Being either under or overweight may increase migraine risk

11:30am Tuesday 18th April 2017

content supplied by NHS Choices

"People who are too fat or too thin are 'more likely to suffer from migraines'," reports The Sun.

Researchers reviewed data from 12 studies involving 288,981 people and concluded obese people have a 21% increased risk of migraines, compared to those of healthy weight.

Migraines are moderate to severe headaches that are more common in women. People who are underweight also have a small increased risk.

Researchers don't know exactly how weight affects migraine risk, but it may be to do with chemicals released by fatty tissue. Researchers found that both age and sex affected people's chances of the condition, as well as their weight.

This type of research can't tell us whether migraine is caused directly by weight. And we don't know whether obese people with migraine can lower their chances of having the painful headaches by losing weight.

Still, trying to achieve a healthy weight should help lower your risk of a range of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Read more about how to lose weight safely with the NHS Weight Loss Plan.

 

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US, the University of L'Aquila in Italy, and the University of Queensland in Australia.

The researchers reported no direct funding. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology.

The Sun gave an accurate overview of the study. The Mail Online's rather odd headline claimed that: "Being a healthy weight is the only way to beat migraine," ignoring the fact that many people of healthy weight get migraines, and there are plenty of migraine treatments around.

The Mail also said that "migraine sufferers could prevent the misery of migraine headaches by staying at a healthy weight," when the research does not show that changing weight affects migraine.

Both newspapers use the researchers' figure that obesity leads to a 27% greater risk of migraine, based on an analysis adjusted for age and sex. However, the fully-adjusted figure, taking into account multiple risk factors for migraine, is 21%.

 

What kind of research was this?

This is a meta-analysis, which pooled results from previously-published studies looking at links between weight and migraine. Meta-analyses are a good way of summarising all the existing research about a topic. However, they are only as good as the studies that they report.

All of the studies in this case were observational in nature, and so are not able to show that being over- or underweight causes migraines.

 

What did the research involve?

Researchers looked for previously-published observational studies on migraine and weight. They pooled the data to look for links between migraine risk and different categories of weight - underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. They adjusted their figures to take account of confounding factors known to affect migraine risk, such as age and sex.

The studies included were assessed to be of fairly good quality (all ranking seven or above on a 10-point quality scale).

The researchers conducted sensitivity analyses to ensure the pooled results were not skewed by any individual study. They also asked the original study authors for additional information, meaning they were able to include data not used in previous meta-analyses.

 

What were the basic results?

The study found that obese people and underweight people, but not overweight people, were more likely to report having migraines.

Compared to people of healthy weight:

Both the chances of having migraines, and the link between migraines and obesity, were strongest in younger people and lessened with age.

 

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers say their findings show a potential "moderate" increased risk of migraine from being obese. They say this finding "supports the need for research to determine whether interventions to reduce obesity decrease the risk of migraine".

They suggest this will help scientists understand the causes of migraine better, and possibly develop treatments based on people's weight. 

 

Conclusion

The study results are clear: people who are obese have a moderately increased chance of getting migraine headaches, and people who are underweight have a small increased chance. However, the results don't tell us why that is.

There are a few limitations to be aware of:

The link to weight is likely to be only one factor contributing to whether someone gets migraine, including genes inherited from parents. Lots of things have been identified as possible triggers for migraine headaches in those susceptible, including:

While it's always a good idea to keep to a healthy weight (it's not called a healthy weight for nothing), we don't know from this study if losing weight (for obese people) or gaining weight (for underweight people) will affect their chances of getting migraines.

Avoiding the triggers listed above, when possible, should also help.

Read more about migraine prevention.

Summary

"People who are too fat or too thin are 'more likely to suffer from migraines'," reports The Sun. Researchers reviewed data from 12 studies involving 288,981 people and concluded obese people have a 21% increased risk of migraines...

Links to Headlines

Why being a healthy weight is ONLY way to beat migraine: Being under or over raises risk by 27% - and women with chubby tummies are most at-risk. Mail Online, April 12 2017

People who are too fat or too thin are 'more likely to suffer from migraines'. The Sun, April 13 2017

Links to Science

Gelaye B, Sacco S, Brown WJ, et al. Body composition status and the risk of migraine - A meta-analysis. Neurology. Published online April 12 2017

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