migraine headaches? Headaches, including migraine headaches, are a common complaint amongst people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Twenty-five percent of people with gluten intolerance report migraine headaches. . A 2018 study found similar numbers in people with celiac disease. Interestingly, migraines were often reported as the first symptom of celiac disease.
These rates are more than double the average population.
Migraines may come on suddenly or slowly. They can occur on one side of the head or both. They may be preceded by an “aura”- a type of “warning signal.” Typical auras are flashing lights or smells, but others experience numbness, weakness, changes in speech, or other visual changes. Migraines can last anywhere from several hours to several days, and in some people, even longer. They are often associated with nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, and a sensitivity to light and sounds. They range from mild – in which people can function and work – to severe, where patients are completely incapacitated for several days or longer.
Common Migraine Triggers
Triggers Vary From Person To Person
Food: Gluten elimination often decreases or eliminates headache symptoms. But this is not always the case. Other foods are notorious for triggering migraines include chocolate, MSG, aspartame, aged cheeses, red wine, beer, and yeast. But, any food can be a trigger.
Sleep: Too much or too little sleep can bring on migraines. An ideal amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours per night.
Hormonal Changes: Many women notice an increase in migraines right before their period or mid-cycle. This is thought to be due to changes in estrogen levels. Migraine frequency can change during pregnancy. They may increase or decrease during pregnancy.
Stress: Stress affects everything in our bodies, and headaches are no different. Stressful situations can elicit migraines.
Weather Changes: Some people notice a change in migraine frequency with a change in the weather. This is thought to be due to a change in barometric pressure.
Odors: Strong odors such as paint, perfumes, or smoke may set off a migraine in certain individuals.
Medications: Birth control pills, nitroglycerin, cold medicines, and many others have been named culprits for initiating migraines.
Environmental Triggers: Bright lights, flashing lights, and computer use are a few environmental prompts.
Dehydration: Inadequate water intake may be a cause for some.
Iron: Low iron levels are often associated with celiac disease and headaches.
Vitamin D: Past studies have shown low vitamin D levels in migraine sufferers. This association is still being evaluated. High Vitamin D levels have also been blamed.
Zinc: Low zinc can lead to elevated levels of copper, which can trigger migraines.
B12: This vitamin is important for red blood cell formation and a healthy nervous system. It is often low in celiac patients, and these low levels can lead to headaches.
Magnesium: Some migraine patients have low levels of magnesium. And some, not all, have found relief with magnesium supplementation.
How To Prevent Migraines/Headaches
Please consult your physician to determine the appropriate treatments for you.
Headache Journal: Everyone has their own particular trigger or triggers for the onset of a migraine. Keeping a headache diary is a great way to find yours. When you experience a migraine, keep a note of all the possibilities listed above and see if you can discover a pattern to your onset. Your specific trigger may not be listed above, so make sure to keep track of any other items of importance on your headache days.
Good Sleep: Sleep is crucial for our overall health. Ways to improve the amount and quality of sleep include: eliminate caffeine, especially afternoon; keep television and electronics out of your sleeping space; go to bed at the same time nightly; and practice relaxation techniques before bed. The light from computer screens and televisions may actually suppress melatonin levels and create sleeping difficulties, so avoiding “screen time” for two hours before bedtime is recommended. Melatonin and valerian have been used to regulate sleep cycles in migraine sufferers. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Stress Reduction: Exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and guided imagery are a few stress reducers; find the one that works best for you.
Possible Supplements: Magnesium, riboflavin (B2), Co-Q10, essential fatty acids (fish oil), butterbur, alpha-lipoic acid, and feverfew have all been used to prevent migraines. Magnesium is also often used while experiencing a migraine to minimize or alleviate symptoms.
Mind-Body Techniques: Hypnosis, biofeedback, and meditation have all been used with success to stave off migraines. The regular practice of these techniques improves outcomes.
Homeopathy: Evidence is hard to evaluate with homeopathy, but some studies have shown benefit. Side effects are almost non-existent with homeopathy, so it is often worth trying if a patient is willing from an integrative perspective.
Medications: Tricyclic antidepressants, beta-blockers, botulinum toxin, and calcium channel blockers are some of the medications used to prevent migraines.
Tips To Stop Migraines After They Start
Ginger: Ginger works to alleviate nausea associated with migraines. It is available in raw form as a root – this can be made into a tea, or ginger tea can be purchased. It is also available in a chew form as a supplement, capsule, or tinctures.
Magnesium: Magnesium can be used preventatively or as a treatment. It can also be used safely in pregnancy. Please consult your obstetrician before use if you are pregnant.
Chiropractic: Manipulation may decrease the frequency, severity, and duration of migraines.
Acupuncture: Current evidence shows it to be a helpful addition to treatment. Patients often express terrific results with acupuncture.
Acupressure: Accupoint PC6 may be used without harm to alleviate nausea associated with headaches. Sea-Band ® wrist bands can be used to activate this point. LI4 is also easily located and used. Several YouTube videos will instruct you on this frequently helpful technique. If you are further interested in acupressure, you may wish to consult a certified Chinese medicine practitioner for additional points.
Avoid known triggers if possible: Once you have identified your triggers, do your best to avoid them. It sounds simple, but everyone loses sleep sometimes or gets in an unavoidable situation where a trigger may be present.
Medications: Please consult with your physician regarding appropriate medications for you. Medications used for migraines include anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, triptans such as Imitrex, Midrin, ergots medications such as ergotamine and intranasal lidocaine. If none of these are effective, some severe migraines are treated with narcotics. Each individual must work with their doctor to determine what is right for them.
Seek Immediate Help If:
- You have a headache after injury or trauma.
- Your headache is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, visual changes, or neurologic symptoms such as numbness, weakness, visual changes, speech changes, or confusion.
- The headache comes on abruptly and is so severe you may describe it as “ the worst headache of your life.”
- The pattern of your headaches changes.
I hope you have found this helpful, and you are on the road to a migraine-free future ahead!
THIS ARTICLE IS COPYRIGHTED BY AMY BURKHART, MD, RD.
Dr. Amy Burkhart is a doctor (M.D.), Registered Dietitian, R.D., and fellowship-trained in integrative medicine. She specializes in treating chronic digestive disorders from an integrative/functional medicine perspective.