Migraine Associated with Gastrointestinal Disorders: Review of the Literature and Clinical Implications

Hey guys, when I think of migraines, I just think of a tremendous amount of pain. Headaches were always something of an issue for me as a child and then I made the leap to official migraines in my early twenties and talk about debilitating and ouchy. Yes there are tons of medication out there for migraines; however lucky for me I only had four to six monsters a year, my then neurologist suggested I take medication 365 days a year to prevent them and that just wasn’t me, so I had to find alternative means to deal with them. One way was to steer clear of certain foods that would trigger headaches like dairy, processed meats and chocolate… don’t remember wheat, barley or rye ever being on any of those lists. How about you? 

So I definitely found some of these key points interesting:

  • Migraine is a common headache disorder with a lifetime prevalence of 13% in men and 33% in women.
  • In patients who suffer from celiac disease, the immune system develops an autoimmune reaction against gliadin, the main protein in gluten. This inflammatory reaction is associated with intestinal damage, including dysfunction of the tight junctions resulting in an increased intestinal permeability.
  • The association between migraine and celiac disease seems to be stronger in adult patients compared with children, although a direct comparison has not yet been investigated.
  • In a small study they suggest that a gluten-free diet used by celiac disease patients with migraine may give relief in both celiac disease and migraine.
  • This overview of the literature suggests the existence of a rather strong relationship between GI disorders and migraine. One of the links between inflammatory diseases and migraine are enhanced pro-inflammatory immune responses. In intestinal disorders characterized by an increased intestinal permeability like IBS, IBD, and celiac disease enhanced pro-inflammatory immune responses have been reported. Enhanced levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin 1β in serum of migraine patients have been found during migraine attacks. These cytokines can act on the nociceptors of the trigeminal nerve, causing migraine. 
  • Probiotics may play a role in maintaining or improving gut barrier function in human beings, they can have a beneficial effect in migraine patients with an enhanced intestinal permeability as well. So far, no clinical randomized controlled trials have been published where migraine patients received nutritional therapy with probiotics.

According to this article, there is growing interest in the role of the gut microbiota in these brain diseases. In this review, a possible route via an increased intestinal permeability is suggested. There is an accumulation of studies on both migraine and GI disorders. However, the findings of some (small) studies are not supported yet by other independent studies. And they are conducting additional studies, which I will try and follow-up on. 

It certainly not a new thought that what goes on in the gut has an affect on the brain; however it is not widely accepted. I would definitely say if you have celiac disease and migraines that this is something you should absolutely look into and not delay. 

Once again, probiotics are discussed as improving our gut barrier function and something that perhaps is time to consider if you are not already doing so in order to begin to repair some of the damage that has been done.

Just something to think about, can you imagine how going gluten free and help the millions of people who suffer from migraines? And for those of you with celiac disease and migraines if you truly repair the damage and decrease your intestinal permeability could you in fact decrease the recurrence of migraines? Should be interesting to see what the researchers conclude, but once again if you are suffering, what is the downside of actively pursuing your healing anyway, less migraines isn’t that just a bonus!

* Here’s my little disclaimer, I’m not a doctor, researcher, immunologist, just someone deeply concerned and trying to help as many peeps as I can make conscious, good, healthy choices for their health and their bodies when living life with gluten challenges. I have not been compensated or obligated to write this article, and as always, all thoughts and opinions are honest and my own!