Researchers Link Diet, Obesity, and Migraine

Patient Expert & Health Professional
Medically Reviewed

No one likes to talk about obesity and its link to Migraine. As one of the millions who struggle with weight issues, I am no exception. It’s an uncomfortable topic. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is such a struggle, especially when the issue is complicated by medications that promote weight gain and long hours of inactivity during Migraine attacks. It can feel like a losing battle over which we have little control.

A study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain in January 2017 explores a possible reason why obesity worsens Migraine. Initially, I felt defensive and had to set aside my visceral reaction before I could learn anything useful. If you feel the same, I hope you, too, can set your reaction aside and join me in exploring the results of this new study. Perhaps we can learn something that will help us win the battle against both Migraine and obesity. We owe it to ourselves to at least know the facts.

Let’s start with a brief science lesson

Transient receptor potential (TRP) receptors are cellular sentries, or gatekeepers. There are several types of TRP receptors, each type permitting certain molecules to cross the cellular membrane. TRP vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) is responsible for the detection and regulation of body temperature. It is also responsible for our ability to sense heat and pain.

The sensitivity of TRPV1 isn’t fixed. Inflammation and tissue damage can affect it, contributing to hyperalgesia (an increased sensitivity to painful stimuli) and allodynia (a feeling of pain in response to non-painful stimuli). TRPV1 can also become less sensitive, resulting in a reduction of pain perception. This happens with prolonged exposure to capsaicin, an ingredient commonly found in pain-relieving ointments. TRPV1 is of particular interest to researchers studying pain. Finding ways to reduce its sensitivity is a key research target.

Study objective

In this study, researchers examined the effects of high-fat, high-sucrose (sugar) diet-induced obesity on pain perception in rats. It can be easy to dismiss studies done on rats until we realize that most research that eventually impacts human beings starts out with experiments on rats.

Study background

  • TRPV1 plays a fundamental role in pain perception by releasing calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)
  • Trigeminal nerve activity is affected by TRPV1 functioning
  • Obesity has been linked to increased pain sensitivity

Study methods

  • Control group rats were fed a normal diet
  • Test group rats were fed a high-fat, high-sucrose diet
  • Diet continued for 20 weeks
  • At the end of 20 weeks, samples from each rat were tested

Study results

  • TRPV1 function was impaired in obese rats
  • CGRP release was higher in obese rats

Study conclusions

This is the first study to demonstrate a link between obesity and TRPV1-induced release of CGRP. Future studies are needed to clarify this link and identify ways to improve TRP receptor functioning, as well as studies to determine if the changes seen in rats apply to humans as well.

Take action

In the meantime, we can help reduce the risk of worsening Migraine with these healthy habits:

  • Choose wholesome foods low in fat and sugar
  • Avoid drinking our calories
  • Explore creative ways to stay active
  • Talk to our doctors about healthy weight management

See more helpful articles:

Risk of Migraine in Obese and Underweight Patients

Migraine Risk May Be Tied to Body Weight

Migraine-friendly Exercise Tips

10 Ways for Migraineurs to Sneak in Some Exercise


Marics B, Peitl B, Pázmándi K, et al. Diet-Induced Obesity Enhances TRPV1-Mediated Neurovascular Reactions in the Dura Mater. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. 2017;57:441-454. DOI: 10.1111/head.13033