causes of migraines

gI_SignImage.jpgWe received the following letter from a recent patient.

It is truly amazing that with all the research on this subject, (including double-blind & placebo controlled studies), that widespread testing for food allergies is still not done.

Dr. Wangen,

When I came to see you for migranes I felt as though I was making a “last ditch” effort. I had suffered from headaches since I was about 12 years old and the preceding 3 years had become unbearable. At the time I saw you I had had the same headache for about 8 months. I was miserable. (The headache before that had lasted 18 months!)

Many times over the years I had asked various healthcare providers if something I was eating was making me sick. EVERY single one of them told me that food allergies do not cause migraines. And yet that was the first thing you tested me for! The three weeks I waited for my blood test results seemed like forever. When the test results did come back they showed that I was highly reactive to dairy, eggs, and sesame and reactive to other foods as well though not as severely. I left your office a bit overwhelmed and wondering how on earth I was going to eat. I had a good cry in the car and then stopped for a cheese burger on a sesame seed bun on the way home. Then I cried again. My tears were in part because I felt so consumed by this new information, and in part because I finally had a possible new solution to ridding myself of the constant pain.

After that final cheeseburger I never looked back. I eliminated every single item that my blood testing indicated could be a problem. Of course it was a huge challenge at first to change my diet so drastically. But it proved to be absolutely worth it. After about 3 weeks my headaches started to lessen.

It wasn’t every day anymore.

After about 5 weeks I felt significantly better. That was all I needed to keep me going! My son (aged 8) noticed that mommy was more “fun.” He commented about how good it was that I wasn’t always in bed. Heartbreaking for me to hear, but he was right.

For a long time I was committed to the new diet and I did not stray from it one tiny bit. I eventually decided to try one of my old favorite foods. I quickly learned that my digestive system no longer tolerated eggs and dairy and the next day I had a headache which lasted for 5 days. This seems to be a predictable pattern as I have tried a few other foods in the past 6 months. At this point I am not interested in trying to add back any of the foods which I tested positive for (although I may consider having some Creme Brulee on my birthday in August…).

My headaches are not entirely gone. But now I know any new headache will only last a day, maybe 2, and then it will end. I previously had headaches that didn’t have endings. Knowing that any headaches now will end makes it much easier to cope.

When I think about the time and money spent over the years on EEG’s, MRI’s, CT scans, a cabinet full of prescription drugs, biofeedback, and more I want to scream! My neurologist at that time told me that there was nothing more he could do for me, he didn’t need to see me again.

All this to tell you how much I appreciate you! Previously, I couldn’t imagine the migraines would ever end, and yet they have! I appreciate everything you have helped me with. THANK YOU!!


While we focus on IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), it is amazing how many other health problems are related to immune system food reactions and other digestive issues. If you would like to read more about the science behind food allergies and headaches, check out links at the Food Allergy and Intolerance Foundation and these studies:

Alpay et. al. (2010). Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: A clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial. Cephalalgia. 2010 July; 30(7): 829–837.doi: 10.1177/0333102410361404. [Full Text]

Arroyave Hernández et. al. (2008)
. Food allergy mediated by IgG antibodies associated with migraine in adults. Rev Alerg Mex. 2007 Sep-Oct;54(5):162-8.


(image thanks to

We have been pointing to the research for years – trigger the immune system, as happens in celiac, Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), (and many cases of IBS), and you will get all sorts of problems, including headaches.

Yes, headaches have long been known to be associated with celiac disease. Remove gluten from the diet and the headaches often resolve. The same is true for non-celiac patients with gluten sensitivity. And it’s also true for people with other food allergies.

Just yesterday I saw a patient whose headaches were gone after removing dairy and egg from her diet. It’s just depends on which foods you react to, but it’s not at all unusual for headaches to be triggered by food allergies.

Excerpt from

New research shows that patients with serious aches in the belly are more prone to headaches than healthy individuals.

They found that among patients with celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), 30 percent and 23 percent respectively reported having chronic headaches. At the same time, 56 percent of patients who were sensitive to gluten also reported having serious headaches long-term.

Compared to healthy patients, the odds were 2.66 times greater among patients with IBD to have migraines. About 30 percent of them said their headaches were severe.

However, the odds were 3.79 times greater among celiac disease patients to have a migraine, and 72 percent of them felt their migraine was severe.

“Interestingly, the prevalence of migraine among patients with IBD is similar to that of celiac disease patients,” researchers said in their report.

“This may imply a general migraine-generating inflammatory mechanism common to both celiac disease and IBD; however, we cannot rule out the presence of a gluten antibody-mediated mechanism of migraine in celiac disease.”

Image thanks to


Patients with digestive problems often have other problems as well. One of these is migraine headaches. New research on migraine headaches and hidden food allergies draws a clear connection between the two and explains how they can also relate to digestive problems.

Prevalence of Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches are relatively common in the United States, affecting approximately 17% of the women (that’s 51 million people) and 5.5% (16.5 million) of the men in the country.

Severity of Migraines
Migraines are no small matter. Most people who suffer from migraines experience anywhere from 1-4 attacks per month and over half of these people are severely impaired during their headache. They may last for 4 hours or as long as three days. Most migraine headaches involve intense throbbing pain in the head and often include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound, and potentially other symptoms. Many also are associated with an aura, which is a visual distortion.

Food Allergies Can Cause Migraines
If you follow this newsletter or the IBS Treatment Center, then you know that in many cases digestive problems are caused by what might best be described as hidden food allergies. What you might not be aware of is that hidden food allergies have also been shown to cause migraines.

The Latest Research
In 2008, a wonderful study (see below) reported on the direct link between IgG food reactions and migraines. IgG food reactions are the same reactions tested for at the IBS Treatment Center. In this study it was found that the 56 people in the study who suffered from migraines had significantly elevated levels of IgG antibodies (when compared to a control group) in response to one or more foods in their diet.

When the relevant food was eliminated from the diet of each respective migraine sufferer, their migraines resolved and they no longer needed medication.

Our Experience
What we have seen here at the IBS Treatment Center and our sister clinic, the Center for Food Allergies, is this same relationship between hidden food allergies and migraine headaches. In many cases these patients have come to us for treatment of their digestive problems only to find out their migraines also improved. In many cases this has also been true for other types of headaches as well. It is an added side benefit of our services that we are glad to provide! But you don’t have to have digestive problems to be treated here for migraines.

We will be happy to work with you, with or without digestive problems. But if you have both, then you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that they are often related.

More information about headaches and to read the abstract of this study click here.

Arroyave Hernández et. al. (2008). Food allergy mediated by IgG antibodies associated with migraine in adults. Rev Alerg Mex. 2007 Sep-Oct;54(5):162-8.

Alpay et. al. (2010). Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: A clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial. Cephalalgia. 2010 July; 30(7): 829–837.doi: 10.1177/0333102410361404. [Full Text]


(img thanks to realfooduniversity)

This recent article from NPR is still talking mostly about treating the symptoms, but often we can even do much better than that. There are potentially cures for migraines – we have had many patients who used to have migraines and don’t anymore.  And there are also double-blind medical studies that prove food allergies can be the cause of migraines and that eliminating the offending food from the diet can reduce or eliminate migraines.

Two such studies include:

Alpay et. al. (2010). Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: A clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial. Cephalalgia. 2010 July; 30(7): 829–837.doi: 10.1177/0333102410361404. [Full Text]

Arroyave Hernández et. al. (2008). Food allergy mediated by IgG antibodies associated with migraine in adults. Rev Alerg Mex. 2007 Sep-Oct;54(5):162-8.

Excerpt from NPR:

But a 2007 study found that 38 percent of migraine sufferers (men or women, who get migraines more often than men) could benefit from preventive treatment, yet only 3 percent to 13 percent currently use it.

Preventive treatment can reduce migraines by 50 percent. “For a given patient, half [the migraines] is usually a significant improvement,” says Flippen. “If you go from 15 headache days per month down to seven, that’s a significant change.”

In April, the American Academy of Neurology released new guidelines to help physicians treat migraine patients and help them reduce both frequency and severity of headaches.

High blood pressure medication — particularly beta blockers — work for certain patients. For others, anti-seizure drugs help. Some patients benefit from Botox injections, and others from antidepressants.

Bottom line: If you suffer disabling headaches, go to your doctor to see if you are actually suffering from migraines and if you are a candidate for preventive treatment.

But even the best preventive treatments aren’t cures. And patients can still suffer the pain, nausea and debilitation of migraines.

When that happens, Flippen says, the drug of choice is a class of medications called triptans, which relieve pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound associated with migraines. “They target serotonin receptors and are probably the biggest advance in migraine treatment in the last quarter-century,” Flippen says, in helping reduce the acute pain once a migraine has started by maintaining serotonin levels in the brain.

Triptans are available by prescription and come in pill form, nasal spray or an injection. They’re effective and quick, says Flippen. Unfortunately, about one in five patients doesn’t respond to them. These are typically people with heart disease or diabetes, and for them, Flippen says, there are combination medications that include anti-inflammatory drugs and mild sedatives.

For patients with more mild symptoms, over the counter painkillers can work if taken at the very first sign of an attack. These include ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin and acetaminophen.

But the mandate for all patients is clear: Reduce the number of migraines. Researchers are finding that “migraines beget migraines,” as Andrew Charles, director of UCLA’s Headache Research and Treatment Program, says,

image thanks to realfooduniversity