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Migraine Headaches: Gluten Triggers Severe Headaches in Sensitive Individuals

Neurology 2001;56:385-388.

Celiac.com 02/15/2001 - According to a new study published in the February issue of Neurology, severe, chronic migraine headaches can be triggered in gluten-sensitive individuals who do not exclude gluten from their diets. The study examined ten patients who had a long history of chronic headaches that had recently worsened, or were resistant to treatment. Some patients had additional symptoms such as lack of balance. Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou, from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, UK, and colleagues tested each patient and found that all were sensitive to gluten. . The patients were tested and each was found to be gluten-sensitive. Additionally, MRI scans determined that each had inflammation in their central nervous systems caused by gluten-sensitivity.

Results: Nine out of 10 patients went on a gluten-free diet, and seven of them stopped having headaches completely. The patients heightened immune responses, which are triggered by the ingestion of gluten, could be one of the factors causing the headaches. The other two patients who were on a gluten-free diet experienced significant relief, but not complete relief.

Conclusion: According to Dr. Hadjivassiliou, removal of the trigger factor by the introduction of a gluten-free diet may be a promising therapeutic intervention for patients with chronic headaches. Further studies are needed to confirm Dr. Hadjivassilious preliminary findings.

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31 Responses:

 
glojo
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said this on
21 Apr 2008 12:05:11 PM PST
My 8 year old son went on a gluten and dairy free diet 2 weeks ago - he had chronic daily migraines and facial spasms - they have entirely disappeared - there is a definite link between your diet and migraines! It's a lot of hard work to change your eating pattern - but it so worth it! Good luck~

 
Patrice
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said this on
11 Aug 2009 11:15:11 AM PST
This article was very helpful. I've been having headaches almost daily for the past year and I'm now considering to be tested to see if I'm sensitive to gluten.

 
Trey
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said this on
20 Sep 2009 6:12:50 PM PST
Great article! I had migraines 2 to 5 times a week for over 10 years and they stopped completely after a couple of days of eating gluten-free. I have been gluten-free for about 6 months and they have not come back.

Is there a way to make migraines one of the common symptoms caused by an intolerance to gluten? Every list I looked at stated many symptoms but rarely said anything about migraines (or headaches in general).

Also, I had an MD tell me that an intolerance to gluten cannot cause migraines or headaches. Would there be a way of informing them that, yes, it can cause migraines?

Cheers

 
Gen
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said this on
04 Aug 2010 6:59:42 PM PST
Wow,
I am thrilled to know that I might have found why I have been so sick those past years. I have seen different specialists and they couldn't figure what was the reason I had those multiple symptoms (chronic migraines, constipation/diahrrea, lack of appetite, fatigue etc). Usually, the doctors I went through only said: Well, here's a prescription. That made me angry because I wanted to find the cause. I couldn't find a pattern that helped me figured what was wrong. Celiac disease makes sense since gluten is found in lots of products. I'm seeing my doctor next month and I will make sure to ask for tests I need to go through to find if I have celiac disease.
Thanks for sharing!

 
Kris
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said this on
28 Jan 2011 6:51:45 AM PST
My husband has had severe headaches and migraines for many years and medication has not helped. We went on a diet last fall that only allowed some fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken and fish. His headaches and migraines disappeared completely. Now off the strict diet, we started adding things back to our diet and through process of elimination, have determined what was causing his migraines - gluten.

 
Ben
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said this on
28 Jan 2013 5:01:33 AM PST
How long before he noticed a difference after changing his diet?

 
Mariateek
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said this on
09 Oct 2011 8:11:19 AM PST
Great article I suffer with aura migraines since childhood. Yesterday I had an intense blind spots and other aura migraine symptoms. I have been gluten free for 6 months and I ate a small amount of gluten yesterday resulting in nausea intense stomach pain and an intense aura migraine. Diet is so important to our immune system.

 
ken craig
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said this on
22 Nov 2011 7:31:45 AM PST
I am a celiac and I do get migraines. These can usually be traced to accidental gluten ingestion. Thanks for the information.

 
Frank
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said this on
08 Dec 2011 5:29:45 AM PST
I have had daily "atypical" Migraines on a daily basis for the past three years while under the care of a neurologist. A nerve block injection at the base of the skull helped for a short time and then several months ago a total of 31 botox injections in one setting in the back of the neck, skull, side of the head, and forehead worked for a few months. However, a repeat procedure was not really successful. Over the years I took many of the usual medications which did not help over the long run to prevent the headaches. However, the Triptans worked great for relieving/stopping the headaches once they started. The good news is that a recent endoscopy and biopsy revealed that I had celiac disease. I just recently went on the gluten free diet and my migraines basically went away after about three weeks (I still take some preventative meds in conjunction with the diet) but I have not had to take a triptan to kill a headache which I did before on almost a daily plus basis. I plan on slowly backing off the preventative meds.

 
H. J.
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said this on
11 Dec 2011 2:24:54 PM PST
Hi Frank, I am glad to hear that you are feeling better. Did your doctor think you had celiac disease before the endoscopy? I believe it is possible I might have celiac sensitivity and had just googled celiac and migraines and found this page. I will have an endoscopy and colonoscopy next week. I plan on asking my doc if he will take the necessary biopsies to test for celiac. I just tried Topamax and I had to stop because of side effects. Good Luck!

 
Tracy
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said this on
02 Jan 2012 12:26:36 PM PST
Would love to believe that this is the answer for my husband's migraine problem. 13 years now and we haven't found a solution. Dr.'s all want to through a script at him and no one wants to eliminate the source. He has kept a food diary, tried preventatives (Topamax and Nortriptyline), massage therapy, chiropractor and acupuncture. Mouthguard for TMJ, special pillows and his only help is the Imitrex he takes for pain when he gets a headache. I started him gluten free yesterday (January 1) and on day two, he has a migraine. Hoping it will just take a few weeks and then they'll be gone. Don't know what to do next if it isn't gluten.

 
Rochelle
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said this on
14 Jan 2012 6:58:55 PM PST
Tracy, your husband's story is similar to mine, I have had all kinds of meds thrown at me, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, muscle relaxers, narcotics, steroids, massage, acupuncture, magnesium creams, hormone therapy, etc. Finally did Botox, which helped a little but lasted 3 weeks instead of 3 months. The gluten free diet seems to be helping me, but it has been only 4 days so I am cautious. My point is to not give up, and don't resign yourselves to never finding the cause. There is one, and it is worth it to keep looking, although it can be incredibly difficult to be hopeful with so much pain.

 
Rochelle
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said this on
14 Jan 2012 6:52:40 PM PST
More positive reinforcement. I have suffered from migraines since 4th grade. It was assumed the cause was hormones. Over time, they got worse, until about 10 years ago they were so bad I was put on a steady diet of narcotics to relieve the pain and allow me moderate function. They keep getting worse, with doctors throwing all manner of drugs at me just to see if they would help. The headaches are constant and daily, migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches etc. I finally got to the end of the line, the 37 Botox injections across my head and down my neck. Supposed to last 3 months, they lasted 3 weeks, the biggest improvement i had felt in 10 years. I am now at the point of applying for disability because I can no longer work or even effectively care for my children. My sister has been bugging me about trying a gluten free diet, but i love love french bread, bagels, etc. Finally i said, why not just try it? That was four days ago. I have not had any significant headache since. I am cautious, since it is hard to credit that after more than twenty years of endless pain, it could end with such a simple solution. But it really does seem to be working. Hooray! I can barely imagine that i will be able to smile and play with my kids and not yell at them to be quiet.

 
Becky
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said this on
09 Mar 2012 11:21:17 AM PST
How are you feeling now Rochelle? I've had progressive headaches for 6 years now. I was told about gluten and am on day 6 of my gluten free diet and doing excellent. I will see after 1 month how I feel. I am not hopeful about anything since I've been let down so many times with so many medications. Nothing has seem to help over the years and started on narcotic medication for about 1-2 months this past year to help the pain.
My headaches were like yours, constant and daily. They've found no medical reasons for them.

 
Sarah
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said this on
23 Jan 2012 12:41:54 PM PST
I've had migraines for 5+years. Started on gluten free 3 weeks ago (along with caffeine, chocolate, dairy and everything else in heal your headache 1-2-3 book). I can't be positive, but I think it's the gluten-free that's helping. There are a lot of good foods out there! The key is planning. I'll take a limited diet over chronic headaches any day!

 
GiGi
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said this on
26 Aug 2012 6:29:35 PM PST
I have been gluten-free for 6 months. My everyday headaches are gone. And during my period, I only have 1 day with a small headache instead of a week and a half of severve migraine. What a difference. And my stomach pain and bloating are gone too.

 
j viles
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said this on
06 Dec 2012 11:52:07 AM PST
It is so reassuring to hear about other people like you. Also, it is encouraging to know I'm not the only one who has lost faith in doctors. Thank God for the internet... we can research and help ourselves!

 
Kim

said this on
15 Apr 2013 6:03:46 AM PST
I have the reverse... I started a gluten-free diet two weeks ago and my migraines are more often and a lot worse!

 
Kareen
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said this on
22 May 2014 5:18:48 AM PST
You may be detoxing. Don't give up yet. Drink plenty of water with lemon and peppermint.

 
Julie
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said this on
15 Apr 2013 10:27:30 AM PST
I am so grateful for all the information provided here. I've suffered from migraines for 26 years. My doctorsays that I'm the worst patient in the clinic. Mine are treated in a combination of medication: Topamax, Nadolol, Nortryptilyne. Unfortunately with all this I still get migraines. I avoid some food items and alcohol. I know what my triggers are. I need to keep a routine, which is a bit difficult with four children. I'm grateful that I'm not working at the present time. We are in the process of re-locating. I have suffered from chronic migraines, constipation/diarrhea, lack of appetite, fatigue etc). I also have an aura with my migraines, it's a surefire of what's coming. A severe car accident that resulted in whiplash did not help me either. My doctor diagnosed me with IBS and I'm also lactose intolerant. The info provided here do describe me here very well. I will discuss this with my doctor as I do not wish to take medication for the rest of my life. Thank you!

 
Beatrice
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said this on
14 Jun 2013 6:08:10 PM PST
I kept a diary of my headaches which were one side of my head, like a knife in the side of my brain, each pulse just excrutiating. I had these from new years eve 2007 until January 2013, when I went off gluten. I felt them in my sleep they were so bad. the occurence was once or twice a month lasting two to four days. I also had knuckle pain in my hand joints - both hands. I've not had one headache since going off gluten and my hands are back to normal. It took six weeks to completely eradicate the so called 'arthritis' in my hands for which i was prescribed heavy duty medication, so if you are only a few days in, hang in there. Give it six weeks. I've never felt better. I keep a symptom diary and can easily see the timing. One week of experimental back on gluten trial and the headache came back. Not willing to risk it again.

 
Diane
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said this on
22 Jun 2013 3:19:44 PM PST
Great to read so much hope for migraine sufferers!

 
Rebecca
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said this on
05 Jul 2013 9:38:32 AM PST
For those of you who went gluten-free and it helped your migraines, how long did it take to notice a difference? I'm on day 10 of gluten-free and haven't noticed any difference at all, I've called a few doctors and no one seems to know how long it should take.

 
Ann
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said this on
11 Jul 2013 6:15:39 PM PST
I've been told by holistic practitioners that taking gluten out of your diet should be done for at least 6 weeks before you can tell if it works or not. It takes that long for all of the gluten to leave your system.

 
Joyce
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said this on
02 Aug 2013 7:40:09 AM PST
Wouldn't it be nice to know that it has been gluten all these years? I have suffered, like so many, from chronic headaches. My daughter looks at me and says, "You have another headache today?" But I continue on through the pain! The hope in reading these posts is a hope that I haven't felt in a long time. I have been on so many meds and herbal remedies that help for a short time, but that is it. I will definitely take a step forward to seeing if in fact all that I am going through is due to gluten.

 
shauna
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said this on
10 Sep 2013 12:23:08 AM PST
Good article. I recently read the book naturally pain free, which had the elimination diet in (no gluten, dairy, sugar,chocolate, red meat ect) it. I got the book so I could find foods and herbs to relieve my chronic migraine, muscle, nerve and joint pain. After a few days on the diet I notices my chronic daily IBS symptoms were almost gone, as was my heart burn. So after a week and a half I ate some multigrain bread in the morning and yogurt around 7pm. That night I started having IBS issues heart burn, increased pins and needles sensations in my fingertips and lips. My heart rate also increased and my migraine went to severe status. Went to see my Dr today and she agrees it probably a gluten and/or lactose intolerance. It's amazing that after 3 yrs of treatments, meds and specialist this is probably the cause. I told my doctors about the IBS, tingling in lips and heart burn long ago and they just gave me meds to treat it, never considering I may have food intolerance. I have been on disability for over 2 yrs which has probably ruined my career if I'm ever able to get back in the work force. Man, am I ever glad I got that book, may have saved my sanity.

 
jona
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said this on
11 Jan 2014 11:50:36 AM PST
I agree with everything that was said. I have been reading the evidence and research and it is amazing the widespread effects for Genetically Modified Wheat. I had daily headaches, not huge migraines, but joint and muscle pain that was chronic. I had a host of other digestive and acidic problems, along with the TMJ. I saw dozens of specialist. Finally, I went to a new chiropractor and after hearing my complaints told me to get off gluten. On the following visit he suggested getting off all grains (grains are inflammatory with similar effects, msg too). Unbelievable the difference it makes! I am healed! I feel so much better and no longer have any pain. I am currently trying to get a friend to try gluten free. She has Aura Migraines, and only a combination of drugs works for her, but she suffers. However, when I made the suggestion; she got stubborn, resistant, and won't give it a try. Maybe gluten really is as addictive as an opiate (cardiologist) and causes the resistant intolerant behaviors that go with an addiction. Somebody with Aura Migraines that last for days tell her it really works!

 
Katrina Lawrence
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said this on
29 Apr 2014 3:03:59 AM PST
I started a gluten free diet 3 months ago after suffering from migraines since I was a young child. I would generally get them once every 4-5 weeks and each would last 3 days. I have tried all medications, extensive wet needling (similar to Botox) for months, acupuncture, Bowen Therapy, massage etc. Since going gluten free I have had just one low grade headache with a 20 minute aura. I can possibly put that down to gluten exposure. I even (ridiculously) went on an amusement park ride last weekend with my children which threw my head back severely. Whilst my neck was very sore, especially in the area where my migraines normally commence, no headache came.
Being strictly gluten free has changed my life in so many ways. I have more energy, my exercise induced urticaria is all but gone and so are my chronic migraines. As an added bonus, my tummy is flatter than it has been in years! I just wish I had read about it years ago. Good luck to everyone!

 
Dan
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said this on
06 May 2014 1:05:53 AM PST
I am 28 years old, suffered from constant 24/7 temple pain for 3 years now and tried everything mentioned above , can honestly say I have felt like calling it a day sometimes but find the motivation to try get relief. I am on my 2nd real day of gluten free and am praying this is my freedom . Gluten seems to be a solution to many headache sufferers and understandably one of last things we try, so I am hopefully as their is not many more options it can be and after reading your post Katrina it's given me hope. Thanks.

 
Hope
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said this on
27 Jul 2014 1:51:59 PM PST
How are you doing now Dan?

 
Trisha
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said this on
26 Aug 2014 2:56:20 AM PST
I am 27 years old and have suffered from daily tension h/a for 2 years. It started to where they just showed up in the afternoon, now they are 24/7 and have been for almost a year. My doc thought it was caused by depression, but I did not believe that. I got a new doc and am now waiting for the test results for celiac. I also have hip pain, side pain, chest pain, fatigue and problems with my short term memory. My doc said these are also all symptoms of celiac. I am only day 3 of a GF diet and praying to a God I don't believe in that this is the problem. It is no life to have a headache every second of every day.




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