Migraines show a link to gluten in some cases

Migraines can be a sign of celiac disease, researchers say.

Celiac patients had a greater incidence of headaches — and severe headaches, at that — than a control group in a study published last year by researchers at Columbia University in New York City.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, causes illness. People are often diagnosed after complaining of stomach and digestive problems, but scientists believe migraines too may be a symptom.

So does that mean a migraine sufferer should go on a gluten-free diet? Not so fast.

"We see many people who have migraine, and then when they go on a gluten-free diet, they lose the migraine," said Dr. Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University and senior author on the study published in the journal Headache. "But before people go withdrawing gluten from their diet, they should test for celiac. Test first, then treat right."

Green and his team also found an increased prevalence of migraines in people who had gluten sensitivity and inflammatory bowel disorder. "So we think that maybe the inflammation of having celiac or IBD increases the chance" of migraines, he said.

There is no medical test for gluten sensitivity, Green said. "Some may have celiac disease and were not tested properly before going onto a gluten-free diet," he said. "It's a very difficult group to study because no one really knows what they had."


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