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  • Jennifer Arrington

    Migraines in Women and Celiac Disease

    Jennifer Arrington
    2 2
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Winter 2010 Issue. NOTE: This article is from a back issue of our popular subscription-only paper newsletter. Some content may be outdated.

    Image: CC BY 2.0--orijinal
    Caption: Image: CC BY 2.0--orijinal

    Celiac.com 11/01/2019 - When I first went on a gluten free diet my migraines disappeared completely.  For five wonderful years, I only felt the twinges of a migraine (or maybe just a blessedly "normal" headache) during those few times when I inadvertently consumed gluten.  Another thing also happened once I went on a gluten free diet—I got pregnant.  

    But, five years later, I learned that there could be more than one trigger for my migraines 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 amazed me.  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.  The irony of it all struck hard– the gluten free diet had made me healthy enough to have a regular cycle—a regular cycle accompanied by horrific migraines.  Once again, I went from doctor to doctor, but this time (unlike the years until my celiac diagnosis) I received a fast diagnosis—menstrual migraine.  The neurologist who diagnosed me said that they were probably the worst type of migraine out there—very resistant to medication, fierce in strength, and often lasting for days.  He wasn't wrong.  

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    Four years of migraines later, I may have tried every migraine treatment known to Woman!  I have been searching for a cure for mine.  Along the way, many of the things I have tried have worked temporarily.  They have also worked for others with more lasting results.  Hence this article—why not share what I've learned in the hope that others can be helped?  Maybe, in this process, someone out there will know of a treatment that I have not yet tried.

    Before I go on, I do want to say that staying on the gluten free diet is the only option to having a good life at all—even though it allows the cycles that bring the migraines.  Before gluten-free, I was sick all the time with migraines.  Now I am much healthier, but do get terrible cyclical migraines.  For obvious reasons, I choose the latter.  

    This article focuses on migraine prevention.  I have in my cabinet some very expensive, strong prescription triptans (Amerge works the best for me) and these are a necessity…simply because I do not want to land in my local emergency room with a migraine that feels like it's killing me.  I think of these prescriptions as my rescue doses—for those times when all my preventive measures fail.  

    I have tried many, many preventative treatments—supplements, herbs, Chinese medicine, bioidentical hormone pills, natural hormone creams, allergy treatments, massage, chiropractic, and even acupuncture.  Some people swear by massage and acupuncture.  I tried it but did not perceive enough of a benefit to continue—the expense alone was giving me a headache.  

    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. Wake up at the same time every day.  My neurologist has a beautiful explanation as to why this can prevent a migraine, and it surprisingly has nothing to do with low blood sugar!  I cannot remember his eloquent explanation.  But, many migraine sufferers will find they get a migraine on their day off—the "Saturday Migraine".  Usually, it's from sleeping in and messing up the sensitive sleep/wake cycle.  My alarm has one setting—for week days as well as weekends.  If I'm tired later in the day from getting up early after a late night (which would usually happen on a weekend), I do my best to take a nap, but I rarely sleep in.
    2. B complex.  Every migraine guide you read always mentions the B vitamins.  As I have already posted, and others have commented, celiacs have low absorption of the B vitamins since the most often damaged portion of the small intestine is where most absorption of Bs occurs.  This can be overcome by taking large doses of B vitamins.  I finally found a B-complex I can tolerate, and that's Solgar B50.  They have a stronger dose, Solgar B100, but the B50 works for me.  B2 is often singled 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 of my almost-full bottle to try!
    3. Magnesium.  I've taken magnesium all along, but recently, from a commercial on the celiac website in the migraine section, I read about Magnasorb.  (My husband joked with me that purchasing a supplement from an online Ad, was akin to finding a date on the internet, but it does look like this has been a good thing!)  The premise behind Magnasorb, is that people with migraines are not absorbing enough magnesium through their digestive systems (sounds like a celiac to me), and that their "patented" formula is the first of its kind to deliver it through the skin.  Well, $29 and a few days later, my first bottle arrived, and I must say, I've been quite pleased.  It does sting my skin a bit, so I apply it to wet skin, but it has definitely stopped a few days from turning into migraine days these past few weeks.  I'm hoping that after a few months of use, the overall benefit will increase.  It might work just as well to soak in a bath of Epsom salts every night, and it would certainly be cheaper, but you know, that isn't a "patented" way to increase your magnesium levels!!!
    4. Lemon Juice.  About three years ago I read a little side article in an educators magazine, of all places, that women in their mid-thirties often start experiencing terrible cyclical headaches.  The article blamed this on our western acidic diets and went on to say that one of the best ways to counteract an acidic diet is to squeeze lemon in your water.  Now, that made about as much sense to me as nothing—since lemons are acidic themselves, but lemons are cheap—much cheaper than the dozens of supplements I have tried over the years.  I have since been told that although they are acidic, their net effect in the body is basic (?!!) but illogical logic aside, I started squeezing lemons into my water that same day and for THREE MONTHS I did not have one migraine.  Of course, you have to be careful not to overdo it—too much acid cannot be good for a sensitive stomach.  Currently, I consume at least one lemon every day—most people go to the store when they run out of milk, I go when I run out of lemons.  I honestly think that at this point in my migraine journey, without "lemon-water" I would have a migraine every day.  
    5. Vitamin D.  I actually break open my vitamin D capsule and rub it on my skin every other day.  I know the latest articles are pushing 4000 IU's of vitamin D a day and higher, but if I take that much (orally or transdermally) I get welts on my skin.  I showed the welts to a health care practitioner once and he immediately said they were from excess vitamin D.  I reduced my dose and find that 2000IU every other day seems to be optimum for me.
    6. Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) from Hemp Oil.  I think, I hope, I pray that this oil is turning into my own personal magic bullet.  A few months ago I purchased some Manitoba Harvest Hemp Oil on the advice of a friend and went 5 weeks without a migraine.  I had previously tried a great brand of EPO in the capsule form, 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-9 fatty acid ratio.   When I ran out of the Manitoba harvest, I couldn't find it locally, so I bought a different brand and my migraines returned.  Frustrated, I gave up on it, until just two weeks ago, when someone I had suggested try it raved on and on how it was helping them with PMS.  I finally found my original brand, and have been back on it for 10 days.  The difference so far has been amazing! I don't even feel like I could get a migraine at all!  Obviously, time will tell, but for now I'll continue to be hopeful.  I actually take Nordic Arctic Fish Oil, 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 into their food but I don't want to ruin the taste of the food I'm eating, so I just take it straight and get it over with.  A word of caution—EPO has been known to cause uterine contractions, so do not take it if you are pregnant!
    7. Finally, and I will not belabor this point since I have mentioned it in another article, I take Solgar's prenatal multivitamin simply because it's the only multi that I can tolerate.  And, I only take half a dose.  
    8. Calcium, magnesium, vitamin D from Solaray.  

    That's my personal regime.  I have come up with it through research, reading, painful trial and error, and much wasting of money.  Hopefully one of those items can help you in your quest to become migraine free.  As always, I would never try more than one new thing at a time.  Our bodies are too sensitive and we need time to gauge our own reactions. 

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

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    My19 year old Daughter has celiac and suffered from menstrual  migraines. Her Dr has put her on continuous Low dose hormone Birth Control Junel - she doesn’t get her period and doesn’t have the hormone dips which cause the migraine. She is on her 3rd year migraine free  

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    I have suffered from seizures and migraines my entire life. 

    Most menstrual migraines are caused by one thing - the severe rise and fall of hormone levels in the body during different times of the month, such as cycle start, cycle end, ovulation start, and ovulation end. Typically, this is caused by insufficient hormone balance, and/or deficiency. 

    I've tried everything as well. Chinese medicine, doctors who didn't listen, some who did but didn't know what to do, self diagnosis, etc... The one thing that worked was finding a doctor who specializes in HRT. The doctor is AMAZING and they have their own compound pharmacy, on-site, where they make what MY body needs. 

    If you have menstrual migraines, you should see a doctor and get your hormone levels tested - especially since high levels of estrogen are tied to breast cancer. 

    And you shouldn't start taking supplements without having your blood/hormone levels tested. Many women suffer from headaches because their body produces too much of one thing, and not enough of the other. And Magnesium, (specifically), is tied to your heart, and too much can cause palpitations, among other severe issues.

    Additionally, just taking a vitamin is a very bad idea. If a woman has elevated estrogen levels, already has undiagnosed cancer, taking a multi-vitamin can cause the cancer to spread at a rapid pace. 

    I get that people want to help, but sometimes these articles just give all the wrong advice and make people worse. Much worse. I know because I did the roller-coaster most of my life, and wouldn't wish it on anyone. 

    Be responsible and see a doctor! You only have one life! 

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    Hi there, I am seeking your wisdom please with regards to headaches I’ve been getting for the last few years. They start with a visual migraine sometimes/sometimes not and are often followed by confusion I don’t know who I am or where I am and - very frightening, my neck looks and sometimes my vision is slightly affected too. My thoughts are so dark throughout the headache and my husband says I am white as a sheet and seem very disorientated. I can then be in bed for the next few days sometimes throwing up, sometimes not. My digestion is not painful (it was in past) just weird And definitely connected in some way. Looking back I really think they have started after I’ve eaten wheat and sometimes sugar too. I have suffered all my life with headaches but these are slightly different. The doctor says many people with migraines get the same symptoms and not to worry.  I wondered if anybody else had experienced confusion or neck problems or anything similar to these? Thank you 

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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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