Research suggests that people with celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease are more likely to suffer from migraine headaches.
A migraine is a severe headache that can start with sensory warning signs like flashing lights, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, as well as sensitivity to sound and light. These headaches come with extreme pain and can last for several hours or even several days.
For many years, medical scientists in Europe have believed there is a connection between the digestive tract and the brain. However, this is the first time American researchers have linked celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease with migraines.
Researchers at the Neurological Institute at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City took a detailed history of over 700 people and used a four-page questionnaire to determine if the participants had any problems with their digestive tract, with celiac disease, and with migraine headaches. They also looked at lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, coffee habits, and wheat consumption.
As it turns out, chronic headaches were reported by 56 percent of participants sensitive to gluten and 30 percent of those with celiac disease. Twenty-three percent of people with other inflammatory bowel diseases experience headaches. Just 14 percent of the controlled group reported getting severe headaches.
The researchers wonder if it is possible that patients with inflammatory bowel disease and those with celiac disease have a “generalized inflammatory response”, meaning the whole body, including the brain, is affected by inflammation, thus leading to the headaches. Some experts also speculate that antibodies in celiac disease could be attacking the brain cells that cover the nervous system and, therefore, headaches occur.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that makes a person supersensitive to gluten and causing various digestive problems. About one percent of the American population suffers from celiac disease. People with this condition are unable to enjoy foods that contain wheat gluten, like pizza, pastries, and pasta. Symptoms of celiac disease are stomach problems, joint pain, and headaches.
The Columbia University study also assessed the severity of migraine in the participants. Interestingly, 72 percent of those who suffer from celiac disease graded their migraine severe, but only 30 percent of participants with inflammatory bowel disease graded their headaches as severe. It suggests that migraines experienced by celiac disease patients are more debilitating and could be influenced by different physiological and environmental traits.
While the findings of this study are considered “intriguing”, the researchers admitted that more investigation is needed, especially to help pinpoint exactly why celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease are associated with migraine.
Connection between migraines and celiac disease
Many people who have celiac disease and migraine have reported relief after switching to a strict gluten-free diet. Some have said they only get migraines when they consume gluten. Researchers at Gemilli Hospital in Rome, Italy, did a small study back in 2003 and discovered that 4.4 percent of participants with migraines had celiac disease, while just 0.4 percent of their control group had migraines. Another small study conducted by clinicians in Israel showed nearly 30 percent of celiac sufferers reported either migraines or some other kind of headaches. In this case, 16 percent of the headache sufferers reported that a gluten-free diet significantly improved their headaches or eliminated them altogether.
Even though there seems to be a connection between celiac disease and migraine, most doctors do not test for celiac if a person tends to get migraines. They will only do so if you display some of the symptoms of celiac disease as well. If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, it is important to know that when you eliminate gluten, it could take some time to get the migraines to die down. Give it a while before you give up on the gluten-free diet. If you don’t cheat and still get migraines, speak to your doctor about the best way to treat the headaches.
Natural home remedies for migraines
For years, many migraine sufferers have turned to heavy medications to treat ongoing pain, but there are several natural remedies for migraine relief. What works for one person may not work for another, so it is really a case of trial and error. If you take a look at the migraine home remedies below, you may just discover you already have some of these natural medicines in your kitchen cabinet.
- Lavender oil – either inhaled or applied topically
- Peppermint oil – has vasoconstricting and vasodilating properties
- Basil oil – works as a muscle relaxant helping with tension headaches
- MSG elimination – monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer that can give some people headaches
- Omega-3 fats – anti-inflammatory substance has been known to reduce attacks in migraine sufferers.
- Scalp massage – massaging the back of the head near the base of the skull can reduce headache pain
- Feverfew – taken in capsule form or as a tea, this herb has been used for many years to treat headaches
- Flaxseed – can help thanks to its high levels of omega-3s
- Butterbur – found in marshy areas, most butterbur has the root extract petasites that seems to help with headaches (usually taken in pill form)
- Willow bark extract – this was used in the development of aspirin, has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties
- Valerian – native to Europe and Asia, this herb can be taken as a supplement or tea
- Teaberry – also known as wintergreen, this edible plant is used in teas, tinctures, and oil extracts
- Coenzyme Q10 – this antioxidant nutrient is good for blood vessel health, may prevent migraines – according to some studies
Home remedies for migraines in adults can be different than remedies that are safe for children. For example, children normally don’t take coenzyme Q10 unless they have certain medical conditions. It is always best to consult a professional before giving these home remedies to your kids.
When you get a migraine, the last thing on your mind is going to the gym or doing any kind of physical activity, but a significant amount of research has shown that exercise is good for people who suffer from chronic migraines. Evidence suggests that regular exercise can help prevent the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
About 12 percent of the U.S. population suffer from migraine, and many do not know why. Paying closer attention to gut health may help you get to the bottom of the cause and inch closer to relief.