If I found out something could be causing my migraines, I would stop it right away.
With just removing one or two sensitive foods, I’ve seen clients go from daily headaches between terrible migraine episodes, to only having monthly headaches…
In this article, I will be covering the connection between wheat + other gluten-containing grains and migraine headaches.
I will also talk about what to do if you have a serious relationship with gluten and don’t want to break it off.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein.
This protein called gluten is present in all of the gluten-containing grains like:
and gluten contaminated oats.
But there are many other proteins in wheat and other gluten-containing grains that can be a problem as well.
Gluten has become a big buzz in recent years because of its connection to various inflammatory problems, one of them being migraines and headaches.
But wheat has been eaten for thousands to even millions of years…
Why is gluten a problem now?
Lets face it. We are a very different culture now then we were 100 years ago…
Even 50 years ago.
Let alone 1000 or 10000 years ago.
But our genes don’t change very quickly so they cannot be blamed for the massive changes that have happened in the last 20-50 years…
What is contributing to the massive changes that have created the gluten free diet craze?
But before I go into these 3 pieces we need to understand leaky gut.
Our intestines are like a tube of thick carpet and each strand of that carpet has cells that regulate and absorb nutrients.
Between each of these cells is a small space that allows nutrients to get in and out depending on the size of the space and the regulation by the cells.
But when this gap between the cells gets too big, or is forced open by hormones we have in our gut, big proteins can get into our circulation. (think gluten and casein)
When they get through, our immune system can target them and attack them wherever they land.
If they land in our knees, they get attacked there and we get knee inflammation.
If they land in our thyroid, our thyroid gets attacked and we develop metabolic issues.
If we have a leaky brain and they land in our brain, we can get brain inflammation.
This is bad news for the migraine brain.
Watch this short video on leaky gut:
Keep leaky gut in mind while we go through these 3 pieces that have created massive changes in our ability to eat gluten.
1. Our environments are different
We have moved out of the rural setting with lots of bugs, bacteria and animals that used to give our body lots of exposure to microorganisms that would both:
Stimulate our body’s defences to keep us strong
Add to our bodies micro organism population that actually makes us able to break down foods and stay healthier
But we have also:
Moved into more stressful environments that lower our stomach acid and enzyme production which are supposed to help us break down food enough to absorb and not cause inflammation.
Have more exposure to electromagnetic fields that toy with our nervous systems ability to regulate themselves…
And so much more…
How different is a city from a farm?
It would be easier to ask what is the same because there is so much less.
2. Our wheat is different
Today, wheat is processed very differently from before the industrial revolution.
– Our soils have less nutrition
– We use more pesticides and herbicides
– We use genetic modification that has made these proteins less recognizable by our bodies
– We make wheat products differently
Our ancestors and even our grandparents would sour our doughs or just leave them over night so that the enzymes present in these live and unprocessed foods could break down the proteins before we ingested them.
This made it easier on our own digestion.
If our body is having trouble breaking the gluten protein down into amino acids that the body can use as building blocks, then gluten has a higher chance of getting through the gut and causing damage.
3. We are different
Our bodies and the parallel universe of microorganisms inside of us that control everything we do have drastically changed over the last few decades.
We are more often born by C-section which prevents moms good bacteria from getting planted into our gut and making us healthy
We use more formula and less of mom’s milk which is specifically designed to build our immune system, make our digestion strong and give us more nutrients than any formula can
We very frequently use antibiotics that aren’t absolutely necessary, which cause a massive die off of the good bacteria in our gut, giving bad bacteria the chance to take over and create a monopoly
We have been raised into a world of safety and security issues that put us on high alert, leading to chronic stress levels that take resources away from regulating our gut functions
It’s impossible to pinpoint one thing as we are all different, our digestions are different, immune systems are different and brains are different. We have different exposures and different predispositions.
But the combination of a weakened digestion + an imbalanced microbiome + a susceptible brain
= neurological issues
Wheat is just a hard to digest protein that becomes the center of the storm.
How do we connect migraines to gluten?
Often those suffering with migraines are found to have little white spots in their brains called white matter abnormalities.(Study)
These white spots come with an increased risk of stroke, dementia and death. (Study)
These abnormalities are found more commonly in migraineurs than in the regular population. (Study)
A small study was done on 9 patients who had migraine, celiac, and white matter abnormalities and found that removal of gluten from the diet resulted in relief from symptoms of migraine and improvement in the white spots. (Study)
But returning to gluten caused it to come back.
During regular day to day life, our brain has a protective mechanism called the blood-brain barrier(BBB).
This keeps our brain safe.
But when a migraine comes along, when we are sufficiently stressed, have too little sleep, are exposed to electromagnetic fields all day or drink alcohol…
The BBB leaks and we get a leaky brain. (Read more about leaky brain here)
With foreign particles floating around the brain and activating our immune system… We are primed for a migraine and chronic inflammation. (Review)
See this video on how gluten contributes to brain and neurological issues from Sean and underground wellness:
Can gluten contribute to migraines and headaches?
But is gluten the primary target? A little yes and a little no.
If you want to stop a food sensitivity that was found to affect 78% of migraine sufferers in this study then taking out wheat is a necessity.
But if you have a leaky gut, your immune system is being sensitized to foods, and they are getting through your blood-brain barrier…
Then you need more tools in your arsenal.
This is why I created the food triggers guide.
But aside from wheat, there are many more foods that can be sensitive.
You also want to heal the gut and restore balance to intestinal bacteria.
If you have an overgrowth of bacteria or a parasite infection which studies have shown upwards of 80-90% of first world people have then removing at least wheat while you heal is a necessity.
So now begs the question…
What do I eat?
Not gluten, ideally not grains and preferably foods that feed good gut bacteria.
Steer clear of all processed and packaged foods that are labeled “gluten-free.”
There is a massive market for gluten-free founds and it has become abused by the food industry as a way of marketing “healthier” foods when in reality many gluten-free labeled foods are just as bad as the ones with gluten. Poor quality in, means poor quality functioning out, gluten or not.
The problem is that if we develop a sensitivity to gluten, our body can start recognizing other proteins that look like gluten and attack them as well. This is why many people who are gluten sensitive are sensitive to all grains.
If you think you may be sensitive to gluten it would be important to try making your own wheat products yourself, letting them rise and ferment longer and using organic ingredients to see if it is a processing issue and not necessarily a gluten issue.
These are the non-gluten grains you may want to try when steering clear of gluten:
- Wild rice(not technically a grain)
Some people do better with gluten-containing grains in other countries like in Europe where laws on genetic modification, processing and spraying of wheat and other grains is different.
See the Migraineur Food Pyramid for a more complete list of what to eat with a migraine brain.
Even though gluten is not necessarily the cause for the migraines, it is one of the largest contributors and removing gluten along with healing the gut has been shown to make massive changes in head pains of all sorts.
To get a deeper understanding of migraines and how to heal them join the migraine professional community here.
Do you think gluten could play a role in your migraines or headaches?
Let me know in a comment below and share this with someone else who may benefit.
Holistic Health Practitioner
Mark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.