According to WebMD, approximately 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, and of them, 28 million suffer from migraines.(1) A migraine headache is a neurologic disorder characterized by reduced cerebral blood flow. They are marked by periodic, usually one-sided pulsing headaches with or without aura and light and noise sensitivity or nausea.(1)
A 2003 medical study testing migraine sufferers for celiac disease showed that 4.4% had the disorder.(2) That would equate to more than 1.2 million migraine sufferers in the US having celiac disease. A study screening neurologic disorders in children and young adults with celiac disease demonstrated that 35.5% of migraine patients had classical early infantile enteropathic celiac disease and 64.5% presented with late-onset symptoms, showing malabsorption did not play a significant role in the pathogenesis.(2)
According to Recognizing Celiac Disease, by Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN, migraines in celiac disease are due to folic acid deficiency and some other factor resulting from gluten exposure which is as yet unclear.
Magnesium deficiency can be another cause of headaches. Magnesium deficiency is common on people with untreated celiac disease. A medical study investigating the magnesium status of patients at diagnosis demonstrated that magnesium deficiency was present in ALL patients with classical celiac disease, 20% of patients with celiac disease following a gluten-free diet, and 20% of those with silent celiac disease.(2)
The good news is that when gluten is the cause, the adoption of a gluten-free diet leads to normalization of blood flow and resolution or improvement in frequency, duration and intensity of migraine within 6 months. One case report even showed a woman whose acute migraines blinded her. She completely recovered and experienced a total disappearance of migraines within 5 years of dietary treatment alone.(2)
If you know someone who cannot determine the cause of their migraines, tell them to ask their physician to consider celiac disease.
2. Recognizing Celiac Disease, p. 71, 84, 111, 197, 200.