Belly Fat Linked to Risk of Migraines
Study Shows Excess Belly Fat May Increase Risk of Migraines for Men and Women Under 55
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 13, 2009 -- Belly fat has been linked to increased risks for heart
disease and diabetes. Now new research suggests it may also be linked to an
increased risk for migraines, at least until middle age.
Waist circumference was found to be a better predictor of migraine activity
than general obesity in both men and women up until age 55.
Earlier research has linked obesity with an increase in the frequency of
migraines in people who already have them. But the new study is one of the few
to suggest that obesity raises the overall risk for migraines.
And it is the first to examine whether belly fat may play a specific role in
migraines and severe frequent headaches.
The findings will be presented in April at the annual meeting of the
American Academy of Neurology (AAN) in Seattle.
Belly Fat and Migraines
Researchers from Philadelphia's Drexel University College of Medicine
examined data collected from more than 22,000 participants in the ongoing
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The survey included measurements of both abdominal obesity, measured by
waist circumference, and overall obesity, as determined by body mass index
(BMI). The data also include self-reported estimates of migraine and severe
Women are three times as likely as men to suffer from migraines. Researcher
B. Lee Peterlin, DO, tells WebMD that the findings may help researchers
understand this gender difference.
"This may be one piece of the puzzle," she says. "This does not
suggest that if you lose your extra abdominal fat it will cure your migraines.
But it may be a clue to help explain the sexual dimorphism in
Even after controlling for overall obesity, excess belly fat was associated
with a significant increase in migraine activity in both men and women between
the ages of 20 and 55.
"This is the age when migraine is most prevalent," she says.
"Our findings suggest that both general obesity and abdominal obesity are
associated with an increased prevalence of migraine in this age group."
Women with extra belly fat were 30% more likely to experience migraines than
women without excess belly fat, even after accounting for overall obesity, risk
factors for heart disease, and demographic characteristics. The link between
belly fat and migraines in men in this age group was not significant when
accounting for these factors.
Migraines in Women
The findings suggest that belly fat is an important risk factor for
migraine, but it may be more important in women than in men, Peterlin says.
After age 55, carrying extra weight around the middle appeared to be
associated with a slight decrease in migraine risk in women, but the reasons
for this are not clear.
"That was a surprise," Peterlin says. "It appears that there is
an impact at every age, but it changes. In women under 55, belly fat is bad.
But over 55, having belly fat may actually be mildly protective against
Migraine researcher Stephen Silberstein, MD, tells WebMD that the new
research raises more questions than it answers.
Silberstein is a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology and a
professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
"The large population-based studies indicate that obesity correlates
with the frequency, but not the presence of migraines," he says. "This
is the first time anyone has looked at abdominal girth and they found that it
predicts the presence of migraines. This is an interesting observation, but
these findings would definitely need to be duplicated."