As any celiac can attest, headaches are a common symptom of celiac disease. Moreover, many celiacs suffer from a much more severe form of headache – the dreaded migraine. Estimates vary, but it could be that between 30% and 45% of celiacs suffer from migraines.
As “migraineurs” know, migraine symptoms can include excruciating headache accompanied by a throbbing sensation, sound sensitivity, light sensitivity, fatigue, brain fog, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Often the pain is preceded by visual disturbances such as seeing jagged lights or bright spots in one eye, or tunnel vision. There can also be chills, sweating, loss of appetite and increased thirst and urination. All these symptoms are extremely debilitating and can result, not only in missing work, but also missing out on fun time with family and friends.
The World Health Organization estimates that about 20 million migraine attacks take place every day around the world. About 28 million Americans suffer from migraines, with women being three times as likely to have migraines as men. As well as gluten, the causes can be many and varied including certain foods, food additives, alcohol, nutrient deficiencies and, in women, hormonal changes due to menstruation, pregnancy or menopause.
A study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology recruited 90 people who suffered from migraines. After administering the anti-gliadin antibody test to the participants, it was found that 4% of the participants tested positive for celiac disease.
But you don’t have to be celiac to suffer from gluten-induced headaches. A 2001 study in the journal Neurology found that eliminating gluten from the diet halted migraines for 9 out of 10 patients.
The malabsorption that often occurs as a result of CD can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Interestingly, links have been found between migraines and low levels of various nutrients, especially magnesium. Other nutrients you might be deficient in include the B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin D and biopterin.
The pain of migraine is caused by the dilation and constriction of blood vessels to the brain. This is what causes the throbbing pain known as migraine. Eating gluten can also cause anxiety and stress, which can give you tension headaches. It can also cause exhaustion which also leads to headaches.
Sadly, some gluten-sensitive people find that although going gluten-free greatly reduces the number of migraines they get, the migraines don’t disappear altogether. So what can be done if this is the case? I won’t go into preventive medications and pain-killers because I’m not qualified to suggest or prescribe such things, but there are a few – more natural – things you can do to try to reduce the frequency of your migraines.
Firstly, get up at the same time every day. Some migraineurs find that they only get migraines on a weekend, when they sleep in. This is because the delicate sleep/wake cycle can be disturbed by alterations in getting up times.
Try a course of acupuncture. Acupuncture can be used to treat and prevent many conditions, and migraine is one of them. Acupuncture also helps your whole body perform optimally and gives you lots more energy – something we can all do with these days!
Supplements to try should include a B-vitamin complex, as celiacs often suffer from a deficiency of B vitamins. Also a deficiency of magnesium is thought to play an important part in triggering migraines. Find a good quality gluten-free multi-vitamin and mineral supplement and add the B vitamins and magnesium, as there probably won’t be sufficient in the multi-vitamin and mineral tablets. Some migraineurs also find evening primrose oil to be beneficial. Buy the oil in capsules or purchase it in the form of hemp seed oil, which can work out much cheaper. Finally, some people swear by adding lemon juice to their drinking water. Far from making it acidic, lemon juice actually makes water more alkaline, and a slightly alkaline diet is beneficial to counteract all those unhealthy, acidic foods we eat.