Does My Weight Affect My Migraine? Lifestyle Factors & Headaches

July 27, 2017

The Continuing Search

Despite being one of the most common types of headaches worldwide, the actual causes of migraine are still not entirely understood. This is largely due to the fact that this is a complex condition. There are a number of different types of this disease, and a range of other factors—from genetics to environmental influences like stress—also play a significant role. Any migraineur can tell you about how specific things like red wine, flashing lights, certain foods or specific sounds are their triggers.

Basically, this is a very hard condition to pin down. As such, doctors may suggest lifestyle changes that can reduce instance of migraine such as regular exercise, relaxation techniques (like meditation), regular eating schedule, and ensuring proper rest. [1] While these types of approaches can’t really stand-in for medical treatment, they’re known to reduce severity of symptoms.

Building off of this, what’s been emerging recently in the research is evidence of connections between migraine and weight. As noted in a recent meta-analysis study published in the journal, Neurology, being overweight, obese, or even underweight can contribute to the severity and frequency of attacks. [2]

Looking at the Body of Literature

Under the direction of Dr. Bizu Gelaye, a team of researchers and doctors wanted to assess what was known in the field about weight status and migraine, performing what’s called a “meta-analysis.” To get a sense of where the medical community was at, they ended up pulling from 12 published studies, which, in total, included data from 288,891 participants. [2] Working with such numbers, the researchers were able to see what the larger story is when it comes to how weight might influence migraine.

So what did they find? Here’s a quick breakdown of their results:

  • Obese Individuals: Those who are obese—that is with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more—have a 27% higher chance of developing and experiencing migraine attacks than those of normal weight.
  • Overweight Population: While Dr. Gelaye and the team did manage to find studies supporting the theory that being overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) increased risk of migraine, analysis revealed these connections to lack significance. This actually doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no connection, only that the current amount of research can’t fully support this supposition.
  • The Underweight: Interestingly, the team did note that those who are underweight—that is a BMI of 18.5 or less—also had an increased risk of migraine. This effect was not as large, though; people in this category had a 13% higher risk.

It’s important to note that these relationships—called “correlations”—do not necessarily imply a causal link; it’s not a weight problem, in itself, that’s the source of migraine. Furthermore, the authors themselves noted that more research needs to be conducted about these connections.

What can be said, though, is that these factors are certainly related, and mitigating them—through either weight gain or weight loss, respectively—may help with managing the condition. [1]

So what does this mean?

Given that a large portion of Americans are either overweight or obese—the CDC notes that more than one-third of American adults are obese, and roughly 40% would be considered overweight [3]—this connection to migraine is quite significant. What’s more, knowing that things like body weight can actually be managed means there may be another means of taking on migraine.

Especially as a fuller picture evolves, tasks like attempting to lose or gain weight as necessary may become more fully incorporated into treatment plans. There’s, of course, more work to be done when it comes to understanding migraine, but researchers like Dr. Gelaye are continually probing the frontlines of what is known and not known about this debilitating condition. Despite the challenges, it’s clear that approaches to treatment will continue to evolve as what we know about migraine continues to expand.

If you’re suffering from chronic migraine or suspect that you do, talk to a Patient Care Manager at Migraine Treatment Centers of America. The team at these clinics specializes in groundbreaking and highly effective treatments for this condition. Learn more about them by calling (855) 300-6822 any time!


  1. Sandoiu, Ana. 2017. “Being Either Overweight Or Underweight May Increase Risk Of Migraines”. Medical News Today.
  2. Gelaye, Bizu, Simona Sacco, Wendy J. Brown, Haley L. Nitchie, Raffaele Ornello, and B. Lee Peterlin. 2017. “Body Composition Status And The Risk Of Migraine”. Neurology88 (19): 1795-1804. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health). doi:10.1212/wnl.0000000000003919.
  3. Centers for Disease Control. “Faststats”. 2017. Gov. Accessed July 3 2017.


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