Research links various types of headaches to gluten issues, colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Migraines are more likely to affect all those who have celiac disease than those without it, according to new research in Feb, 2017.
The connection between the brain and digestive tract is being studies in Europe since years, but this is the first time researchers in America have linked celiac disease and other bowel issues with migraines, said study co-author Dr. Margret Dimitrova.
“We were amazed to find significantly higher prevalence of headaches in all those who have celiac disease compared to those without it, “said Dimitrova, a neurology resident based at the Neurological Institute of Columbia University Medical Center in NY city.
Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disease that affects one out of every 145 people in the US, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. All those who have this disease can’t eat pastries, pizza, and other foods with wheat gluten. Symptoms include joint pain, stomach issues and headaches.
Neurologic manifestations of this disease have been first noticed in 1960s, and subtle sensory loss and poor coordination are among the symptoms commonly reported.
The researchers also studies the other related conditions. More than 1.4 million Americans have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Both these conditions can inflame the lining of the intestines and may lead to rectal bleeding, bouts of diarrhea, acute abdominal cramps, as well as intense pain, weight loss and fever.
For this study, Dimitrova and her team surveyed around 800 people using a five-page questionnaire. Participants detailed medical history was also logged, which included whether a participant has been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease, or had issues eating foods containing wheat. They were also asked about headache history. All lifestyle details-such as alcohol, smoking and coffee habits-were also documented.
“We analyzed total of 507 people,” Dimitrova said. “ We also eliminated people with brain tumors or head trauma, everybody who drank more than three alcoholic beverages in a day and all those who drank five or more cups of tea or coffee in a day-anything that could act as a trigger for headache.
In the yearlong study, it was found that 193 people had celiac disease, 119 had inflammatory bowel syndrome and 26 were gluten-sensitive-meaning they had not tested positive for celiac disease but definitely reported symptoms when they ate foods that contained wheat. The other 187 healthy individuals served as the control group.
Chronic headaches were reported by 58 percent of gluten-sensitive participants, 33 percent of those with inflammatory bowel disease and 27 percent of those with celiac disease while only 12 percent of the control group reported headaches.
Dimitrova said that when researchers specifically screened the group for migraines, 15 percent of those in in the inflammatory bowel disease group and 22 percent of those in the celiac group met the criteria for sometimes disabling headaches as compared to just 5 percent of the control group.
“All these findings suggest that migraine is definitely a common neurologic manifestation of celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and gluten sensitivity,” explained DImitrova, who also said they are not sure what the actual mechanism is.
“It’s possible for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease to have generalized inflammatory response and this may be quite similar to patients with celiac disease where the entire body, including their brain, is subjected to inflammation,” she said. Another possibility is that there are some antibodies in celiac disease that may even attack tiny brain membranes and cells covering the nervous system and may somehow lead to headaches. What we now know for sure is that there are higher instances of headaches of any kind, including migraines, compared to healthy controls.”
- Bernard Fasano, medical director at the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in Baltomore, said its not unusual to see patients with celiac disease complain of migraines and headaches.
” Around one-third of gluten-sensitive or celiac disease patients we see have some kind of headache or migraine,” Fasano said. “This link with gluten-related disorders is known to us. We’re not sure why. What’s the exact connection?”
Dimitrova said some patients reported some improvements in the severity and frequency of headaches once they switched to gluten-free diet.
Many have seen it work the other way around, too, in that people suffering from migraine headaches often also complain of many belly woes and some even experience lesser digestive issues when they start gluten-free diets.
“One thing is for sure: Many with migraines, when they start a completely gluten-free diet, the migraines go away or improve,” Dr. Margret said.
Migraine patients who fail to get relief from different treatments should consult their doctors about celiac disease screening.
The researchers of the study presented their findings in the first week of August, 2017 at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting held in New Orleans. The extensive data and conclusions of the study should be views as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.