Gluten-Free Diet – Guide to Migraine Diets

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Hoping to find a diet pattern that alleviates your migraine?

Food has the power to prevent and more-easily manage migraine.

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), the Migraine Nutritionist will review your top requested diets and discuss whether the diet can be helpful for migraine.

Let’s jump into it and learn about Gluten-Free diets!

What is a Gluten-Free Diet?

As the name suggests, a Gluten-Free Diet is an eating pattern that excludes any foods containing gluten.

Gluten is a protein naturally occurring in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale grains. It works as a binding agent, helping maintain the structure and shape of foods.

Why follow a Gluten-Free Diet?

Some people do not tolerate gluten well, whether that’s due to celiac disease, food allergy, or food sensitivity.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where consuming gluten causes damage to the small intestine. Potential symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Migraine attacks
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating

To identify celiac disease, you must first take a blood test that measures your immune response to gluten. If the test has positive results, you may have an endoscopy where a small biopsy of your intestines are taken. 

The only effective treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet. Even small amounts of gluten-containing foods and potential cross-contact with gluten must be avoided.

Wheat Allergy

One of the most common food allergies world-wide is wheat. (Other most common food allergens include milk, egg, peanut, soy, tree nut, shellfish, fish, and sesame.)

An allergy to wheat is similar to celiac disease in respect that they are both immune-related adverse food reactions. However, a wheat allergy does not damage the small intestine, and causes typical allergy symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling throat, lips, tongue
  • Hives
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening severe reaction, difficulty breathing)

Gluten Sensitivity

Some people do not have celiac disease or a food allergy, but still may notice uncomfortable symptoms after eating gluten-containing foods. This is known as a food sensitivity.

Symptoms may include:

  • Headaches or migraine attacks
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Acne, eczema, or dermatitis
  • Joint pain
Click the image to learn more about food reactions.

Rules/Guidelines

A gluten-free diet avoids wheat, barley, rye, and triticale grains, as well as processed foods containing gluten.

Gluten can be “hiding” in many processed foods, making this diet very difficult to navigate without guidance. Some things to watch out for include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Beer
  • Candy
  • Chips
  • Cereal
  • Deli meat
  • Gravy
  • Malt flavoring
  • Sauces and salad dressings
  • Seasoning blends
  • Soup
  • Medications, both over-the-counter and prescription

Will a Gluten-Free diet improve migraine?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to migraine management, meaning that one single diet approach is not likely to improve everyone’s migraine.

There is a correlation between celiac disease migraine (1, 2). They share very similar symptoms: head pain, brain fog, fatigue, and nausea. In people with both celiac disease and migraine, eliminating gluten can significantly help alleviate migraine attacks.

It’s important to note that any food may be a potential migraine trigger, including gluten. If gluten is identified as a food sensitivity through an elimination diet, excluding it from the diet would certainly benefit migraine.

Risks & Considerations

If gluten is not contributing to your migraine, excluding gluten from your diet won’t have any benefit. In fact, following this restrictive diet may only add stress to your day, likely worsening your migraine.

Guidance is necessary in following a gluten-free diet. There is risk of nutrient deficiencies from excluding foods rich in certain nutrients, such as B-vitamins, iron, and zinc.

It is also difficult to navigate this diet without education, since there are so many “hidden” sources of gluten.

How to follow a Gluten-Free Diet

FREE Diet Guide

This guide to a gluten-free diet includes:

  • Meal suggestions
  • Snack ideas
  • Sample grocery list

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    Final Thoughts

    You may be considering a gluten-free diet to improve your migraine.

    Gluten-free diets are typically followed due to celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a food sensitivity. When eating gluten causes uncomfortable symptoms, excluding it from the diet can have a benefit.

    However, if you have not identified celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or confirmed a food sensitivity, excluding gluten from the diet can do more harm than good.

    Use the tools above for help following the diet. For additional support, contact the Migraine Nutritionist.

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