Chronic migraine headaches are common and can be very disabling. Some new data has found a rather striking relationship between gluten sensitivity and these headaches suggesting that this relationship should be explored in anyone with these headaches.
A study done jointly at Columbia University and Mount Sinai School of Medicine looked at the rates of migraine headache in 324 subjects with some form of gluten sensitivity or other inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s Disease. They compared the rates of migraine in these subjects with 178 subjects without any of these disorders. The results demonstrated a strong relationship between gluten sensitivity or inflammatory bowel disease and migraine. The RR is the relative risk which is the number in the control group with migraine.
Perhaps the most fascinating finding was that gluten sensitivity actually created a much higher risk than did celiac disease. In celiac disease, gluten causes a severe inflammatory reaction in the lining of the small intestine to the point that the lining demonstrates damage. Gluten sensitivity is an immune inflammatory reaction to gluten but with less pronounced intestinal findings and more systemic findings such as joint pain, swelling, headache, etc.
It is likely that any food sensitivity may cause migraine given the increased rate in inflammatory bowel disease which is not classically related to gluten reaction but may be related to other food components such as dairy, eggs, nuts, etc. Gluten sensitivity and other food sensitivities are the most challenging to diagnose. Biopsy tests that are diagnostic for celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease are not helpful in gluten and other food sensitivities. Blood antibodies which are helpful in food allergies are not present in sensitivities. They are caused by inflammatory chemicals called cytokines which are difficult to isolate and measure.
As an alternative, food sensitivities are best diagnosed with a test that looks at body reactions such as Biomeridian sensitivity testing.
The test measures reactivity in allergy meridians during exposure to different substances.
Given the strong relationship found between food sensitivities and migraine headache, investigation of this possible cause seems warranted in headache sufferers.
Prevalence of Migraine in Patients With Celiac Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease - The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 2012