Does drinking wine give you a migraine? Alcohol is a common trigger for many migraine sufferers, with red wine often cited as a big culprit. Over the years, there has been plenty of study into the effects of alcohol on headache and migraine, with mixed results. Some even claim there is no statistical evidence of a relationship between drinking alcohol and getting a migraine attack. Despite this, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest the opposite.
What is it About Wine That Triggers Migraine?
All wines, it seems, are not equal, with some being more likely to provoke a migraine attack than others. What else is in the wine makes a difference, not just the alcohol content. This makes sense since many people who can’t drink wine without getting migraine can often drink spirits or beers without ill effect. As well as alcohol, wine often contains:
- Sulfites - some studies refute any evidence that sulfites may trigger migraine, while others are contradictory to this theory. You’ll often see the words “contains sulfites” on wine bottles, and sometimes just seeing this in print is enough to cause concern. Sulfur dioxide is a preservative added to many other foods as well as wine. In wine, it prevents oxidization and retains freshness. Sulfites are thought to be more likely to provoke asthma attacks than migraine episodes. Red wine often contains less sulfites than white or sweet wines.
- Tannins - these flavonoids give red wines their drying effect in the mouth when you take a sip. The higher the tannin level, the more drying the effect. It’s thought that tannins also boost serotonin, a brain chemical that’s been associated with migraine in some people. You can test your reaction to tannins by drinking a cup of over-steeped black tea. High in tannins, by oversteeping the tea you’ll flood it with more tannins than you’d normally drink. If drinking this tannin-rich tea leaves you headache free, it’s unlikely to be the tannins in wine that cause your migraine reaction.
- Histamines - Histamines are thought to be more likely to cause headache and migraine than other ingredients in wine. Also present in aged cheeses (another common migraine trigger) this seems to make sense. If you’re intolerant to histamine, the added chemical from drinking red wine can push you over the edge of what your body can cope with, and allergy-like symptoms, including headache, sometimes result. Taking a histamine blocker could reduce the adverse effects of the chemical in wine.
- Tyramine - are present in robust red wines as well as many other foods, such as figs, chocolate, avocados and cheese. Tyramine is a chemical known as monoamine, and one of the enzymes in the body that helps break down tyramine is monoamine oxidase (MOA). With some antidepressant drugs (often prescribed to help control migraine), MOA in the body is inhibited, so the body does not deal effectively with tyramine, which can raise blood pressure and cause headaches. People taking these drugs are often advised to limit their intake of foods containing tyramine.
Migraine Triggers Often Work in Combination
This means they may not trigger migraine on their own but, when they’re coupled with other potential causes, they work together to build into a migraine attack.
If you’re not sure that wine causes your headache, keeping a special ‘wine diary’ might help. In this, note down everything you eat and drink, as well as how you feel (stress levels for instance) for a couple of days before drinking wine. Having a clear picture of all your circumstances can help you identify other potential triggers during the same time frame. You may, for instance, discover drinking wine when you’re feeling anxious or stressed brings on a headache, but a glass or two when you’re happy and relaxed has less of an effect. It’s necessary to think back at least two days to figure out possible trigger combinations.
Also, consider the effects of dehydration. All alcohol is dehydrating, and it could be that this is what’s causing the wine migraine. A test is to sip a glass of water in between each glass of wine next time you’re sharing a bottle with friends.
For some people, alcohol of any kind is a migraine trigger, and for those the only safe answer is to find alcohol-free alternatives. For those whose migraines are brought on by other ingredients, not necessarily the alcohol, discovering which could help you choose wine with lower levels of the risky ingredients.