Wheat/Gluten- and Dairy-Free Diet for Migraine & Headache

Wheat_dairy_headache_2Food is an overrated headache trigger, but since I’ve identified that nuts and legumes are problematic for me, I’ve approached food triggers with a more open mind.

Completely fed up with nearly nine months of nightly migraines, I decided to subsist on boiled chicken, romaine lettuce and rice for three days, then add other foods back in slowly. In usual fashion, Hart helped me see how absurd that plan was. Cutting out wheat and dairy seemed like a sufficient start. My diet is heavy in both, so this was reasonable.

I’m now on my third wheat-free round. Whether it has been useful for my migraine and chronic daily headache is up for debate. (I am, however, pretty convinced that there is a correlation between giving up gluten and eliminating my omnipresent canker sores.) The story so far:

Wheat/Gluten- and Dairy-Free Attempt #1
This lasted a week. The first five days, I felt awful. Then I figured out that almond butter was triggering some of that agony. Interestingly, I remember a low migraine phase with lots of energy. Looking at my post on almond butter, things weren’t as rosy as I thought.

I reintroduced wheat and dairy with a slice o’ triggers from Pizza Hut. Duh, of course I got a migraine. I had the pizza on a Friday and the headaches didn’t kick back in until the following Tuesday. This could mean that I can have small amounts of wheat over two or three days without triggering a migraine.

Saturday we went for cupcakes with friends (no migraine after that), but I just couldn’t stop eating wheat after that.

Wheat/Gluten and Dairy-Free Attempt #2
I re-eliminated wheat and dairy on May 25. I felt awesome — low pain, lots of energy and a clear mind — until June 11. I have no record of how I felt those days, so I can’t be sure how accurate my memory is. I did accomplish a lot and Hart noticed a substantial improvement.

Then my brain returned to its usual self. Even though I still wasn’t eating wheat or dairy, I had three weeks of as much pain, fatigue, nausea and foggy headedness as before. I did really push myself during the good two weeks.

On June 29, I discovered that 10 pounds melted off me in four weeks (not a desired effect). I looked haggard and was exhausted. Having just read the virtues of milk, I bought pasteurized, unhomogenized whole milk from pastured cows that afternoon.

By July 1, I felt great. Wheat slipped back in on July 3. Still, I felt good until the until the 8th, when the migraines came back with a vengeance.

Gluten-Free Attempt #3
Still eating dairy, I cut wheat again on July 9. I’ve felt pretty awful for the last week. Whether this is related to heat, diet or something else is up for debate. After a doozy of a migraine on Sunday, my pain has been low yesterday and today, but the exhaustion and sluggish mind are full force.

Who knows what this all means. Some people will read this post and think that wheat is a clear culprit.
Others will think just the opposite. It is fuzzy enough for me to keep
trying. I do wonder about what Laurie brings up:

What if part of the reason people who do not have celiac disease but feel better when they go GF has less to do with their physiological sensitivity to gluten and more to do with the fact that the GF diet is, on the whole, a lot healthier?

My diet is still pretty healthy when I have eaten wheat and dairy again. I haven’t gone overboard when I have eaten wheat. A cookie here, a slice of french bread there. Besides, having found some awesome cornflakes and corn chips, I can eat plenty of junk even without gluten.

What’s next for me? I’m back to being gluten-free but still enjoying dairy. I’m toying with an anti-inflammation diet (that’s another post. . .), which doesn’t include wheat, so I’ll keep going without it. I’m officially in the wait-and-see stage.

Gluten and dairy are oft vilified. What are your thoughts? Have you tried going without one or both?

I used wheat and gluten interchangeably even though they aren’t the same thing. I avoid non-wheat gluten sources without a problem. I haven’t been able to resist the seductive call of wheat. I do come from a family of wheat farmers.


23 Responses to “Wheat/Gluten- and Dairy-Free Diet for Migraine & Headache”

  1. Audra Says:

    I read your post with interest, as after thinking foods as a headache trigger were overated, I’ve been trying to move to an all-organic diet in hopes of a lower headache pain level.

    After being in Spain for a week with very low cdh pain, my doctor thought it might be because they are less perservatives and additives in European food, in general.

    So, I’ve been trying my best to stick to an organic diet for about three weeks now. Besides feeling healthier, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in my headache pain.

    The other night, after eating all natural ice cream, my migraine came on strong! So, I’ve cut dairy out of my diet for the past two days. I haven’t had a strong migraine, but the cdh pain level hasn’t gone down significantly either…

    I haven’t tried to be wheat or gluten free.

  2. Jenni Prokopy Says:

    Hey there, well my month gluten-free was definitely interesting. I think I had significant improvements – and now that I’m doing a month on a regular diet, I can really see the difference. But even during my GF month, I still had bad bad days. So I think that while it might be better overall for somethings, it’s no magic bullet for everything. But I keep playing with it… probably will go GF again in August. Good luck with it – thanks for writing about it!

  3. Alisa Says:

    I am obviously a bit biased on the non-dairy side (as you can see from my website), but my sister isn’t. I have never suffered with migraines, but she was tortured by them since her teens. I suggested she cut out dairy, and she did for one month. Her migraines vanished, but she has trouble sticking with the diet. Each time she cheats, the migraines return. This is obviously her sensitivity, though milk is a common trigger.

    On the gluten-free side, I have been toying with the diet myself, and though I am not certain if it has helped me, I do feel much better when I eat the wider variety of grains that seem to come with a GF diet. So, I kind of have to agree with the healthy comment. Just a note!

  4. Angel Says:

    I was wheat-free for 9 days (as a part of a diet, not because of my headaches) and didn’t notice a difference in them. Now, the only gluten I’m getting is from cereal, and still no change.

    However, I’ve been getting more frequent “mini-migraines” ::sigh:: I don’t know if it’s the heat or summer in general (more frequent rain).

    I have to say though, trying a food elimination diet isn’t a bad idea, or at least trying to eliminate processed food/chemicals.

    I hope you find some pattern so you can find relief.

  5. j Says:

    A few months ago, I stopped eating wheat and refined sugars to lose weight. (Though, for the record, I still ate loads of carbs in the form of veggies.) My headaches improved dramatically, although – of course – I still had some bad ones. I’ve since gone off the diet and my head hurts all the time again. Like you, I don’t think the relationship is simple, but I do suspect that there’s something to it…

    Here’s one theory: eliminating simple carbs can help stabalize blood sugar throughout the day. Could that be helping? I have no idea – but i should probably go back to my diet.

  6. e.p. Says:

    I think some of us are just doomed to pain. For some people, migraines are triggered, for others, it is chronic. (As in my case… my father and his mother have it … it’s just genetics here) That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to mitigate the pain – but, in my case anyways, I haven’t found a dietary change. I am lactose intolerant by nature and I don’t consume milk directly. I do have a penchant for cheese though. Cutting cheese for a month did not improve my situation. In fact (counter to what some people will tell you) the only ‘dietary change’ that improved things whatsoever is a regular intake of caffeine – I find it mitigates some of my smaller migraines. I feel better with it than without, anyways … good luck to you.

  7. Joanna Says:

    Last summer, I did 3 months of a gluten-free diet. Ohh boy was that hard – mainly because I just love bread and bread products. I didn’t feel any changes whatsoever in my daily headache (NDPH – New Daily Persistent Headache for curious parties) but I stuck with it for that 3 months to really give it a try but to no avail.
    I do have food allergies – fresh fruit and soy – so we wouldn’t have been surprised if the whole gluten thing was a culprit, but I didn’t have any luck. The end of the summer, when I was still on the diet actually, was when my headache docs admitted me into their inpatient hospital program for 10 days because I was hurting so badly… Oy.
    Just my experience πŸ˜‰

  8. Migraineur Says:

    I commented on your previous post, and you replied asking if I ate wheat now. The answer is yes, but I wish I didn’t. I have never felt better in my life than when I was on a low-carbohydrate diet, which by definition, eliminates wheat, but also eliminates a lot of other junk like sugar, corn, and potatoes. (I think Sugar, Corn, and Wheat are some kind of Unholy Trinity of Poison.)

    Why don’t I follow the diet now? I wish I could get my mind around it. I know I should, and I seem to follow it for three days, then stress kicks in, and I’m back to Bagel Land, with a side of pasta, and Haagen Dazs for dessert.

    I have no problems whatsoever with dairy, by the way.

  9. Sue Says:

    I’ve never gone entirely off dairy, but I’ve been trying to eat gluten-free for over a year now. By trying, I mean that sometimes I “cheat” and have a slice of pizza (it’s really the only gluten/wheat-based food I miss.

    Despite sticking to the gluten-free diet most of the time, my headaches, if anything, are worse than they were a year ago.


  10. Laurie Says:

    Going wheat-free is certainly a sacrifice, so I hope that this latest attempt helps clarify things a bit in terms of identifying triggers!

    I find the way our bodies respond to food so interesting. Since I have celiac, obviously I noticed some pretty marked results when I went totally GF–for example, my pounding sinus headaches (and I’ve had numerous sinus surgeries) disappeared, and I had a lot more energy. My father, who isn’t celiac but is diabetic, saw huge improvements in his blood sugars during the 6 weeks he tried it.

    Yet other people who have chronic conditions but are not celiac who try going GF don’t seem to notice much difference in their symptoms…You’re right, it is definitely a “wait and see” kind of thing, but I hope you get some answers soon!

  11. Kerrie Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s helpful to read what you all have been through. I’m not surprised that we’ve had mixed results. If only it were the magic bullet so many make it out to be!


  12. Mary Frances Says:

    I have found that a diet with more whole foods, especially fresh fruits and veggies, reduces the frequency of my migraines. However, when I added a completely gluten free diet (due to other issues)the migraines completely went away. I think it’s definitely worth trying.

    For those of you having trouble with staying on a gluten-free diet, there are a lot of great gluten free blogs. Check out my blog at http://www.glutenfreecookingschool.com for recipes and links to other gluten free blogs.

    I’m glad it helped you so much. Great blog, by the way!


  13. kate Says:

    I followed a wheat & dairy free diet for a year-and-a-half. It was the first year-and-a-half of a 6 year chronic daily headache with migraines, (so far). It didn’t make a bit of difference, so I eventually gave it up. Sometimes I wonder, however, if the diet was sabotaged by the fact that I replaced dairy with soy milk, because years later I was told that soy is often a migraine trigger.
    Sometimes I think I should at least cut milk out again, because of the energy boost that gave me another time. But it’s just so hard to be restrictive with comfort foods when you’re in so much pain. 6 years ago, I was more motivated. But after all this time, I’m just too worn out to do all the work of a restrictive diet. It’s EXPENSIVE too!

    I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. You make a great point about it being hard to restrict comfort foods when you don’t feel well. I find the same thing — and I always go for carbs.

    Take care,

  14. Christina P Says:

    Just a comment here: A few of my patients have had success with headache control following the glycemic impact diet, even though they do not have wheat or gluten issues, nor were formally hypoglylcemic. So there is something about carbs for some people.

    It hasn’t worked for everyone, of course.

  15. Mark Dlugozima Says:

    After 20 years of migraines I quit ingesting refined sugar. After 5 days my headaches decreased 80%. After 3 years of sugarless living I only need an occasional Maxalt, usually for a hangover. During the week I can take 2 Excedrin Migraine to stop any mild symptoms. Please try it! And read food labels carefully – did you know sugar is added to spaghetti sauces?

  16. Emily Says:

    I have made several attempts to stop eating wheat and dairy. I don’t think I’ve ever made it long to tell a difference. I have discovered goat milk and goat yogurt and I think they are fantastic. Apparently it is molecularly similar to human milk and is easier to digest and causes less inflammation and allergy. I’m leary of soy products and this has made cutting the dairy much easier. Not so much with the wheat…

  17. Alison Says:

    Hi everyone,
    I can’t help but point out that none of the people who commented really ever did a 100% gluten-free diet for a dedicated period of time. You cannot judge whether gluten is the culprit (probably is) if you are getting any gluten in your diet at all. And wheat-free doesn’t count! I think you are all crazy for not really trying a gluten-free diet considering how miserable you feel. My husband suffered from migraines until he cut out gluten – he used to live on Excedrin. Now no more migraines. You can read more about gluten-free at my website: http://www.surefoodsliving.com.
    Just trying to help here!!

  18. Kelly Says:

    I have not noticed a difference from cutting out gluten but dairy has dramatically improved my headaches. Cutting out alcohol and adding more water also helped improve my health. I have been feeling better for 2 months now! No headaches!

    Just my experiences!

  19. Anne Borden Says:

    Not all dairy is the same…I can tolerate milk and ice cream with no problems. I eliminated *aged* dairy (i.e., yogurt, cheese, sour cream) a year and a half ago when I realized that I would get a migraine within an hour of consuming them.

  20. James Says:

    I’ve identified several food triggers myself. I have suffered from migraines for a better part of my life and I am still learning what some of the triggers are. Some of you may be interested to know and try eliminating some of these foods from your diet for a while and see what happens.

    Legumes: peanuts, soy nuts, peas, beans, etc.
    Onions & garlic
    Horseradish, wasabi & mustard seed
    Green or unripened bananas
    Chocolate, caffeine

    Once you’ve identified a trigger you can try reintroducing it slowly, you might find you can tolerate small amounts of some while none of others. It’s hard to identify any trigger if you only eliminate one suspect at a time, on the other hand you need your sustenance. Don’t be satisfied with just a few days or even a week, you’ll just be fooling yourself.

  21. Andrea Says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading the above posts. After 20 years of menstrual migraines, I have found a speicalist that has suggested that I cut Gluten and Dairy from my diet (I never thought diet had anything to do with it, but Im starting to think now it has). He said diet needs to be the foundation, and migraine treatments if still necessary, come next.
    The longer you have eaten gluten/dairy, the longer it takes to come off it. At least 6 weeks to start with the specialist has recommended to me.
    No dairy means anything that has come from an animals mammory glands!!! that means goat, cow, sheep whatever! It does not include eggs, which I initially thought it did.
    Tomorrow I start the diet!!! Apparently if Im feeling like crap around Day 5, it means its working!

    Best wishes to all the migraine/headache sufferers looking for a cure πŸ™‚


  22. Margaret Says:

    Hi, I have had migraines for over 40yrs. I also have chronic pancreatitis. I have to have a low fat diet, cant digest pulses and raw fruit and veg. Cant tolerate anything with acid. I have now tried cutting out wheat and dairy as they seem to be the triggers for my migraines. Its getting very hard to find food that I can eat. Maybe I should just accept the migraines and continue with wheat but the pain is so bad and its every day that I am not getting much of a life. Doctors and dietitians have been of no help

    Thanks for listening

  23. Jenn Says:

    Hi – I, too, have chronic migraines and chronic pancreatitis. After a year of daily headaches, I finally got serious about managing my diet – no wheat, rice, grains, dairy, foods high in tyramine, foods high in salicylates, etc. It’s hard because I essentially eat eggs, fish, or potatoes every meal. That combined with Lisinopril has decreased the intensity and frequency of my headaches. If you read this, Margaret, I am convinced that this diet has also improved my pancreatitis symptoms and I am taking less enzymes now (sometimes even able to forego any enzymes with meals), but I’m suspicious that the enzymes may be a migraine trigger.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you are not alone and hang in there with the diet.


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