Wheat headache

Karen tells this story of her son’s 3-month struggle with headache and other symptoms:

My son suffered from chronic (nearly daily) headaches and dizziness for 3 months, missing 30+ days of school in that time. Three days after removing wheat from his diet, he is headache-free. Chronic constipation gone. Former pale skin, dark circles under his eyes: gone. Energy level back, moodiness: gone.

Taking him off wheat was always my gut instinct, but we were told by everyone in the medical field that it couldn’t possibly be from a food issue. We had tried numerous medications, took every blood test possible, MRI, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, with no long-term success.

It started the end of January when my 8 yr old son (who had never had a headache before this day) came home early from school with a headache and stomach ache. I chalked it up to start of the flu. Three days later: no relief. He got up late at night, couldn’t sleep due to headache (Advil provided no relief whatsoever), so we took a trip the our children’s hospital. He was given a physical, neurological tests; all appeared normal. Treated with Maxeran [drug for nausea} and IV fluids, which relieved his headache, but it returned a couple of days later.

I called our "health-link" info line and they suggested we go back to hospital. Treated again with Maxeran and fluids. It again relieved headache, but only for a day or two. He was referred to a pediatric neurologist. In the meantime, our family doctor prescribed Imitrex for headache treatment-- didn't work. He then had an MRI [of the brain], came back normal. They suggested high dose vitamin B2 (400 mg) and Sandomigran; no results.

One theory was that it could be tension headaches, so we had about 3 acupuncture treatments. Provided relief for a day or two, but nothing long-term. Also tried chiropractic, again it brought short term relief.

During this time I kept a food/headache diary. 3 times in these 3 months he would be OK in the morning but I would get a call from the school at almost the exact same time of day, between 1 and 1:30 in the afternoon that he had a headache. I had a few people suggest that he was allergic/sensitive to wheat. Asked for a gluten intolerance blood test, so had a full blood work up and all came back normal. Saw a neurologist at the pediatric headache clinic, full schedule of physical and neurological tests all appear normal and she was skeptical of a food reaction. Neither the neurologist nor family doctor could recommend anything else for me to do other than massage, physiotherapy…. oh, except one doctor did suggest that he see a psychologist! Very frustrating when they can’t come up with a reason or cause they think it’s psychological.

I knew it was something internal because after all these months his skin was pale, he had dark circles under his eyes, his headaches typically came with dizziness, he was lethargic, stomach pains, chronic and long term constipation (off and on for about year and half). Made a half attempt to do wheat/gluten free diet earlier into this saga, but gave up after a couple days, as symptoms seem to get worse. This last attempt came with worsening symptoms, also, but after researching and found that it’s common to have withdrawal symptoms (severe muscle and joint pain, I could hardly touch him and it would hurt), I figured that he was having withdrawal and stuck it out.

Halfway thru the 3rd day his headache was gone and, to date, we are 3 weeks without a headache!!! About a week in, his bowels started working again, really working. He said it was the first time in months that he didn’t have to strain to poop, and it was a real poop, not little rabbit ones. Full disclosure: He is also on a dairy-free diet at the moment, also, as I’ve been told that, since his system is healing, it would be wise to take out dairy, too. But as I look back at his food diary and see the pattern of his headaches, I am convinced that it’s wheat.

I guess the only true test is to feed him wheat again, but I really want to give his body time to heal before I test him. After confiding in people about our experience, I have had a few people tell me similar stories about the link with headaches and wheat. I wish Western medicine would at least be open minded about this issue. I wonder how many more people are just suffering headaches they treat by trying to just dull the pain and not search for the cause? I hope that more people will find the connect for their health issues and the food they eat.

Karen and her son were lucky: They discovered the answer–modern semi-dwarf wheat–after only 3 months. Most people struggle for decades with frequent incapacitating headaches, fatigue, gastrointestinal complaints, no answers from the healthcare system, struggling to maintain grades in school or hold a job before they stumble on the answer. And note that testing for the antibodies (or even intestinal biopsy) for celiac disease is typically negative, since it involves mechanisms other than an HLA-DQ-mediated immune mechanism.

It took this mother’s instinct and powers of observation to uncover the answer. It had nothing to do with genetic defects, nothing to do with an infectious agent, nothing to do with head injury. The medical system failed this boy, the doctors failed him, the conventional advice from agencies like the USDA that make NO allowance for such common reactions failed him.

Just what component of modern wheat is responsible for such headache reactions? Is it the abnormal brain binding of the gliadin-derived exorphin opiates? Is it vasospastic phenomena triggered by the microgram quantities of wheat germ agglutinin that gain entry into the bloodstream? Nobody knows, but the connection is increasingly certain: consumption of modern wheat is associated with severe, chronic headaches; removal of all wheat can result in dramatic cure.

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68 Responses to Wheat headache

  1. Sally says:

    Karen, I am thankful you have found the cause of your son’s problems.
    About 9 months ago our 27 yr. old son called to confide in us he had been having unbearable cramps and bleeding rectally 16-20 times a day (all the time) for 3 months (he is a chef – ugh). Uninsured, he spent a fortune for medical doctors to tell him there was nothing wrong. Having had recently read Dr. Davis’ Wheat Belly, I suggested he eliminate all gluten from his diet, go on a good probiotic, and be tested for ulcerative colitis. He tested positive for UC. All symptoms cleared up very quickly after eliminating gluten.
    I decided to go off of wheat et al with him, lost weight and felt better. Long story short, I just cheated this past week and immediately had monster headaches, brain fog, bloating, gas, acid reflux and swollen nasal passage plus a weight gain of 2lbs! I never realized the source of those decades of headaches, mood swings, leg cramps, brain fog…… What a waste of time feeling lousy and thinking it was ‘normal’. No more wheat for me.

  2. robin says:

    Hi,I have been following the wheat belly diet for over 5 wks ,and feel worse than ever. I can not seem to get rid of the persistant headache. I am on BP meds and have had to re adjust as my pressure has dropped. I am also on diuretics,and my electrolytes are off. One be K+,i have no choice but to eat 1/2 a banana or a sm orange and the palpitations are much less with in an hour. I have also started taking Mag,but nothing seems to help. I am ready to call it quits. My co workers have also started at the same time-their H/A’s are gone,joint pain is improving and generally they feel so much better. I started all this for the very same reasons-my H/A’s over the years have become unbearable at times and daily. I don’t what to do. Neither my PCP or my Cards MD thought excluding wheat would have much effect.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Very odd, Robin, and completely off the charts for wheat-free experiences.

      The response to potassium may be telling and should be easy to remedy with potassium supplements. But it sounds like there may be more going on. An answer should come from your doctor, perhaps from a neurologist.

  3. robin says:

    Thank you for your response. I am on K+/Ca replacement, and have been since starting diuretics years ago. .