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Obesity and Migraines: What is the Link?

There has been alot of hype in the media about obesity and migraines. The AHS (American Headache Society) has put out a short statement on their website stating that there is no correlation at the present time.

HOWEVER..a few studies published concerning obesity and migraines have generated some talk in the Neurology community. One study,by Dr. Marcelo Bigal, noted that while the prevelance of migraines were not related to a particular BMI (body mass index), an increase in BMI resulted in an increase in the frequency of migraines.

Another study by Dr. Andrew Hershey at Cinncinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center demonstrated that 91% of obese children had migraines. That fact alone is stunning.

So what does this all mean to you and me..the migraineurs? Well there might be a couple of things going on here. If you are obese you are less likely to exercise. Aerobic exercise three times a week has been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines.

Obese migraineurs are also 4 times more likely to have depression, which in turn makes migraine headache symptoms worsen.

How does that happen? Seratonin! These receptor sites in the brain are involved in the migraine process. When you exercise you increase your seratonin levels and the theory is...more seratonin, less headaches.

This is also the theory behind why some SSRI's (anti-depressants that boost seratonin levels) also prevent headaches.

Obviously the key here is to exercise and lose weight. There are plenty of nutritional diets and plans available on the internet now, so you really don't have an excuse. (Although we all love to make them don't we?) Exercise programs need to start slowly if you are very overweight and out of shape. It can take a few months of walking to build up some stamina. After that start a gentle aerobic exercise program.

There are dozens of excellent weight loss programs available such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem. The key here, obviously, is to maintain a healthy weight. More and more evidence is beginning to suggest that obesity affects every body system.

Oh and by the way, do not starve yourself. You did not gain the weight overnight so it will take some time to lose it. Starving or eating only one meal a day tricks the brain. If the brain perceives "starvation mode" it will start to shunt more and more caleries to storage. This is how you can actually GAIN weight while you are trying to lose it! Obesity and Migraines.

U.S. Obesity 2008

obesity migraine, obesity map


U.S. Obesity 2011

obesity migraine, obesity map

There have been a few changes over the years as you can see by comparing the above maps. It appears as if national awareness about obesity is taking hold and many states have shown improvement. Keep in mind that this also incorporates weight gain in children which is reaching alarming percentages.

References:

BigalME, Leberman JN, Lipton RB. Obesity and Migraine: A population study. Neurology2006;66:545-550

Hershey, AJ. Obesity in Children with Migraine. Neurology Today. 2007;25


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