Gluten-free, Casein-free Diet – for Migraine?

Would you believe – a gluten-free, casein-free diet for migraine?  And … um … just what is that, anyway?

First, let’s back up a step.  There are a host of diets for migraine.  Actually, I’d like to talk more about that in a future post.  But let’s start by saying many are sceptical about these diets.

For one thing, it’s hard to get long term, scientific data about these diets.  For another – they simply don’t work for everyone, no matter what some people claim.

On the other hand – diets do work for some.  From my research, I remain strongly convinced that diet should be one of the key factors in your migraine treatment.

The other day I got an email from Carolyn.  She says she has been migraine-free for 6 years, and healthy overall, due to a gluten-free, casein-free diet (otherwise known as the GFCF diet).

This diet is often talked about when it comes to autism and even schizophrenia.  But migraine also comes up occasionally as a "symptom" in people who could benefit from the diet.

Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet - Whooooo, Me?!
GFCF – Whooo, ME?!

If you break it down into two diets, you have two that are more commonly recommended for migraine.  First, the gluten-free diet, which we’ve talked about before.

Casein is found in milk and cheese.  And yes, I’ve heard people recommend cutting out dairy to stop migraine attacks as well (our friend Carolyn cut out beef as well, but that’s not standard for the GFCF diet).

It’s even harder than you think – many "dairy-free" diets still contain casein, including soy products.

The Theory Behind it All

Why this combination of gluten and casein?  It’s a tricky question.  If the diet does work, why?

The theory is that the GFCF diet limits opiate peptides in the body, which may be interfering with certain neurological functions of the body.

However, at this point we need more information before we can confirm exactly what is happening.

When it comes to autism, some researchers believe that this indicates a gut-to-brain connection, something that is very probable in migraine, as we’ve discussed before.

Giving it a Try?

First, if you’ve tried a GFCF diet for migraine, please let us know how long you have been/were on it, and the results.

If you’re thinking of giving it a try, you already know it will be a challenge.  You’ll need to do research before-hand, get products and recipes together that will make things easier, and try to find people who can support you.

You might want to try things one step at a time.  Carolyn said that she started with a gluten-free diet, and found that her migraine attacks diminished.  Then she moved on to the gluten-free casein-free diet ("everything from a cow", in her case).

When used for children with autism, the diet is often started the other way around (or, all at once) – casein-free first, then gluten free.

You may or may not see a change right away, and as with many things you may feel worse before feeling better.  Carolyn gave a good suggestion – commit to 6 months and see how it goes.

Planning is crucial.  Talk to your doctor.  While she may not understand, she at least needs to know you’re going to try this.

Do your research.  Just cutting out milk and bread is not enough – gluten and casein are in a great many products – but that’s far beyond the scope of this post.

Again, if you’ve tried this diet, especially if you’ve tried it for migraine, we want to hear your experiences!  Please, leave a comment, or contact me here.

To start more research on your own, read WebMD’s Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diets for Autism, and check out The Big GFCF "FAQ’s" (hey, migraine is even mentioned there once!)

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8 comments… add one
  • Heather Apr 9, 2010

    I tried the gluten-free diet for migraine, but not the casein-free part. Unfortunately I didn’t have success, but I chronicled my experience and put some helpful tips/links in these posts (start at the bottom and work your way up)

    It’s a tough diet, but if it works, it’s worth it!

  • Ricky Buchanan Apr 30, 2010

    I’ve been on the Bucholtz-style elimination diet (now significantly relaxed – I know exactly which dietary triggers affect me now!) rather than the GFCF one but my website about the experiences has several pages which are generally relevant to anybody who is going onto an elimination diet:


  • Aurora Jan 9, 2011

    I have been on gluten-free diet since August and I think it is giving good results. I noticed the difference in November when there was almost a week of not being bedbound. It was amazing! I still have headaches these days, but I do get out of bed and be useful at home. I am also still on magnesium (been on it for more than a year now). I am now taking less medication because the headaches are very mild.

  • Barbara May 2, 2012

    I found this site googling ‘casein migraine’, as I believe I’ve found the trigger, finally, for my migraines!
    I’m not feeling too good right now because I did a challenge yesterday, eating Brie cheese on rice crackers, but previous to that I had been casein free for a month. (I don’t eat wheat at all because of a grass allergy which includes wheat.)
    Sure enough, I woke with the familiar punched-in-the-gut pain, and a cracking headache (right side only) which may or may not develop into a three-day-ringer.

    Feeling as I do now, it’s clear ro me that I have been symptom free for the last 3 weeks or so. Now I’m wondering why it took me so long to exclude casein, when I’ve known for years that it was one of the things that are often implicated in the sorts of health issues I have. I recommend that anyone who needs to find answers to mystery health problems have a look at casein.

    • Anne May 4, 2012

      Be careful with the aged cheese, It has enzymes in it that aside from the casein, might cause migraine. I get a horrible migraine anytime I eat aged cheeses. You might want to try a challenge with a less tricky casein product. Wish you well.

  • Anna Popescu Aug 2, 2012

    I know this is an old article but I just now read it. On a hunch, I’ve been gluten-free and casein-free for several months and can definitely see a difference in the frequency of my migraines. Instead of having them everyday, they now only occur when we’re in monsoon season here in northern AZ (which is happening right now). The wildly fluctuating barometric pressure plus living at high altitude is my migraine nemesis, but the changes in my diet have made a huge impact for the better!

  • Shelby Nov 22, 2012

    I, like Anna, live in the SW US and changes in barometric pressure is a huge trigger for me, but clearly not the only trigger. I am on 800 mg/day Magnesium and 400 mg/day B-2 per my Dr’s orders. Haven’t seem much changes, but she still wants to be remain on it since it doesn’t hurt. Additionally, I take Sam-E, which has helped a great deal in reducing my tension headaches that all too often triggered a migraine. I had been gluten-free in the past for non-migraine related reasons (suggested by another Dr), but never paid much attention to the effect on my migraines. Yesterday, at my Dr’s appt. for my migraines, my Dr. asked if I was willing to try to a strict diet instead of adding in a preventative pill (I take Amerge for migraines, but am not interested in taking a preventative). She “prescribed” a gluten-free, dairy-free diet, which she herself has had success with being a migraineur as well. The gluten part isn’t an issue since I am already allergic to barley, which seems to be in most everything wheat to enrich the flour. Of course, it will take some getting used to, but I am excited to see if it makes a difference!

  • Tangential Nov 9, 2017

    I first noticed a casein-related migraine trigger when first using a dentist-provided remineralization paste. The paste had a specific warning about casein sensitivity. This only began when I was
    around 50 years old.

    With the passage of time, I found that choosing dark chocolate over milk chocolate, soft cheeses at room temperature over traditional hard ones such as cheddar or Swiss, and the complete substitution of probioltic milk products instead of simple homoginized milk leaves me free of migraines.

    From researching on the internet , I have concluded that everyday atmospheric exposure to toxic black mold spores over several years in my new home city of Halifax, Canada led to the onset of my casein-specific migraine condition.

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