A new study indicates being overweight may increase the risk of episodic migraine in many individuals.

In this study about weight and migraine, B. Lee Peterlin, DO, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led a cross-sectional analysis of almost 4,000 participants in the National Comorbidity Survey Replicated. They found that obesity increased the odds of developing episodic migraine (migraine 14 or fewer days per month) by 81 %, and increased the odds of lower frequency episodic migraine by 83 to 89%.  Additionally, they found the link between obesity and episodic migraine was highest in those under 50, white individuals and women.

“There has been controversy about whether obesity is associated with an increased risk of migraine in general or if this risk was limited to just chronic or high frequency migraine sufferers,” Dr. Peterlin said. “This study demonstrates that the risk of migraine in those with obesity extends to episodic migraineurs, even those with low frequencies. “

The researchers cautioned that this study does not prove that obesity causes episodic migraines, but it does show that people who are obese have an increased risk of having more migraine attacks.

In a Health Day article about this study, Gretchen Tietjen, MD, at the University of Toledo, noted that the latest findings lend credence to earlier studies that had similar results.

Experts in the field do not know yet what might cause the obesity-migraine connection and offer several possibilities, including inflammatory substances released from fat tissue; activation of the hypothalamus, which controls the drive to eat, or behaviors among migraineurs that lead to inactivity and weight gain.

While losing weight is recommended for a variety of health benefits, it is not clear if weight loss would lead to fewer headaches. Eliminating certain foods for weight loss, including processed foods and alcohol, might mean fewer headaches, Dr. Peterlin said. On the other hand, if people add certain foods in their weight loss effort, such as sugar substitute, they may trigger migraines.

This study was presented last month at the International Headache Congress in Boston last month and should be considered preliminary until published.