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Migraine and alcohol: what’s the story? By Dr Katy Munro

30 January 2019

Have you been doing Dry January?

Every New Year many of us  resolve to cut down or stop drinking alcohol for a month. For migraineurs this is not a challenge. They have to limit it or avoid it completely most days throughout the year.

Most migraine sufferers find that they are less tolerant of alcohol than the general population. It can trigger a migraine rapidly or for some it can take hours to trigger one. Even delayed next day headaches are quite common.The morning-after feeling of a hangover may well be a migraine.

Red wine the devil..

We often hear that it is red wine that is the worst culprit, and causes migraines. But it  is probably simply the alcohol itself in any alcoholic beverage. Various other chemical culprits have been suggested like tyramine, sulphites, histamines and congeners but the evidence is sparse and conflicting for each of these.

Is it just the alcohol ?

There are off course other factors linked with drinking alcohol that make a migraine attack more likely to occur or more severe.

Such as …

  • Dehydration
  • Low blood sugar
  • Changes in emotion -stress
  • Excitement
  • Or simply relaxing after a hard week

All of these can all contribute to the changes leading to irritation of a migraineur’s brain and can trigger an attack.

So should I just leave drinking all together…?

It makes sense to consume alcohol with caution if you suffer from migraine (and even if you don’t!). Make sure you eat before drinking, pace the alcohol with some non-alcoholic drinks, and keep an eye on the units. The Chief Medical Officer’s guideline for both men and women can be found here: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/alcohol-limits-unit-guidelines/

As our concern about alcohol misuse has increased, many non-alcoholic alternatives are now available from supermarkets, online and in many bars. The alcohol free shop (https://www.alcoholfree.co.uk/) and Dry drinker (https://drydrinker.com/) have a wide range of wines, beers and cocktails with no alcohol. Just google alcohol-free and you will also find a plethora of articles and information on the top ten preferred alternatives! We don’t advise drinking large quantities of sugary, fizzy drinks as too much carbohydrate is not helpful for migraine sufferers too so be careful with soft drinks which are intensely sugary.

Some other advantages of a low alcohol intake include a healthier liver, clearer thinking and better mood as alcohol has a depressant effect.

There is no absolute rule or need to become teetotal if you suffer from migraine. So embrace the healthier lifestyle and have a wonderful 2019!