Is there a connection between migraine headaches and celiac disease?

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Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q: Is there a documented connection between migraine headaches and celiac disease?

Answer


Yes, there is evidence to support a connection between celiac disease with headaches and migraines.

In a review study of headaches among people with celiac disease, the prevalence of headache was 26 percent in adults and 18.3 percent in children.1 Another study found that 30 percent of those with celiac disease suffered from headaches compared to only 14 percent in those without celiac disease.2 Conversely, people with headaches were also more likely to have celiac disease. The prevalence of celiac disease was 2.4 percent in children suffering from headaches of unknown cause.1 For comparison, about 1 percent of the general population has celiac disease.

Interestingly, both headaches and migraines were more common in females with celiac disease than males. The prevalence of headache was 71.9 percent in females vs. 28 percent in males, and the prevalence for migraines was 80 percent in females vs. only 19 percent in males. 3

Why are headaches and migraines more common in people with celiac disease? Studies suggest that this may be due to gut brain interactions involving multiple factors such as inflammatory mediators, gut flora imbalance, stress hormones, nutritional substances, neuropeptides and the serotonin pathway.4 Also, there is a hypothesis that migraines in celiac disease may be linked with low diamine oxidase enzyme which leads to high histamine in the body and can trigger headaches.5

The good news is that the gluten-free diet seems to be very effective in preventing headaches in people with celiac disease, leading to complete relief in 75 percent of cases.1 In addition, the gluten-free diet has also been found to effectively reduce the frequency of migraines.4

References:

  1. Zis P, Julian T, Hadjivassiliou M. Headache Associated with Coeliac Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2018 Oct 6;10(10):1445. doi: 10.3390/nu10101445. PMID: 30301194; PMCID: PMC6213149.
  2. Dimitrova AK, Ungaro RC, Lebwohl B, Lewis SK, Tennyson CA, Green MW, Babyatsky MW, Green PH. Prevalence of migraine in patients with celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Headache. 2013 Feb;53(2):344-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2012.02260.x. Epub 2012 Nov 5. PMID: 23126519.
  3. Fanaeian MM, Alibeik N, Ganji A, Fakheri H, Ekhlasi G, Shahbazkhani B. Prevalence of migraine in adults with celiac disease: A case control cross-sectional study. PLoS One. 2021 Nov 17;16(11):e0259502. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0259502. PMID: 34788304; PMCID: PMC8598245.
  4. Arzani M, Jahromi SR, Ghorbani Z, Vahabizad F, Martelletti P, Ghaemi A, Sacco S, Togha M; School of Advanced Studies of the European Headache Federation (EHF-SAS). Gut-brain Axis and migraine headache: a comprehensive review. J Headache Pain. 2020 Feb 13;21(1):15. doi: 10.1186/s10194-020-1078-9. PMID: 32054443; PMCID: PMC7020496.
  5. Griauzdaitė K, Maselis K, Žvirblienė A, Vaitkus A, Jančiauskas D, Banaitytė-Baleišienė I, Kupčinskas L, Rastenytė D. Associations between migraine, celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and activity of diamine oxidase. Med Hypotheses. 2020 Sep;142:109738. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109738. Epub 2020 Apr 11. PMID: 32416409.

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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