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Alcohol and Migraine

Can alcohol cause migraine headaches?

One of the most popular identification of food that triggers migraine headaches by migraine sufferers is alcohol. It has been claimed that all types of alcohol, even including non-alcoholic beer which does not contain any ethanol, can trigger migraine headaches.

Interestingly, there is little documentation that alcohol per se is the actual migraine trigger. So far, studies have indicated that the migraine triggers are actually the various other components of alcoholic beverages that trigger a migraine in susceptible people.

Alcohol substances that triggers migraines

It is believed that alcohol contains the following substances that can trigger migraine headaches:

  • Tyramine, sulfites and histamine that can dilate blood vessels which then sets in motion a migraine flare-up.
  • Cogeners which are substances providing each liquor its flavor and color and also potential migraine triggers.
  • Hypoglycemia which triggers the production of insulin that is associated with headache pain. It is important to note that consuming alcohol on an empty stomach is more likely to induce hypoglycemia.

Purer alcoholic beverages such as gin, vodka and white wine seem to be tolerated fairly well by migraine sufferers. On the other hand, the darkest alcohols such as scotch, brandy and red wine has higher content of cogeners and hence is believed to be much more potent in triggering migraine attacks. The chemical tyramine (vide infra) has been touted as being the offending agent in red wine. Although this has yet to be proven with any degree of certainty however the observation that red wine is a more potent trigger is fairly commonly accepted.