Your headaches may be the result of gluten sensitivity and there may be a solution

I still have vivid memories of my father laying motionless on the living room floor with his eyes closed. It was probably the best way he could find to be comfortable as he endured yet another migraine headache. It was not uncommon to see him in that position on a Sunday afternoon when he seemed to experience most of his migraines. He visited the doctor’s office seeking a solution and was given various medications to try, including one called Fiorinal that was described to him as a muscle relaxant the might help. It didn’t and that is certainly not something that surprises me in the modern age of what I refer to as revolving-door medicine.

My father’s headaches were a bit peculiar because they would almost always strike on a weekend day and most commonly on Sunday. It’s hard to figure that out but knowing he suffered from anxiety that probably plagued him all of his life, I wonder whether his anxiety accumulated during the workweek and then when he was able to relax more on the weekends, that “release” somehow triggered a migraine. In that sense, the Fiorinal prescription may have made sense but he found out years later that anxiety, or the lack of, may have been somewhat of a trigger but it was not the cause.

It seemed like my dad’s headaches kind of came and went as the years went by. I do not recall him suffering from them when I was very young and as far as I can recall. I think the real trouble started when I was in my late teens or early 20s. That would mean that my father was in his late 30s or early 40s when migraine headaches became an unpleasant reality in his life. He surely downed his share of over-the-counter pain killers like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen in his life much the way his father downed massive quantities of aspirin in an effort to ease his own frequent migraine headaches. Both my grandfather and father died of kidney failure and I strongly suspect that decades of OTC painkiller usage had a lot to do with that.

Years later the cause for his headaches would finally be revealed. I am not sure how my uncle reached the conclusion he did but my father’s youngest brother also suffered with migraines just like my father and grandfather did. As far as I know, they were the only three that suffered with that affliction on that side of my family. There was little doubt that this was something that was hereditary and I would get further confirmation of that in the coming years.

Through his own experimentation or perhaps by way of somebody that told him, my uncle discKrispy-Kreme-Heavanovered that the cause of his migraines was the consumption of wheat. More specifically, it’s a protein called gluten that is found in wheat and other grains. My uncle discovered that his headaches vanished when he avoided eating anything that contained gluten. In those days that meant no more bread, no more pizza, no more cookies, cake or pies. It sucked but debilitating migraine headaches sucked even more, so my father stopped eating anything that contained gluten.

His migraines became a thing of the past, and as the years wore on it became easier to live a gluten-free lifestyle because more gluten-free replacement products became available and were actually pretty good-tasting. My mother would often make gluten-free treats like cookies and cakes using gluten-free flours that were formulated from things like potatoes and rice. Most of the things she made were actually quite good.

As I eased into my forties I reluctantly joined the gluten-sensitive club. I started to experience frequent headaches and fortunately for me, the years of suffering that were endured by my father and my uncle rewarded me with the reason why. I hesitate to classify my headaches as migraines because I do not believe they were as severe as my father’s. I don’t think I was quite as sensitive to gluten as he was bit still, frequent headaches are no fun. And my headaches did not seem to be mostly restricted to the weekends like my dad’s were. I would usually get a headache within hours of eating something with gluten in it.

By then there were even more gluten-free alternatives available and they have been steadily increasing ever since. That makes it a hell of a lot easier to get along in this world as a person who is not able to consume things that contain gluten. These days you can get a lot of traditionally gluten-laden foods in gluten-free form and that is something I am very grateful for. I suspect that the phrase “gluten free” did not even exist decades ago when my grandfather was pounding down fistfuls of aspirin in an attempt to relieve the pain of his migraine headaches.

For perhaps a decade before he died, both my father and I both shared the gluten-free experience. My wife and my mom would swap gluten-free recipes and my dad and I would share tips about gluten-free alternatives and how we could occasionally get away with “cheating” once in a while by indulging in some gluten-containing treat like pizza or something tasty from the doughnut shop. My dad experimented a bit with OTC painkillers and discovered that if he took about four 200 milligram ibuprofen tablets before he indulged, he would escape without the usual headache. I tried it as well and it seemed to work pretty well. I was careful to avoid doing it too often because I just didn’t feel right about taking that stuff too frequently. It was an effective solution which we both would employ on occasion, especially around the holidays when all those delicious seasonal treats would be laid out for all to enjoy.

My father has been gone for almost a decade now and I wish I had made this remarkable discovery before he died so he could have taken advantage of it. He was probably a little more prone to cheat than I was but he also had reservations about overdoing it with the painkillers, so I knew he would have loved to been able to make use of this superior solution to our mutual problem.

Today I don’t even know how I found the information but I am pretty sure I just stumbled onto it when I wasn’t even searching for it. What I found was a blog post about the trials and tribulations of living with a gluten sensitivity. The guy who wrote it is Nathan Hatch. It’s a good thing I located that information when I did because it looks like Nathan has taken the blog where it was published offline. What remains in its place is a page that explains that he has retired his blog and that his book, called Fuck Portion Control, is available for those that wish to learn about his ideas and experiences related to health and wellness.

Fortunately, I created my own locally-stored copy of the blog post Nathan created that revealed an amazing solution to me and while I am certainly not going to republish his article here or anywhere else, I do believe the simple solution he revealed is too valuable to keep under wraps.

To summarize, Nathan had his share of problems with gluten through the years but what’s interesting to me was that he did not suffer the same consequences that myself and my relatives did. Instead, he would experience digestive discomfort and problems that seemed to be very similar to sinus infections. He also had discovered that gluten sensitivity was a problem that was passed down to him through his ancestry just like I did. So what’s this remarkable solution he discovered? It’s vitamin B-2, which is also known as riboflavin. Yes, this remarkably effective solution is as simple as taking a vitamin supplement!

Nathan, like myself, seems to have a real interest in matters relating to health and nutrition and at one point he had decided to start taking a riboflavin supplement. He had heard that it may help boost his metabolism and he wanted to give it a try. He soon discovered that it had another benefit that he had not expected and that was that he could consume foods containing gluten without experiencing the consequences! Excuse me for sounding a bit excited about that but if you are gluten-sensitive, I suspect you will completely understand.

It turns out, according to Nathan, that people who suffer with problems such as gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are known to be deficient in riboflavin and that supplementing it seems to help those people avoid the usual consequences. To be fair, I have no idea if supplementing vitamin B-2 can actually help people with celiac disease. I know that can be a very serious condition and that people with it are probably more sensitive to things containing gluten than are people like myself, who have a sensitivity which may not be a true allergy,

After discovering this information I was pretty excited but at the same time I had my reservations. Nathan’s problems and the problems his family endured due to gluten sensitivity involved digestive discomfort and sinus problems and since the problem in my family was headaches, I wondered if this discovery could help me. I knew I had to try it at some point but the doubts I had more or less caused me to put the notion on the back burner for a few months.

One day I decided it was time to give it a try so I jumped online and ordered myself a bottle of vitamin B-2 supplements. For the curious, I chose the Swanson brand since I have always had good luck with their products. I got some of the 100 milligram capsules and probably had them in my house for a month or so before I worked up the nerve to put this new potential solution to the test. Can you tell that I really, really dislike headaches?

About 5 months ago we had some people visiting from out-of-town and we were all planning to get together one day at our house for a little afternoon visit. My wife purchased some pastry snacks that are usually “off limits” for me and made some of her homemade cream puffs, which are always excellent and very hard to resist. This was the day I decided I would do it so I took a riboflavin capsule every two or three hours that day leading up to the gathering. And then I went hog wild.

I ate generous amounts of gluten-containing treats including a creampuff or two, some store-bought strudel and some other pastry treats that our visitors picked up at the store on the way over. What I ate was way more than enough to cause a pretty nasty headache but to my surprise, it never materialized. I waited and waited and became more excited and amazed with each passing hour. At bedtime I could still hardly believe this was working so I told myself that I would be quite comfortable calling this a “cure” if I awoke in the morning without a headache. And that’s exactly what happened. This was the real deal!

Although I did not experience a headache, I did experience a little bit of what I normally do when I do have a gluten-induced headache. I felt a little tension in my neck but certainly not anything significant and not at all hard to live with. Secondly, I suppose the best way to describe this symptom is to say that I experienced a slight “dizziness” problem that seemed to have something to do with my eyes. It’s something I have also noticed a few times in my life when I was really sick, like with the flu or something. I know, it probably sounds weird but that is the best way I can describe it. Still, that symptom was also very minor and not at all difficult to put up with and it passed after a couple of hours.

I have repeated this experiment a number of times using seriously off-limits indulgences like Subway submarine sandwiches and Krispy Kreme doughnuts (Oh. My. God.) on a few occasions and the B-2 has kept the headaches completely in check. Not only that, each subsequent time I have indulged, I experienced even milder symptoms than I previously had with the minor neck tension and dizziness. The last couple of times I cheated, those symptoms were essentially non-existent. I theorize that being on B-2 for a while has built up my defenses a bit and made me even more immune to the unpleasant effects of gluten that once plagued me. As it stands now, this feels like a bona fide cure and I am eternally grateful to Nathan for sharing his experience.

I don’t really have a particular protocol or dosage that I use when I take B-2 to prevent negative reactions from consuming gluten. I do take one every day with the other vitamins and supplements I take regularly and on days when I plan to indulge in some gluten-containing treats I take more. What I usually do on those days is take one 100 milligram riboflavin capsule first thing in the morning when I get up. Two or three hours later I will take another one and again two or three hours after that. And then, just before I eat something that contains gluten I take another one and then I don’t bother taking any more for the rest of the day. So far that has worked out fine for me. What I am doing may be overkill but I’m not going to take any chances, so I will keep the dosage pretty high. Since we are all different, the required dosage and timing probably differs from person to person, so some experimentation is probably in order.

I’ve long been a believer in taking vitamins and supplements and have done so pretty much my whole life. My experience with riboflavin is a great example that shows how beneficial that behavior can be. I am grateful to live during a time when we have access to an amazing information source we know as the internet and for the people like Nathan Hatch who are willing to share incredibly useful information that has the potential to help millions of others.