The topic of alcohol and migraine seems to be a tricky one. There are so many reasons we probably should avoid alcohol when we have a migraine disorder, but around the holidays, birthdays, or the new year, it can get to be incredibly difficult. If you're anything like me, you love a great glass of wine as a way to celebrate. And this year calls for a celebration of anything good.
Before I was diagnosed with vestibular migraine, I was really into wine. One of my favorite memories was when Casey and I were first introducing our parents to each other after getting engaged. We took a trip to Napa so everyone could meet and spend time together. Is there a better way to get to know new family members than over good wine and beautiful scenery? I think not. As a lover of food, a lot of our trips have centered around exploring regional cuisines and that often includes enjoying wine or local cocktails. However, I knew that if I was going to try a migraine diet, I'd have to sacrifice it for a little while.
Alcohol and Migraine Diets
If you're following a migraine diet let me be clear - there is no "safe" alcohol in the elimination phase. This post is really meant for those who have made it through that phase and are starting to reintroduce foods. Or perhaps for someone who is looking for an option to enjoy on a birthday, anniversary, etc. Although I recommend following the restrictions as closely as possible, one evening of celebration should not be enough to derail your progress as I state in my cookbook. However, if you can make better choices throughout that celebration, it can help you not suffer as many consequences with an attack the next day.
These things include:
- Limiting your consumption to 1-2 glasses at the most
- Balance a cocktail with a mocktail
- Staying hydrated
- Watching your other triggers and keeping those low - so enjoying a glass of wine but keeping the rest of the meal migraine-friendly
- Using wine wands to remove the sulfites and biogenic amines
What are Wine Wands?
Wine wands are developed by PureWine, a small Texas-based company that my family actually ended up investing in once we realized how well they worked for me. Even once I reintroduced foods, I could only tolerate white wines, but red seemed to always trigger dizziness for me. This was especially common with bold reds, like cabernet sauvignon. One common misconception I see in my migraine groups is that these are basically the same thing as the drops you see online - this is not true.
PureWine is the only product on the market that also addresses biogenic amines, like tyramine and histamine. Stirring the wine wand in your drink for up to 8 minutes removes not only all the sulfites but also these amines, which tend to be a bigger culprit for triggering attacks than sulfites. The other products, like the drops, only remove sulfites. There are so many common wine myths out there - like if you just buy sulfite-free wine you won't get an attack - but most are just misinformation.
Best Wine for Migraine
Again, this can be completely individual and depend on what you're sensitive to. Histamine or tannin sensitive? You might find full-bodied red wines are a trigger. Can't do moscato or champagne? Could be a sulfite issue as high levels of sugars increase that content. However, we are so quick to blame sulfites but what really gets missed is what is NOT on the label - added flavorings.
Many mass-produced wines like Kendall Jackson or Beringer have clients that expect the same flavor year after year. But real grapes don't produce that same flavor every year. The flavor of those grapes can significantly depend on the weather that year - droughts, too much rain, too much sun. So how do wine brands get around this so you can have that big buttery flavor in your KJ chardonnay - flavorings. The FDA doesn't require these to be labeled on wine like they do sulfites, but they definitely exist.
Other factors include how the winery treats the grapes. Are they spraying lots of pesticides? Do they include rotted grapes in their batches? These are all little things that could potentially filter down to a trigger for someone with migraine. To my surprise, there are a few really quality red wines I can consume without the wine wand, just because of how well they're made. So how do you find wine like this? A little research! Here are a few things to take note of.
- Wines that are organic or biodynamic tend to be better tolerated.
- Getting an organic certification for wine is very expensive, so a lot of smaller wineries use these practices but without the certification. Reading up about them on their websites is a good place to start, but also asking a good sales rep at your local wine store or Total Wine can often give you some new brands to try.
- Certified organic wine isn't always great when it comes to flavor because they know they are in a hot, niche market. The best, mass-produced option is probably Bonterra.
- Biodynamic wine is essentially using responsible farming practices and working with the land to avoid pesticides and fertilizers. When a winery is putting this much effort into the wine, they're letting the grapes shine. This means the flavor combination of a particular could change from year to year, but nothing is being added to the wine as far as flavorings go. Some even use other creative ways to reduce sulfites, like Happy Canyon adds a very slight carbonation to their white wines.
- White wines in stainless steel barrels might be better tolerated than those in oak.
- Benzinger has really been a pioneer in the biodynamic movement and their wines are widely found.
- Sticking with dry white wines and lighter reds tend to be the best tolerated for those with migraine disorders. This would be an unoaked Chardonnay that's maybe from a stainless steel barrel, sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir. Moscato, champagne, and heavy reds like cabernet sauvignon are more risky.
So if we look at the varietals that are best for migraine, it really coordinates to one area in the US - California, particularly the Santa Barbara area. This is why I am a big fan of these types of wines. Here are a few brands to try that I've found work well for me.
Bonterra - My friend Kayla enjoys the sauvignon blanc. You can usually find this brand at most grocery stores and/or Total Wine and it will run you about $14 a bottle.
Benzinger - These can range from $15-85 a bottle, but they're sustainable and biodynamic.
Au Bon Climat - You can typically find this brand in Whole Foods as well as Total Wine and their bottles range from about $20-80. They also sell special smaller batch wines through their website, which we always enjoy.
Dragonette Chardonnay - if you have a thing for good Chardonnay like I do, try this one that's been sourced from organic and biodynamic vineyards. Dragonette is very careful about what goes into their wine. A little more pricey, it's a good one to save for special holidays. These cost around $40 and you have to ship directly from the website.
Liquid Farm Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc - another great winery in the Santa Barbara area, Liquid Farm believes in no manipulations to their wine. They let the grapes speak for themselves each year without using additives or chemicals. You can sometimes get lucky at Total Wine, or you can search here for a store near you. This will range from $30-40.
Happy Canyon - The most affordable of all 3, their white wines are really fantastic, and have a lower sulfite and alcohol content. The only downside is they're probably too easy to drink.
Best Liquors for Migraine
If wine isn't your thing, or it's not well tolerated, there are a few liquor options that may work well for you. Just like wine, some options are better than others and can often depend on the same process - are there flavorings added or is the liquor produced with a natural process?
- Vodka - This tends to be the best tolerated alcohol for most people with a migraine disorder. My favorites are Tito's (made in Texas) and Ocean for an organic vodka.
Ocean is made from sugarcane instead of potatoes, but it's not sweet. I've been to their distillery in Maui and it's wonderful. Mixed with a little bit of good water, it's the only vodka I'd actually consider sipping.
- Tequila - the silver or "blanco" type would be the best tolerated over reposado or añejo as it is the youngest version. Two favorites are Casamigos and Siembra Azul.
- Gin - Another well-tolerated alcohol, Prairie makes an organic gin that is pretty popular.
If you're a fan of the darker liquors, you can also use the Wine Wand with liquor and beer to aid with some of the histamine removal.
Mocktails and Non-Alcoholic Drinks
For those that can't tolerate alcohol at all, but are ready to get a little more adventurous with their diet, there are a few really great non-alcoholic knockoffs. Now many of these do contain things like citric acid, which is ok on a migraine diet, but some find they are sensitive. Some of the natural flavors may also contain citrus, so this is something to keep in mind.
- Seedlip - if you're a fan of gin and tonics, give this non-alcoholic "gin" a try! It's available in the UK and even on Amazon. I don't drink this straight, but it's really great mixed with a good tonic or soda water. I use cucumber in mine. Side note - it does contain citric acid if you find that to be a trigger for you.
- Ritual - Ritual Zero Proof has tequila and gin knockoffs, although I've only ever tried their tequila. It does need to be mixed in a drink, but paired with pomegranate juice and sparkling water, or even apple cider, it does give you a similar flavor without the alcohol.
- Lyre - Lyre makes a good vermouth knockoff for those that miss martinis. Now this does contain non-alcoholic fermented grape juice, so this is just another thing to watch out for. Again, the option here is to give you something that avoids the alcohol portion, but I'm not recommending it as totally migraine-friendly.
Managing Vestibular Migraine During Holidays
I recently sat down with Kayla from True Kaylaisms to host our very first "Dizzy Talks" episode about managing your Vestibular Migraine through the holiday season. It can be a tough time of year for those with a Migraine or Vestibular Disorder. Bright lights, loud parties, and lots of alcohol can trigger dizziness, pain, and even vertigo episodes.
If you suffer from this disorder, not all hope is lost. You can still find ways to enjoy yourself, it just takes a little prep and planning. In this video we answer your questions about how to handle some common predicaments that arise. Whether it's figuring out what you can eat or drink, or even discussing how to manage an attack through natural treatments or medication, we've got you covered.
Here are some ideas for the best tolerated alcohol options if you have a migraine disorder. And don't miss my favorite gift ideas for this time of year.