March 21, 2003 -- A gluten-free diet may be a migraine cure for many, Italian researchers report.
In a nifty piece of detective work, doctors at Catholic and La Sapienza universities, Rome, identified a hidden gut problem as a potential cause of migraine headaches. The gut problem is called celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Celiac disease can cause severe symptoms -- but sometimes the symptoms are hard to detect. Even in people with no obvious symptoms, it has been associated with many kinds of nerve and brain problems.
Might celiac disease also cause migraine? Maurizio Gabrielli, MD, and colleagues compared 90 migraine patients with 236 healthy blood donors. They found that the migraine sufferers were 10 times more likely to have celiac disease than the healthy donors.
"Our results suggest that a significant proportion of patients with migraine may have celiac disease," Gabrielli and colleagues write in the March issue of The American Journal of Gastroenterology.
The cause of celiac disease is sensitivity to gluten. Gluten is the protein in grains that lets bread rise. A gluten-free diet cures the disease. Could it cure migraine?
Of the 90 migraine patients in the study, four had previously undiagnosed celiac disease. All four went on a gluten-free diet. It cured migraines in one patient. The other three had fewer headaches -- and when they got migraines they were shorter and less intense.
This might have been the famous placebo effect. But Gabrielli's team used SPECT scans to look at the patients' brains blood flow. The gluten-free diet improved blood flow in the brains of all four patients.
If larger trials confirm these preliminary findings, the researchers suggest, people with migraines should be tested for celiac disease. For those found to have the problem, it may be a cause of their migraines and a gluten-free diet could help -- or even cure -- them.