Alcohol and migraine: trigger factor, consumption, mechanisms. A review

J Headache Pain. 2008 Feb;9(1):19-27. doi: 10.1007/s10194-008-0006-1. Epub 2008 Jan 30.


This study investigates the importance of alcohol as a migraine trigger factor, the prevalence of alcohol consumers and the mechanism of headache provocation. A MEDLINE search from 1988 to October 2007 was performed for "headache and alcohol", "headache and wine", "migraine and alcohol" and "migraine and wine". In retrospective studies, about one-third of the migraine patients reported alcohol as a migraine trigger, at least occasionally, but only 10% of the migraine patients reported alcohol as a migraine trigger frequently. Regional differences were reported, perhaps depending in part on alcohol habits. No differences were found between migraine and tension headache and different genders. However, prospective studies limit considerably the importance of alcohol as a trigger. Recent studies show that migraine patients consume less alcohol than controls. Red wine was reported to be the principal trigger of migraine, but other studies show that white wine or other drinks are more involved. Then, the discussion based on the different composition of the various alcoholic beverages, in order to discover the content of alcoholic drinks responsible for migraine attack, reflects this uncertainty. Biogenic amines, sulphites, flavonoid phenols, 5-hydroxytryptamine mechanisms and vasodilating effects are discussed. The fact that few headache patients cannot tolerate some alcoholic drinks does not justify the consideration that alcohol is a major trigger and the suggestion of abstinence. In fact, low doses of alcohol can have a beneficial effect on patients such as migraineurs, who were reported to have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Biogenic Amines / adverse effects
  • Biogenic Amines / chemistry
  • Cerebral Arteries / drug effects*
  • Cerebral Arteries / metabolism
  • Cerebral Arteries / physiopathology
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Flavonoids / adverse effects
  • Flavonoids / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Serotonin / adverse effects
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Vasodilation / drug effects*
  • Vasodilation / physiology
  • Wine / adverse effects*


  • Biogenic Amines
  • Flavonoids
  • Serotonin
  • Ethanol