Migraines are a neurological disorder that can cause severe, pulsing headaches, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. It affects people of all ages and genders, but women are more prone to it than men. While migraines can have many triggers, alcohol is considered a common one. Although there is limited research on the topic, experts believe that even small amounts of alcohol can trigger a migraine attack, especially if a person is already prone to migraines.
In studies conducted across different countries, approximately one-third of migraine sufferers reported alcohol as a migraine trigger, occasionally if not regularly. Of these, only 10% reported a frequent link.
Dark-colored alcohols such as red wine, brandy, and whiskey may contain more congeners, alcohol byproducts that can cause headaches, and hence have higher chances of triggering migraines. Additionally, red wine has been found to trigger headaches in about 30% of people who participated in studies, but not white wine or sparkling wines. However, lower-quality wines have higher chances of causing headaches due to the presence of molecules known as phenolic flavonoid radicals, which react with serotonin, a molecule in the brain that signals migraines. Interestingly, even spirits and sparkling wines have been associated with migraines significantly in some studies.
Alcohol contains histamine, a chemical that can stimulate the immune system to produce more histamine, leading to inflammation in the body. The main ingredient of alcohol, ethanol, is converted into a chemical that can trigger migraines once it enters the system. Ethanol is also a natural diuretic, making a person urinate more than usual, which can lead to dehydration and migraines.
Alcohol can cause two types of migraine headaches – one that occurs within 30 minutes to 3 hours of drinking, and another that happens the next morning after blood alcohol levels return to normal. This delayed alcohol-induced headache can happen to any drinker, not just people with migraines, although the latter are more prone to them.
While drinking a small amount of alcohol can lower the risk of heart disease and ischemic stroke, those with chronic migraines should avoid alcohol altogether. For those who want to continue drinking, it’s best to keep track of the type of alcohol consumed, the amount, and the occurrence of migraines to identify triggers.
Drinking alcohol with meals or snacks and avoiding consumption when stressed can lower the chances of getting a migraine. Sipping drinks in moderation and slowly, adding alcohol to fruit or vegetable juices, and having non-alcoholic beverages alongside alcoholic ones can also minimize the risk of migraines.
In conclusion, alcohol can trigger migraines in people who are prone to the disorder. While it’s okay for some to drink occasionally, those with chronic migraines should avoid it. For those who choose to drink, it’s essential to drink in moderation, keep track of consumption, and take measures to minimize the risk of migraines.