Migraine Trigger: Alcohol

Migraine Trigger: Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are a major migraine trigger.

However, alcohol in moderation may also benefit your headache health.

Let’s start with evaluating the dark side of alcohol.

Eight reasons why alcoholic beverages can trigger migraines:


1.  Alcohol contains a byproduct called acetaldehyde that contributes to hangover headaches and a whole list of health problems.

Genetics could make the toxicity of acetaldehyde far worse for those that suffer from migraines or Asian flush syndrome (study 1, 2).


2.  Alcohol can contribute to increased levels of IgE antibodies, oxidative stress, inflammation, and reduced antioxidant levels (study link).

Migraine sufferers have increased levels of IgE antibodies, oxidative stress, and inflammation (study link).

Antioxidants fight oxidative stress—the largest migraine trigger.


3.  Alcohol is a diuretic. You lose up to four times as much water as you take in when drinking alcohol (study link).

Dehydration is commonly reported as a migraine trigger (study link).


4.  Alcohol can cause inflammation in the gut lining (study link).

Gut inflammation increases the risk of migraines.


5.  Drinking alcohol disrupts sleep and biological rhythms (study link).

Poor sleep can trigger migraines (study link).


6.  Alcohol can cause low blood sugar (study link).

Low blood sugar is a common migraine trigger (Migraine Trust link).


7.  Alcohol can increase glutamate levels and neural damage (study link).

Increased glutamate levels are associated with migraines (study link).


8.  Alcohol can deplete vitamins and minerals, such as B1, B2, B6, B9, C, E, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and iron (study 1, 2).

B vitamins and magnesium are critical for migraine prevention.


The Bright Side of Alcohol

High quality alcohol may also have the potential to prevent migraines.

Alcohol is proven to increase inflammation, but only when consumed in excess.

You’ve heard “a drink per day keeps the doctor away.” Well, some migraine sufferers say that drinking in moderation actually reduces their migraines and stress levels.

Studies show that inflammation markers go down with one drink per day and then go up after two drinks per day.

In theory, your risk of heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and migraines go down with one drink per day. More than two drinks per day will increase your risk of disease exponentially (study link).

Moderation is definitely a good idea if you continue to drink, but it’s not guaranteed to work. In fact, it could do more harm than good.

One study found that drinking one glass of wine per day for two weeks resulted in an increase in homocysteine levels and a decrease in vitamin B9 and B12. An increase in homocysteine and a decrease in vitamin B9 and B12 is expected to increase migraine risk (study link).

The research is mixed, but there are a number of other reasons that alcoholic beverages can trigger migraines. Some beverages are more potent than other beverages.


Beer and Wine

The large amounts of brewer’s yeast found in wine and beer is a migraine trigger for many–yeast produces biogenic amines.

In addition, beer and wine may contain hundreds of possible headache triggers, such as histamine, sulfites, milk, wheat, glutamate, herbs, sugar, and additives.


Drink Clear Liquor, Not Dark.

Clear liquor, such as vodka or gin, has fewer congeners than darker liquors, such as whisky, brandy, bourbon, or wine.

Congeners are byproducts of the fermentation process, such as acetaldehyde, and can be nasty headache triggers.

Clear liquors are more likely to have had these headache triggers filtered out.

For example, a study completed by Italian migraine researchers found that bourbon contains 37 times as many congeners as vodka, resulting in more severe headaches (study link).


Don’t Drink Cheap Liquor

Cheap beer, wine, and liquor may come with egg whites, plastics, gelatins, herbs, sugar, formaldehyde, and a long list of chemicals.

The FDA does not regulate alcohol labels and these headache triggers will not be listed (news article).

Cheap liquors are more likely to use additives because it’s a cheap way to quickly add flavor.


If You Are Going to Drink Anyway

♦  Drink in moderation.

♦  Avoid wine, beer, and sugary drinks with multiple migraine triggers.

♦  Hydrate with minerals that prevent migraines.

♦  Make sure you replenish B vitamins and magnesium.


This is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Read the disclaimer.

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