Why does gluten give a headache?

Gluten is a protein found in grains and cereals, such as barley, rye, or wheat. There are people who avoid gluten because they are celiac, although it is also possible that it causes headaches or migraines.

Being celiac is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to form antibodies in response to gluten. There are those who have a certain tolerance, although they trigger other independent discomforts to the digestive tract. No one knows why migraines occur, but there are some triggers, among which gluten can be a part.

Occurs in people with sensitivity

Gluten can trigger migraines in some people. There are studies that suggest a link between celiac disease and migraines. These can even be an early symptom of celiac disease in some people, although migraine headaches are considered a rare sign of this problem.

Gluten can affect the nervous system in people with celiac disease and people with non-celiac gluten intolerance. For example, it can influence learning disorders, depression, migraine, and headaches. That means this protein can trigger migraines in people who do not have celiac disease, but who do have gluten sensitivity.

However, gluten sensitivity is still not well understood. There are those who notice a foggy thought, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea or constipation or a headache. Gluten can be a trigger for migraines in some people, but more research is needed to understand this connection.

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Gluten triggers nerve activation

Years ago it was thought that migraines occurred due to the enlargement or dilation of the blood vessels, but they were not correct. Headache triggers are now known to involve nerves in the trigeminovascular pathway (DVT). These nerves control sensation in the face, in addition to biting and chewing.

When DVT is activated by the presence of gluten, it causes the release of many chemicals, including histamine, a substance that cells produce when they respond to injury or allergic and inflammatory moments. The DVT nerves also produce a recently discovered trigger for migraines; a protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).

When CGRP is released, it causes dilation of blood vessels in the meninges, a layer of tissue that protects the brain. So, as the blood vessels dilate, they leak water and protein into the meninges, causing swelling and irritation. The swelling activates the trigenimial nerves that carry messages to other regions of the brain, creating the perception of pain that is associated with a migraine.

There are already some medications that have been approved for migraine prevention. These drugs are called CGRP monoclonal antibodies and have been shown to be an effective preventive treatment. They prevent the CGRP protein from entering the receptor, so that swelling and irritation that leads to a headache will not be created. This is the reason why many people who are not celiac can suffer migraines when eating bread, cookies or any dough with gluten.