According to a recent study, people with celiac disease are more likely to suffer from migraines than those without digestive disorders. What’s the connection between migraines and celiac, anyways?
Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system and involves intolerance for gluten. Most people can eat starchy foods containing gluten- pastries, breads, pastas- without any ill results. For a celiac patient, however, eating a morsel of wheat, rye, or barley can be the kiss of death.
So much so that even trace amounts of the gluten protein can cause severe stomach reactions and chronic pain symptoms like headaches and muscle pain.
Symptoms of celiac disease include:
- Stomach cramps
- Stomach bloating
- Chronic fatigue
- Mouth sores
- Sore muscles
- Stiff joints
- Pain and tingling in the legs
- Skin rash
- Frequent bruising
- Unusual weight loss
- Failure to thrive
- Gastrointestinal hemorrhage
Migraines are also a stomach disorder
Scientists have always observed a strong link between the migraine brain and the stomach, but have not been able to explain exactly why the two correlate with each other.
For example, why do migraine attacks cause severe nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting, in addition to pounding headaches?
And why does vomiting during a migraine attack often produce intense relief?
American researchers from New York believe they can provide a useful clue.
The migraine-celiac connection
It’s actually not the first time somebody attempted to link neurological disorder with celiac disease- In the 60’s, scientists observed symptoms like poor motor control and peripheral neuropathy in patients of celiac, explains this study’s authors.
For the Columbia University Medical Center study, scientists focused on celiac disease, in addition to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Subjects were also asked if they ever experienced any sensitivity to wheat or gluten.
- In addition to questioning participants on their digestive health, scientists also inquired about their history regarding headaches and lifestyle choices like smoking, alcohol, and coffee usage.
- Out of 501 people, 188 had celiac disease, 111 had IBD, 25 suffered from gluten intolerance, and the remaining “control group” had no digestive system disorders.
- More than half of the gluten sensitive participants suffered from chronic headaches.
- About 30% of celiac disease patients also had chronic headaches.
- Twenty-three percent of IBD sufferers also experienced chronic headaches.
- The lowest occurrence of chronic headaches was in the control group, at 14%.
- Migraine-specific headaches were reported among 21% of celiac patients and 14% of IBD patients, compared with only 6% from the healthy control group.
“We found significantly higher prevalence of headaches in patients with celiac disease compared to those without it,” states Dr. Alexandra Dimitrova, who co-authored the Neurological Institute study.
Unfortunately, scientists are still unable to determine why symptoms of IBD and celiac disease often affect the brain. Theories range from celiac disease antibodies that attack the nervous system to widespread inflammation throughout the body.
These preliminary finding were recently presented at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in New Orleans.
What we learn from this:
There is no one cure for migraines, but determining your migraine triggers is the first step towards successful chronic pain management.
Have you tried eliminating gluten from your diet, for at least a few months? Gluten-free dieting is not necessary unless your body has a bad reaction to gluten products. But for many migraine sufferers, eliminating certain foods from their diet, including gluten, has led to a significant reduction in migraine headaches.
- If you’re unsure of your migraine triggers, start logging into a migraine diary.
- If your migraine drugs aren’t performing to your full satisfaction, experiment with restrictive dieting. Perhaps you’ll discover a migraine triggers of which you were unaware.
- Vitamin deficiency is another possible factor. Make sure you get enough B vitamins and minerals like magnesium.
- Other dietary ingredients that are healthful include butterbur and Co-Q10.
Read more about migraines and diet
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