Is your weight causing migraines?

Are you a “migraineur?” It originates from the French and means, “one who suffers from migraine headaches.” If you are one of the 30 million Americans who meet that definition, the derivation of the word seems appropriate since you might find yourself uttering a lot of “French” as you suffer a migraine’s signature mind-crushing pain, nausea, vomiting, andheightened sensitivity to light and sound. And you should know that if you are carrying too much weight, you have an increased chance of becoming a migraineur (mon dieu!).

As with many chronic medical conditions, clinical researchers have established a link between migraines and high body mass index (BMI), but don’t yet know the exact mechanisms that create that link. And like many conditions, fat tissue is a prime suspect. This hypothesis for migraines may be strengthened by the fact that most migraineurs are women under the age of 50, when fat comprises a higher part of body composition during the childbearing years. In addition to the fat percentage, researchers are also studying whether the placement of that fat(that is, near the surface or deep under the skin) makes a difference in the frequency and severity of migraines.

Another link may be in the types of foods that trigger migraine headaches. It is known that foods like chocolate, pizza and alcohol, which are also associated with high BMIs, can put a migraine into a motion. However, there are other healthy foods like beans, peppers, and bananas that can trigger migraines as well, so this makes the “food trigger” theory less likely.

Migraine treatment options can also play a role in the migraine-obesity relationship. Some of the most popular medicines for treating chronic and episodic migraines, like tricyclic antidepressants, unfortunately have weight gain as a side effect. If fat tissue is a leading contributor of migraines, then these types of drugs are obviously counterproductive. Migraineurs who have higher BMIs should discuss alternative therapies with their doctors and medical providers.

As clinical research continues to uncover the specific biological underpinnings of chronic and episodic migraines, migraineurs can certainly improve self-management of their condition by practicing behaviors associated with healthy BMIs and lower fat percentages. Because we all deserve to give ourselves the best shot at living “la bonne vie (the good life)”!

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