A new study concludes that being overweight or underweight may increase your risk of migraines. Some headache sufferers and a dietitian weigh in on the topic.
Anyone who has ever experienced debilitating migraines has likely spent a lot of time talking to doctors to figure out the root cause of the pain.
The latest research might have an answer for you.
It turns out, those who are overweight have an increased risk of developing migraines. Being underweight can also represent a higher chance.
This research is still new, and B. Lee Peterlin, DO, director of headache research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a study co-author, was quick to point out that.
“More research is needed to determine whether efforts to help people lose or gain weight could lower their risk for migraine,” Peterlin said in a press statement.
However, she noted, it’s important for people to know about the research.
“As obesity and being underweight are potentially modifiable risk factors for migraine, awareness of these risk factors is vital for both people with migraines and doctors,” she said.
Weight is not the only contributing factor to migraines.
So, Healthline spoke to several people who experience migraines and have always been within a healthy weight range.
Those who struggle with weight, but believe other factors contribute more to their migraines, were also interviewed.
Lauren Fisher told Healthline she has been overweight most of her life and has experienced migraines since the age of 10.
However, she also has several other health issues that have caused her hormones to fluctuate a great deal over the years.
Fisher believes those hormone issues, combined with the need for fertility treatments, have contributed to both her weight and migraines.
Laura Nickel has a similar story.
She told Healthline that her migraines started in her mid-20s and got worse when she was going through fertility treatments as a result of endometriosis.
When asked whether she thinks these study results apply to her, she explained, “I think they do, but I also find it very interesting because for me I think it has more to do with diet than weight. When I’m feeling good and maintaining a healthy diet, plus exercising and remaining hydrated, my headaches are more manageable.”
Whenever new research like this comes out, one big question is whether the results are a factor of correlation or causation.
Healthline reached out to Miranda Willetts, a clinically trained registered dietitian who specializes in weight management and works with people who experience migraines, for her thoughts.
“The main takeaway for me is that this is just another reason to make your health a priority by engaging in behaviors that will help you to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, especially if you suffer from migraines,” she said.
“I would have more of an inclination to say what we are seeing here is a correlation,” she added, “but I’m with the authors — more research is needed to determine if there is a true correlation and to figure out what might be driving that.”
Willetts said she is encouraged that the meta-analysis “is moving the knowledge forward and setting up future researchers to come in and design studies to better evaluate the mechanisms driving this association.”
“I think it would be interesting to see research studies designed to measure actual body fat via a DEXA scan versus relying on self-reported height and weight data to better categorize research participants and remove some limitations,” she noted.
So, what should people who experience migraines who are overweight or underweight do if they believe their weight might be contributing to their migraines?
“Do your best to identify what triggers your migraines,” said Willetts, “then modify your behavior and environment as best you can and find coping strategies to reduce the number and severity of your migraines.”
She advises people who have migraines to “execute strategic daily practices to achieve your body composition goal.”
For example, eat slowly until you’re 80 percent full at meals, or add one serving of healthy fats to your meals.
“Focus on incorporating one new healthy daily practice into your routine at a time,” Willetts said. “As your confidence increases, build another practice into your routine, so on and so forth.”
Willetts added that if you are a bit overwhelmed about how to attack the problem, you should seek the help of a registered dietitian.