Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

When migraine sufferers, also called migraineurs, are asked to list their food and beverage migraine triggers, alcohol is named the most often.

Determining if alcohol is the true reason behind an attack can be a murky subject since alcohol ingestion can result in “hangover” headaches in many people, even those who don’t suffer from migraines. For those with alcohol-triggered migraines, even a small amount of alcohol can launch an attack.

Alcohol and migraines

Roughly a third of migraine sufferers say that alcoholic beverages can trigger their migraine attacks. A tenth of migraine sufferers say alcohol is a frequent or consistent trigger.

Early written references of alcohol provoking migraines date back to the words of Celsus (25 B.C.-50 A.D.) “the pain…is contracted…by drinking wine.” Another early reference is found by Paul of Aegina (625-690 A.D.) who also wrote of the relationship between drinking wine and migraines. Certain chemicals in alcohol, such as tyramine and histamine are believed to act on chemicals in the brain, kicking off the series of events that leads to a migraine attack.

Because alcohol use can increase with stress, some researchers believe it is a combination of the alcohol and stress which sets migraine attack in motion.

Migraine and red wine

Different studies report different findings on which type of wine triggers the most migraine attacks. For example, a European study found that 11 percent of migraine sufferers pointed to red wine as the most common culprit. However, a French study showed that 54 percent of the alcohol-induced migraine attacks came after drinking white wine. Histamine, which may be responsible for triggering migraines, is found in far higher quantities in red wine than in white. Red wine contains 20 to 200 times the amount of histamine than white wine. Women are more likely to have migraines triggered by red wine than men.

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