The Link Between Gluten, Headaches and Migraines: Does Gluten Cause Migraines and Headaches?

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Headaches are any type of pain occurring within the head. They occur on one side of the head, both sides of the head or, sometimes, isolate themselves to a single location on the head.

They’re also known to radiate across the head from a single starting point or pressurized ‘vise-like’ feeling from both sides of the head at the same time.

Headaches also manifest as sharp, sudden pains, though they also throb constantly or feel dulling on any part of the head.

They also appear gradually in some cases. Headaches often last less than an hour (especially when treated with medication) or for several days, if severe.

What causes a headache?

A primary headache usually happens after problems with pain-sensitive structures within the head occur.

The brain’s chemical activity, the head’s nerves and blood vessels or the head and neck’s muscles might play a role in causing headaches.

Primary headaches typically include cluster headaches, tension headaches, and migraines.

A migraine headache is generally a more intense version of a standard headache. It’s mainly defined by an intense throbbing or pulsating sensation in one area of the head.

It’s typically accompanied by sound and light sensitivities, nausea and vomiting.

Migraine headache attacks cause people significant pain for hours on end. In rare cases, this pain lasts for days and fast becomes debilitating for most people.

In most migraine episodes, people experience what’s known as sensory warning symptoms. These symptoms warn them of an impending migraine attack. These sensory symptoms generally include blind spots, light flashes and/or tingling in the arms and legs.

Migraines don’t have a concrete cause. Although as much as 10 percent of the population experiences migraines in some form, many medical researchers don’t understand what exactly causes them.

On an interesting note, gluten consumption may play a role in causing migraines in some people. Though, does that link really hold some truth?

can gluten cause migraines

Gluten and migraines

Nowadays, gluten seemingly plays a large role in causing various negative symptoms, such as depression and food intolerance.

Gluten has also been linked to playing a role in causing migraines, too. That role mainly involves how gluten causes inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract, especially in people with an intolerance to the protein composite.

The presence of gluten in the digestive tract causes an autoimmune response releases cytokines. Those cytokines enter the brain and, as a result, produce brain inflammation eventually leading to anxiety or depression.

The same brain inflammation may play a role in causing migraines. However, those cases directly involve people who have celiac disease.

In fact, people with celiac disease experience many symptoms causes by gluten, and it’s usually eating a gluten-free diet that prevents them from experiencing those same symptoms any longer.

Interestingly enough, migraine sufferers are said to have a higher risk of having celiac disease than most of the general population.

So, in order to learn more about the link between gluten and migraines, let’s take a closer look at the link between migraines and celiac disease.


Migraines and migraine triggers

As mentioned, migraines don’t have a concrete cause. They are, however, triggered by various genetics-related and environmental factors.

One of the suspected causes of migraines is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals (specifical neurotransmitters), such as serotonin.

Serotonin plays a role in helping regulate pain throughout the body. Gluten consumption also has an assumed link in reducing serotonin production within the brain, especially when its autoimmune cytokine response is in action.

Serotonin levels are said to drop significantly during a migraine attack. When this happens, the trigeminal system releases substances known as neuropeptides, which travels to the brain’s outer covering (meninges), resulting in characteristic headache pain.

When it comes to linking migraines and gluten, we have to briefly look at how food causes people to suffer migraine attacks.

Foods and other food additives are known to trigger some instances of migraine attacks.

Those foods generally include salty foods, processed foods and food preservatives like monosodium glutamate (MSG).

These foods and food additives ‘trigger’ migraine attacks about 20 to 25 minutes after they’re consumed, typically causing symptoms like dizziness, abdominal discomfort, bodily burning sensations, the pressure within the chest, facial flushing and headache pain at the front or sides of the head.

So, how do we link migraines to people with celiac disease? Well, people with celiac disease are known to have migraines more than the general public, we can show you a reason behind that: gluten.

The link between migraines, gluten and celiac disease

Gluten is a known trigger of celiac disease. Many sources linking gluten to celiac disease don’t immediately assume gluten has any connection to causing migraines in people with the disease.

What they do know, however, is that people with celiac disease get migraines more than people without the disease.

Migraines in people with celiac disease may be treated with a gluten-free diet, which is something suggesting that gluten causes migraines in the first place.

A small study, conducted on a group of four patients with celiac disease, found that only one person within the group had ‘complete relief’ from their migraine attacks, in addition to ‘an improvement in blood flow to their brain.

‘ The other three had varying results, which mostly amounted to ‘an improvement in their symptoms.’

Another preliminary study (with 14 patients) found migraines were ‘completely to partially relieved after each patient shifted to a gluten-free diet.

‘ Even though both studies provide an example of gluten-free diets relieving some symptoms in patients with celiac disease, it doesn’t entirely suggest a connection between migraines, gluten, and celiac disease.

Though, the evidence that is there suggests some sort of relationship between gluten and migraines, especially considering gluten’s role as a potential migraine trigger.

Even though there’s no concrete evidence supporting gluten as a migraine trigger (or even a headache trigger), people with celiac disease somehow have found ways to relieve themselves from migraine symptoms—and that has everything to do with cutting gluten from their diet.

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