Identifying the foods or activities that trigger migraines is an important tool for managing headaches. For about 1/3 of migraine sufferers, alcohol ranks high on the list.

Scientists aren’t sure why or even how closely alcohol and migraines are related. Some believe there’s a link between alcohol and stress, since many people drink while stressed. Others blame impurities found in alcohol or substances the body produces as it digests the spirits. A review of studies in the journal Headache led researchers to conclude red wine in particular interferes with the brain’s processing of serotonin, one of the major neurotransmitters involved in the development of migraines.

Other commonly named alcoholic migraine triggers include champagne, whiskey, and beer. 

The first person to blame headaches on red wine was Celsus, a 2nd-century Greek philosopher, and the references have piled up since then.

The research has been limited, however, with many abstracts published based on anecdotal evidence, according to the review of literature in Headache. Researchers concluded that red wine triggers migraines in about 30% of sufferers, but said more research is needed to explore the link.

Everyone’s body is different, and gauging the impact alcohol has on migraines is a personal endeavor. Some people develop headaches several hours after consumption, others experience migraine-related hangover headaches, and others can drink alcohol without a problem.

Another study, this one completed on rats at Thomas Jefferson University, found migraine sufferers are more likely to develop headache hangovers than the general population. The rats were well hydrated and drank alcohol without impurities, leading researchers to blame either the alcohol itself or one of the byproducts of digestion.

For alcohol to be definitively named as a migraine trigger, a couple of conditions must be met, says headache expert Dr. Alessandro Panconesi. First, there would need to be a predictable period of time between drinking the alcohol and developing the headache. Second, alcohol would always trigger a migraine.

Panconesi says migraine sufferers can drink small amounts of alcohol, up to 5 ounces, unless the drink causes a migraine.

Does alcohol trigger your migraine headaches? 

Image by Fredrik Rubensson via Flickr

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