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Can Migraines Make You Fat?

As a migraine headache doctor and as a hormone doctor, I have noticed a strong correlation between women with migraine headache symptoms and body fat.  I have also noticed the same thing in women with PMS, mood disorder or depressive disorder and clinical depression.

So is a hormone to blame for those extra pounds?  Yes - well maybe?

Yes, hormones are definitely involved in fat cell metabolism.  Sex hormones are lipophillic, meaning that they can enter into fat cells quite easily and stay there.  Estrogen, in particular, accumulates in fat cells.  This is why heavier women tend to have very strong estrogen dominant features.

Estrogen promotes water retention, enlarged breasts, breast fullness, irratibility, anxiety, decreased mental functioning, edema, loss of libido and all of the gynecologic cancers.  Estrogen antagonists like progesterone do exactly the opposite.

Another hormone that has bad press, called cortisol, was targeted in a highly effective marketing campaign several years for a weight loss product that was heavily promoted on TV and radio.  Cortisol was unfairly blamed for weight gain when it only is implicated in obesity in certain rare conditiions called Cushing’s Syndrome.  Nevertheless, the marketers made a ton of money, but few people actually lost weight from their product. 

High doses of cortisol can cause water retention.   Certain cortisol-like prescription drugs like prednisone, dexamethosone and steroids used for injection procedures can definitely cause water retention and hunger pangs.  But these are not bio-identical to cortisol and they have a mountain of side effects beyond those already mentioned.

An interesting new hormone, that is not a sex hormone, has been implicated in abdominal fat creation.  This hormone, called neuropeptide Y (NPY), has been studied in mice.  When researchers blocked NPY in obese mice, the mice fat buildup promptly melted away.  “It’s incredible”, according to Dr. Zofia Zukowska of Georgetown University.

The opposite worked as well.  When normal mice were injected with NPY, they developed abdominal obesity.  When they were given the NPY blockers, the belly fat disappeared.

Look for more interest in NPY and especially, the NPY blockers.

Andrew Jones, M.D.

Medical Director, Women’s Health Institute of Texas





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