How Gluten Destroys the Human Body

Lauren Green

How does a piece of bread cause a migraine?

Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world and causes suffering for tens of millions of people. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. household includes someone with migraines.

Migraine is not just a headache but also includes a collection of associated symptoms that can be debilitating. These include nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and dizziness. Often people struggle to determine what triggers their migraines. It can be environmental, hormonal, genetic, secondary to an underlying illness, or triggered by certain foods, such as cheese, red wine or chocolate. One food that has received a lot of attention in recent years is gluten - a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

As a registered dietitian and board-certified neurologist who specializes in headache management, I often will have my patients try a gluten-free diet.

Celiac disease vs. gluten sensitivity

When someone suffers from celiac disease – a digestive disorder caused by an allergy to gluten – there is a clear link between migraine headaches and gluten. Gluten triggers immune cells to release antibodies to attack substances the body sees as foreign.

When someone without celiac disease eats gluten, it goes into the gastrointestinal tract where food is broken down and the nutrients are absorbed. In the case of celiac disease, that person’s immune system sees the gluten as a foreign substance (like a virus or bacteria that shouldn’t be there) and attacks it with a specific antibody – called transglutaminase (TG) 2 serum autoantibodies – to destroy the gluten.

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