Does fat cause migraines?

Migraines chocolate and being overweight

There has been a lot of news in the press lately about the link between obesity and migraines. Does obesity cause more migraines? Is it a trigger?

It’s a headline that has been doing the rounds in major publications such as CBS, Fox, Huffington Post, LA Times, and DailyMail (UK), as well as in publications from the American Academy of Neurology.

Here are the facts

  • Research conducted at John Hopkins University School of Medicine found an association between obesity and episodic migraine.
  • Findings showed obese people had an 81% higher risk of experiencing episodic migraine than those of normal weight.
  • The study included 3,862 people, 1,044 of whom were obese. The average age was 47. 188 had episodic migraines.
  • The link was found to be highest in women under 50.
  • The cause for the association is still unknown.

What does this mean?

‘Episodic’ migraines refer to the frequency of migraine attacks. People who have episodic migraines have 0-14 headache days a month. If a person has 15 headache days or more, this is classified as ‘chronic’ migraines.

It is important to note that these findings were not reported for chronic migraine sufferers. The research only suggests there may be a link between the two. That basically means people who tend to get more migraines also tend to be overweight. That’s it.

My Opinion

I’m not surprised by a link between obesity and migraines. Obesity is generally related to poor diet and lack of exercise or otherwise, poor health. To manage migraines, you need to manage your personal health. Migraines are a chronic disease and like any disease, your fundamentals need to be in order to give yourself the best chance of progress. A healthy diet and regular exercise is an essential part of that regime.

What is the new discovery that can help the migraine sufferer?

This depends on how well you are managing your condition. If you didn’t know already, then you should you do now – having a healthy diet and exercise regime is important.

If you have migraines, it’s extra important.

And according to this study, it will reduce the chances of you experiencing episodic migraines.

If you could benefit from losing a few pounds or exercising a little more, why not do it? Now you have the scientific proof needed to make the effort and do it.

Of course its more complicated than this. In some cases, extra weight or appetite may be side effects of the medicine you’re taking. I personally put on 15 pounds when a previous doctor didn’t tell me about an increase in appetite being a side effect of my medication. I then had to work hard to lose the weight over the following months.

Regardless, in many cases an improvement to diet and/or exercise can benefit the migraine condition.

These latest findings might be the nudge we need to start moving a little more.


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Photo credit: Tobyotter

4 thoughts on “Does fat cause migraines?

  1. I’ve heard that obesity is not necessarily a cause/trigger of migraines, but being overweight can make them worse/more frequent if you do suffer from them.
    Speaking form personal experience from someone whose weight has fluctuated my whole life from underweight to obese, I did notice a massive difference when I weighed less. I think it is more to do with a quality of life factor that is the difference opposed to an actual fat ratio affecting the severity of migraines. For example, when I was a healthy weight, I was eating better (less food triggers) and exercising more regularly (Exercise is now currently a trigger for me because my heart rises too high an I over heat because I’m trying to get back into it, once you get past the initial attacks from exercise triggers, they do become less frequent and only happen when you really exert yourself. Currently I’m just sticking to gentle exercise like leisurely swimming and yoga because I cant afford the time off work or uni to deal with exercise induced migraines.) The regular exercise and strengthening also helped improved my posture and back strength so stiff neck and shoulders were less often cause for attacks.
    Although, just like regular folk, us migraine sufferers also find it sometimes hard to stick to a healthy regime, albeit I guess we have a bit more of an incentive.

    Thanks for the info on the study though, very insightful.

    Cheers

  2. Hi Sam,

    Great comment. Your right when you say it isn’t easy. Particularly if you find you are getting migraines from exercise.

    I had a few migraines from exercise but I soon discovered it wasn’t due to the activity itself – it was from the dehydration and hunger. Often I would not eat for a few hours before I go for a run to avoid getting a stomach cramp. Likewise I didn’t drink enough before and after. Now I am better at managing this so I don’t worry as long as I managed my fluids and food around exercise.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post, hope it helps.

    Kind regards,
    Carl

  3. Hi I have been getting a lot more migraines in the last 2 years,since I retired and moved to a smaller place,I have put on 8kg find it hard to get rid of,now I am worried about being on sandomigran as the neuro surgeon told me it will put weight on

  4. Hi Jual, I would work with your doctor to try to uncover why you seem to have more migraines in the last 2 years. What has changed? Menopause? Would seeing an endocrinologist to help manage fluctuating hormones help? Is it the lack of routine from working or career? Poorer sleeping habits? etc. A discussion with your doctor or self examination could help uncover potential triggers. That way you may not need to take as much Sandomigran in the first place.

    In regards to the treatment, there are many types of medications available for migraineurs. Depending on your personal medical history and what works for you discuss with your doctor what works. For example: I find if I can sleep I often recover quicker from an attack. Therefore medication that promotes sleep or makes me drowsy really helps, so I take something that treats migraines but also makes me drowsy so I can fall asleep. Good luck!

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