"We ended up analyzing 502 people," Dimitrova said. "We eliminated those who had head trauma or brain tumors, everybody who drank more than two alcoholic beverages a day and people who drank four or more cups of coffee a day -- anything that could be headache contributors."
The yearlong study found that 188 people had celiac disease, 111 had inflammatory bowel disease and 25 were gluten-sensitive -- meaning they had not tested positive for celiac disease but reported symptoms when they ate foods with wheat. The other 178 healthy individuals served as the control group.
Chronic headaches of any kind were reported by 56 percent of gluten-sensitive participants, 30 percent of those with celiac disease and 23 percent of those with inflammatory bowel disease, while only 14 percent of the control group reported headaches.
Dimitrova said that when the researchers screened specifically for migraines, 21 percent of those in the celiac group and 14 percent of the inflammatory bowel disease group met the criteria for the sometimes disabling headaches, compared with only 6 percent of the control group.
"Our findings suggest that migraine is a common neurologic manifestation in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and [inflammatory bowel disease]," said Dimitrova, who also said they don't know what the mechanism is.
"It's possible the patients with [inflammatory bowel disease] have a generalized inflammatory response, and this may be similar in celiac disease patients, where the whole body, including the brain, is affected by inflammation," she said. "The other possibility is that there are antibodies in celiac disease that may ... attack the brain cells and membranes covering the nervous system and somehow cause headaches. What we know for sure is that there is a higher prevalence of headache of any kind, including migraine headaches, compared to healthy controls."
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