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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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    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.

    I too have been implementing a "seasonal" birth control. I have had celiac disease for 3 years (misdiagnosed for 10 years prior). About 2 years ago, I started suffering from menstrual migraines. I am 35. I try and target my cycle to skip bad allergy seasons, as they increase my chance of migraines. This helps but I still get some whopping headaches. Sometimes caffeine actually helps relieve them, though I avoid fried foods, processed foods and alcohol like the plague. I have started B50 vitamins a year ago and the lemon water. Unfortunately, I didn't keep up with the lemon water but would like to try again. I eat a very healthy diet but can suffer from intense acid reflux. I hope the lemon water can balance my acidity. Good luck everyone!

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    I too experienced terrible migraines on those days of the month. Especially the day before and the first 2 days. Now I rarely if ever get any headaches......the miracle cure is Water (3 liters a day) and 16 oz during the night if I feel one starting.


    Please read the book: Obesity, Cancer, Depression - Their Common cause & Natural Cure by F. Batmanghelidj, MD

    I get great relief with Amerge... Only drug that touches my headache. I also avoid red wine, chocolate, and nuts during my period. They are definitely triggers. We get these headaches from a sudden drop in estrogen... hard to prevent without taking hormone supplements. I'm not willing as long as I have Amerge.

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    Thank you so much for all your suggestions. I have suffered from migraines for over 30 years and like most of us have tried everything going. I have not tried a gluten-free diet but willing to give it a go. I have to say my migraines are like clockwork but I have gone through menopause and nothing has changed. We still have hormones operating and it may not be the ones you think that are triggering the attack. Sorry to be sounding pessimistic, but it is not a cure for everyone and I still think there is a lot more genetic predisposition. There is a condition called Hughes syndrome that has migraines as a primary symptom. If anyone is suffering with migraine and has had recurrent miscarriage or blood clotting it is worth getting checked out for. If this is the cause blood thinners can make an enormous difference. Best of luck to everyone!

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    I have been gluten and corn free for 5 weeks now working up to 8 weeks. At 8 weeks I will eat corn and see if I have a reaction then add gluten back and see how that goes. I have regular headaches and menstrual migraines and recently mid cycle horrible migraine. I attribute it to stress. I am on 600 mg of magnesium citrate a day, b-12, riboflavin and I just started taking Fioricet (muscle relaxer with codeine and caffeine) that works great most times. I have taken Maxalt for 3 years and it has been less and less effective. I want to try Amerge. I also will try the hemp oil. For temporary relief I have mint ice cream, I want to rub it all over my face though when it's really bad.

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    Utalbital/Caffeine Aspirin is a pain reliever, as well as an anti-inflammatory and a fever reducer. Butalbital is a barbiturate. It relaxes muscle contractions involved in a tension headache. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It relaxes muscle contractions in blood vessels to improve blood flow. The combination of aspirin, butalbital, and caffeine is used to treat tension headaches. This medicine is not for treating headaches that come and go.

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    WOW something for us to try. My husband suffers from migraines from 8-13 per month. He has tried everything from diet to botox, chiropractic etc. He has never tried a gluten-free diet, something that I am going to investigate. he goes through his relpax medication like candy and the are 6 tablets for 106.00 but he gets relief. Any other suggestions would be so very helpful.

    I was getting 15-20 migraines a month. Chiropractic, combined with traction to relieve pressure on the nerves in my neck, and a gluten free diet have made big improvements. To put it in perspective, I was going thru 9 Relpax and at least 30 norco per month, now I don't worry so much about running out of pain relief drugs before I can get a refill. Relpax was my "magic pill" the only one that worked, but with the decrease in both frequency and severity, I am now able to use rizatriptan, a generic of Altmig I believe. You might want to read the Keeler Migraine Method. It explains how migraines work and a variety of techniques for discovering your triggers and things that may provide relief.

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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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