Alcohol’s Role in Migraines is Overhyped, Say Researchers

By Dirk Hanson 06/15/11

Menstruation, stress, and fatigue are more likely to trigger migraines than booze.

It's all in your head.
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Alcohol, long considered a common trigger for migraine headaches, may not be a major culprit after all. New research on the disease, which afflicts about 15% of the population, shows that most patients who exclude foods and drinks considered to be triggers do not become headache-free. While alcoholic drinks can trigger headaches in about one-third of migraine patients, “menstruation, stress, and fatigue were found most commonly to relate to a subsequent attack,” says the Boston University School of Medicine. And a study in the Journal of Headache Pain found that “only 10% of migraine patients reported alcohol as a migraine trigger frequently.” To confuse things even more, the study found that beer consumption on the previous day actually reduced the risk of a migraine attack. “Patients with migraines have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease,” and therefore might even benefit “from moderate wine/alcohol consumption.” The researchers conclude that the evidence “does not justify the consideration that alcohol is a major trigger and the suggestion of abstinence.” And an earlier study by Austrian researchers found “limited importance of nutrition, including alcoholic beverages in the precipitation of migraine.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]