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  • Jennifer Arrington
    Jennifer Arrington

    Migraine Headaches in Women and Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 01/11/2010 - When I first went on a gluten free diet, my migraines disappeared completely.Forfive wonderful years, I only felt the twinges of a migraine (or maybejust a blessedly “normal” headache) during those few times when Iinadvertently consumed gluten.Another thing also happened once I went on a gluten free diet – I got pregnant.

    But, five yearslater, I learned that there could be more than one trigger for mymigraines and unfortunately, gluten was only one of them.After two cycles of pregnancy and nursing, my hormones eventually normalized into a regular cycle.Now, that, in and of itself, amazed me, that for the first time in my life my body had learned to have a 4-week textbook cycle.But, along with those cycles came the worst migraines I had ever experienced in my life.I realized, sadly, that gluten wasn’t my only migraine trigger.I could avoid gluten, but I couldn’t avoid my cycle.Theirony of it all struck hard– the gluten free diet had made me healthyenough to have a regular cycle – a regular cycle attached with horrificmigraines.Once again, I was going from doctor to doctor,but this time (unlike the years until my celiac diagnosis), I receiveda fast diagnosis – menstrual migraine.The neurologistwho diagnosed me said that they were probably the worst type ofmigraine out there – very resistant to medication, fierce in theirstrength, and often lasting for days.Well, he hasn’t been wrong.

    Four years of migraines later, I honestly believe I may have tried every migraine treatment known to woman!I have been searching for a solution in the hope that if I could cure mine, anybody’s could be cured.However,along the way, many of the things I have tried that have temporarilyworked, have worked for others too, with more lasting results.Hence this article – why not share what I’ve learned in the hope that others can be helped?Maybe, too, in this process, someone out there will know of a treatment that I have not yet tried.

    Before I go on, I dowant to say that staying on the gluten-free diet is the only option tohaving a good life at all – even though it allows the cycles that bringthe migraines.Before going gluten-free, I was sick all the time with migraines.Now I am much healthier, but do get terrible cyclical migraines.I obviously choose the latter.

    This article focuses on migraine prevention.Ido have in my cabinet some very expensive, strong prescription triptans(Amerge works the best for me) and these are a necessity…simply becauseI do not want to land up in my local emergency room with a migrainethat feels like it’s killing me.I think of the prescriptions as my rescue doses, for those times when all the prevention and care in the world fails.

    I have tried many,many preventative treatments – supplements, herbs, Chinese medicine,bioidentical hormone pills, natural hormone creams, allergy treatments,massage, chiropractic, and even acupuncture.People swearby massage and acupuncture, I tried it some, but did not perceiveenough of a benefit to continue – the expense alone was giving me amigraine.

    To date, nothing has taken away my migraines, but the following items have definitely helped.And, the good news is that every item listed is affordable and completely doable! 

    1. Wakeup at the same time every day.  My neurologist has a beautifulexplanation as to why this can prevent a migraine, and it surprisinglyhas nothing to do with low blood sugar!  I cannot remember his eloquentexplanation.  But, many migraine sufferers will find they get amigraine on their day off – the “Saturday Migraine”.  Usually, it’sfrom sleeping in and messing up the sensitive sleep/wake cycle.  Myalarm has one setting – for week days as well as weekends.  If I’mtired later in the day from getting up early after a late night (whichwould usually happen on a weekend), I do my best to take a nap, but Irarely sleep in.
    2. B complex.  Every migraine guide you read anywhere, always mentions theB vitamins.  As I have already posted, and others have commented,celiacs have low absorption of the B vitamins since often the damagedportion of the small intestine is where absorption of B’s shouldoccur.  This can be overcome by taking large doses of B’s.  I finallyfound a B-complex I can tolerate, and that’s Solgar B50.  They have astronger dose, Solgar B100, but the B50 works for me.  B2 is oftensingled out for migraine sufferers, and Solgar makes an isolated B2,but this doesn’t work well for me.  It may for you, and at under $10,it’s certainly worth a try – in fact, I wish I could give you some ofmy almost-full bottle to try!
    3. Magnesium.  I’ve taken magnesiumall along, but recently, from a commercial on the celiac website in themigraine section, I read about Dermamag.  (My husband joked with methat purchasing a supplement from an online Ad, was akin to finding adate on the internet, but it does look like this has been a goodthing!)  The premise behind Dermamag, is that people with migraines arenot absorbing enough magnesium through their digestive systems (soundslike a celiac to me), and that their “patented” formula is the first ofits kind to deliver it through the skin.  Well, $29 and a few dayslater, my first bottle arrived, and I must say, I’ve been quitepleased.  It does sting my skin a bit, so I apply it to wet skin, butit has definitely stopped a few days from turning into migraine daysthese past few weeks.  I’m hoping that after a few months of use, theoverall benefit will increase.  It might work just as well to soak in abath of Epsom salts every night, and it would certainly be cheaper, butyou know, that isn’t a “patented” way to increase your magnesiumlevels!!!
    4. Lemon Juice.  About three years ago I read a littleside article in an educators magazine, of all places, that women intheir mid-thirties often start experiencing terrible cyclicalheadaches.  The article blamed this on our western acidic diets andwent on to say that one of the best ways to counteract an acidic dietis to squeeze lemon in your water.  Now, that made about as much senseto me as nothing – since lemons are acidic themselves, but lemons arecheap – much cheaper than the dozens of supplements I have tried overthe years.  I have since been told that although they are acidic, theirnet effect in the body is basic (?!!) but illogical logic aside, Istarted squeezing lemons into my water that same day and for THREEMONTHS I did not have one migraine.  Of course, you have to be carefulnot to overdo it – too much acid cannot be good for a sensitivestomach.  Currently, I consume at least one lemon every day – mostpeople go to the store when they run out of milk, I go when I run outof lemons.  I honestly think that at this point in my migraine journey,without “lemon-water” I would have a migraine every day. Vitamin D.  I actually break open my vitamin D capsule and rub it on myskin every other day.  I know the latest articles are pushing 4000 IU’sof vitamin D a day and higher, but if I take that much (orally ortransdermally) I get welts on my skin.  I showed the welts to a healthcare practitioner once and he immediately said they were from excessvitamin D.  I reduced my dose and find that 2000IU every other dayseems to be optimum for me.
    5. Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) fromHemp Oil.  I think, I hope, I pray, that this oil is turning into myown personal magic bullet.  A few months ago I purchased some ManitobaHarvest Hemp Oil on the advice of a friend and went 5 weeks without amigraine.  I had previously tried a great brand of EPO in the capsuleform, but honestly couldn’t afford to take it in the doses I required. The Hemp Oil, however, brings you the EPO in a nature-made n-3:n-6:n-9fatty acid ratio.   When I ran out of the Manitoba harvest, I couldn’tfind it locally, so I bought a different brand and my migrainesreturned.  Frustrated, I gave up on it, until just two weeks ago, whensomeone I had suggested try it raved on and on how it was helping themwith PMS.  I finally found my original brand, and have been back on itfor 10 days.  The difference so far has been amazing, I don’t even feellike I could get a migraine at all!  Obviously, time will tell, but fornow I’ll continue to be hopeful.  I actually take Nordic Arctic FishOil, too, so I mix a little of each and swallow the whole nasty mess. I have friends who mix it in juice or incorporate it in their food, butI don’t want to ruin the food I’m eating, so I just take it straightand get it over with.  A word of caution – EPO has been known to causeuterine contractions, so do not take it if you are pregnant!
    6. Finally, and I will not belabor this point since I have have mentionedit in another article, I do take Solgar’s prenatal multivitamin simplybecause it’s the only multi that I can tolerate.  And, I only take halfa dose.  
    7. Calcium, magnesium, vitamin D from Solaray. 

    That’smy personal regime.  I have come up with it by research, reading,severe trial and error, and much wasting of money.  Hopefully one ofthose items can help you in your quest to become migraine free.  Asalways, I would never try more than one new thing at a time, our bodiesare too sensitive and there needs to be time for us to gauge our ownreactions.  

    Good luck, God bless, and I would love to hear of anyof your own personal successes against migraines.  Maybe, between allof us, we can beat these things, and instead of counting the yearsuntil menopause, we can enjoy the intervening years gluten AND migrainefree!!!

     


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    I am so pleased to have this information. Thank you so much for sharing it with us fellow migraine sufferers. My menstrual migraine became much worse when gluten free but the daily headaches were gone. All of your suggestions are going on my list of things to try as I am very grateful for your research and the time you to took to share it here.

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    I have been suffering with migraines since I was a young child. I am a 35 yo female who has had much pain from recurrent migraines especially associated with menstrual cycles. I notice at times my they start in the back of my neck and travel up to temples. I am not able to lay down due to intense throbbing..it's better to keep head above heart level. I have always used an over the counter product called BC powders. I take 2 "powders" and dump the powder into 2 ounces of coke or sprite and after it drink it down. This has helped me more than any other pill from the doctor. It has aspirin and caffeine. When i do get my cluster migraines that last for days.. I will take a prescription thats very effective called fiorcet (acetaminophen, Butalbital, Caffeine) does not make me feel drugged at all., its prescribed for tension headaches, but it works for my migraines. I think it help relax the throbbing vessels that hurts so much. Also during a migraine I have found very hot rags held on my forehead combined with bc powders have saved my life many times. note. try to eat a little piece of bread or anything with bc powders since they are like advil which can irritate the stomach. but its not a big deal... go out and get these little powders and you will thank me I swear. Also stay hydrated! and don't skip meals.. avoid processed meats and aged cheeses, and alcohol. Also there is a new gene found that could give us hope for a cure on day.

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    I too am a migraine sufferer, I actually had one last night the made me throw up for 5 hours. I also have coeliac disease and just found out about that. I have been chronically sick for years and years and have incurred enough medical debt that I now have to file for bankruptcy. Since I literally just found out about the coeliac disease I have not yet changed to a completely gluten free diet but am planning on doing so immediately. I have found that 1/2 a teaspoon of low sodium salt with potassium helps my migraines. I put it directly on my tongue, let it dissolve, then swallow. It hasn't been helping lately as much as it did at first but maybe it could help one of you. I plan to start some of these regimens asap to see if they help as well. Thank you all for your input and thank you Jennifer for this article. Will keep in touch!

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    Something that I need to add: I'm about halfway through the book by David Buchholz, MD, Heal Your Headache: The 1.2.3 Program for Taking Charge of your Pain. I wish I would have known about this book before I posted my article. He does a wonderful job explaining the difference between triggers and food intolerance and has a laundry list of potential food triggers. He lists caffeine as the number one food culprit, which, thanks to your comments I have already cut out. I'm going to cut out the other foods on his list, too...not fun, but I'm tired of headaches running my life :) I highly recommend the book.

    I too am reading David Buchholz's, book and alas giving up many favorite foods, along with going gluten free. I am on day four and still suffering nightly from killer migraines but my energy level has astounded me. Having a hard time getting up but once my feet hit the floor I am on the go. I give this to the gluten free diet and God for letting them find out about my celiac disease. Migraines....I think I'm rebounding. I can't break away from the imitrex, with intense pain from migraine. I am really trying to go cold turkey. Thanks for everyone's input...very supportive.

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    This is a great article, thank you. My daughter and I have been diagnosed with celiac last December and she's been getting her migraines during her period (since April).

     

    This article is the first one that is giving me some insights and has similar appearance to my daughter's migraines. I really appreciate the information and will we will try to use some of your suggestions. Hopefully will get some positive results. I will definitely give feedback.

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    Migraine sufferer for years, especially during teen years, during childbearing years with pregnancies and as many miscarriages as children, and now during menopause. Just started many of the things that have worked for you and so far are helping. Had one migraine-free portion of one day, first in three weeks, yesterday! Really focusing on gluten free, lemon juice, magnesium, and sugar elimination. Oxygeated magnesium works well (not magnesium oxide) with regularity, which is a main factor for me. Also have found some relief with alkalinized, oxidized water; although the Western world does not recognize the benefits, I certainly have. Thanks for great information and encouragement. Am sharing your info with a friend/coworker.

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    I have also suffered from migraines and spent a lot of money trying to work out answers. I have been gluten free for 18 months and this did help a lot. Learning to stop and take naps before I get exhausted helps but it is hard to get everything done and it is hard to find somewhere to rest if you are out for the day or working. I have tried acupuncture with lasers and needles I think it helped decrease the intensity of my headaches but I had to go for 6 months once a week and am only just trying to wean off to once a fortnight. I have had a headache free week for the first time in years (I am mid cylce). I am vitamin D deficient and iron deficient so I have been taking supplements for those for 3 months. I will definitely try the other supplements. Menstral headaces have been shown to be from the changing levels of estrogen at the beginning and end of a period, it is good to know there is something that has helped others.

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    Helen, I am now on day 2 of caffeine-free. As I told you in my email, day 1 was unbelievably difficult - I had a terrible migraine all day and no migraine-caffeine-med to fix it. Today wasn't as bad, just foggy. I'm going to try this for a month. Thanks so much for your post and helpful emails.

    My bedtime migraines are helped with Oregon Chai Tea Latte Concentrate "The Original." I drink an ounce straight (no dilution)! The ingredients say "black tea, vanilla, spices, and honey," and although it has some black tea in it, it seems to take the edge off my migraine, sometimes takes it away completely. It settles my stomach, too. By the way, I've tried other chai teas, and they don't seem to work like the Oregon Chai brand.

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    You may want to consider seasonal birth control. The kind you take for 3 months instead of one. You end up with 4 cycles a year instead of 12. I did this switch specifically for my migraines and it helped a lot. Now I get minor migraines in between but only the major ones every 4 months, which is a blessing. Hopefully now with my celiac disease diagnosis I can get rid of the ones in between. I have had more headaches and been tired since I started my diet so far though. Hopefully the vitamins will help when I start taking them.

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    My neurologist has me on 500mg magnesium, 400 mg b-2 (riboflavin), and one regular aspirin a day. This has helped, and I have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, but I think I have it. I'm taking massive quantities of other vitamins as well, but I haven't tried some of these other tricks. I am contemplating going gluten-free. I meet with a gluten intolerance specialist next week. Thanks for posting this.

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  • About Me

    I first learned of celiac disease while studying for my masters in nutrition and immunology at Texas A&M University. Prior to this, I had been sick for over six years with unexplained health problems. After discussing my options with a local physician, I decided to try the gluten free diet.  Within days the symptoms had resolved!  Ten years and two healthy children later, I am still gluten free.  In an effort to help bring celiac disease into the mainstream, I have recently published a Christian romance novel, Trusting for Tomorrow, that highlights the struggles of diagnosing and living with celiac disease.  Follow my blog at www.jenniferinjupiter.wordpress.com.

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