Gluten avoidance is extremely popular because so many individuals either have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. So what is gluten and how does it relate to headaches and migraines? Gluten is the protein found in numerous grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac disease occurs when the immune system reacts to gluten and begins to attack the body. Conversely, a gluten intolerance occurs when the digestive system cannot properly digest gluten, resulting in diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and stomach pain.
According to the International Headache Society, 17.2 percent of females and 6 percent of males experience migraines. Although the exact cause of experiencing a migraine headache remains a mystery, there are some risk factors and triggers that increase the likelihood of having migraines. Those with a family history of migraines are at an increased risk. Individuals experiencing high stress situations, lack of sleep, or fatigue are at an increased risk of getting a headache. Certain foods and the weather can also increase the risk of a headache.
A recent study has found a link between migraines and celiac disease. In some individuals, migraines can be an early symptom of celiac disease. Additionally, migraines can be a complication of celiac disease. In celiac patients and those with gluten intolerances, gluten can affect the nervous system. Gluten can cause headache, depression, migraines, and learning disabilities. Furthermore, gluten can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, chronic fatigue, and foggy thinking.
Your Gluten Migraine Connection
Is gluten triggering your migraine headaches? If your practitioner suspects you may have celiac disease, the diagnosis may include checking for high levels of antibodies which may indicate a compromised immune system. Diagnosis may also include evaluating the small intestine for damage, which could be caused by celiac disease.
While there is no one perfect test for gluten sensitivity/intolerance, your health care provider can consider your symptoms coupled with a stool and/or food intolerance tests to see if gluten may be an issue for you. Keep a headache journal in order to track everything you eat and drink along with the time a headache occurs. This will help you spot trends. For example, if you eat a sandwich made from wheat or rye bread and develop a headache later in the day or the next day, gluten may be the culprit.
Dealing With Gluten Triggered Headaches
If you have gluten sensitivity/intolerance or celiac disease, it is strongly recommended to avoid gluten. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know which foods you can eat, and which are acceptable. Here is a list of grains and other foods that may contain gluten.
- Soy sauce
Foods like breads, pasta, cereals, processed meats, condiments, cakes, cookies, beer, candy, and snack foods can have gluten. Additionally, gluten can be found in some medicines and makeup.
Because gluten is so prevalent, it is vital that you read food labels carefully. If you take prescription medications, over the counter medicines or natural remedies, talk with your pharmacist to determine if any of your medications contain gluten. Finally, research all hair products, lotions, and makeup to ensure gluten is not in any of these products as well.
Healthy Lifestyle Adjustments
In order to help reduce the risk of a headache or migraine, it may be necessary for you to make certain lifestyle changes. Eating a healthy diet is the first step toward reducing your risk for headaches. In addition to this, you should practice stress relief techniques like yoga, tai chi, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing exercises to lower the risk of migraine headaches.
Slowly eliminating caffeine and alcohol consumption can also reduce your risk of headaches. However, it is important to realize that eliminating these two substances from your diet too quickly can increase your risk of a headache. In addition, increase your water consumption to reduce the risk of dehydration. Dehydration has been linked to an increase of headaches and migraines.
After you have begun a gluten free diet and began incorporating healthy lifestyle adjustments into your life, you will begin to feel much better. It can take several weeks to begin noticing the difference; therefore, it is important to keep log your food choices and headaches. Soon, you will be able to determine if these changes are reducing the number of headaches you are experiencing.
If eliminating gluten from your diet does not eliminate your headaches, there are other therapies and treatments available. Acupuncture and massage therapy can work wonders to relieve stress and eliminate symptoms. Our team of integrative migraine specialists can help you decrease the risk of headaches and migraines through gluten elimination and dietary changes.