Migraine is recurrent, vascular (throbbing) headache that can be severe and disabling. The headaches can last for hours and sometimes as long as three days. We don’t know for sure what puts you at risk of migraine, but obesity is clearly associated with some cases. The latest on this connection comes from a Norwegian study published in August 2020, showing a link between migraine and obesity in people under age 50. An earlier study from Johns Hopkins concluded that people with a high body mass index (BMI) indicating overweight or obesity were 81 percent more likely to have episodic migraines (those that occur up to 14 days per month) than were people with a lower body mass index. That study found that the association with weight was especially pronounced among women under 50; their episodic migraine risk was three times higher than men’s. It also showed that as BMI went up, so did the chance of developing migraine.
The new findings emerged from a study that included information on migraines, tension headaches and body fat among 33,176 Norwegians who responded to questionnaires on the subject between 2006 and 2008. The mean age of the participants was 54.4 years. Their responses revealed that 4,290 had migraines, 4,447 had frequent tension headaches and 24,439 were headache free.
The researchers reported that abdominal obesity “may be of particular interest in migraine, as this adipose tissue produces multiple substances potentially involved in migraine pathophysiology, including markers of systemic inflammation.” Their study showed that obesity was linked with increased odds of having migraines with aura and migraines without aura (temporary visual or other symptoms that can precede the headache) among both men and women particularly in those less than 50 years of age. It also found that waist circumference larger than 34.6 inches in women and above 40 inches in men was associated with higher odds of having migraines.
The issue of whether or not losing weight can lessen the frequency and severity of migraines or eliminate them altogether remains unclear, although research from Italy suggests it does help. According to Claudio Pagano, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of internal medicine at Italy’s University of Padova who has studied this issue, “Weight loss in adults and children with obesity greatly improves migraine headache by improving all the main features that worsen migraineurs’ quality of life. When people lose weight, the number of days per month with migraine decreases, as does pain severity and headache attack duration.” These findings came from research that looked at the effect of weight loss via both bariatric surgery and behavioral intervention on migraine frequency and severity.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
E.S. Kristoffersen et al. “Migraine, obesity and body fat distribution- a population-based study.” Journal of Headache Pain, August 6, 2020. doi:10.1186/s10194-020-01163-w