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  • Scott Adams
    Scott Adams

    Migraine Headaches: Gluten Triggers Severe Headaches in Sensitive Individuals

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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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    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!

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    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.

    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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    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.

    How long before he noticed a difference after changing his diet?

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    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!

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    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.

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    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.

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  • About Me

    Celiac.com's Founder and CEO, Scott was diagnosed with celiac disease  in 1994, and, due to the nearly total lack of information available at that time, was forced to become an expert on the disease in order to recover. Scott launched the site that later became Celiac.com in 1995 "To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives."  In 1998 he founded The Gluten-Free Mall which he sold in 2014. He is co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

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