Researchers Found What In Wine Causes Migraines

Bad News Alert: One glass of wine is likely the trigger behind millions of Americans’ migraines.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that the nitrates in wine (and chocolate and processed meats) are to blame for those head-splitting aches. No, not the dreaded wine headache the day after drinking — you can blame the alcohol for that — but the migraines that affect more than 37 million Americans.

The study, which was published in mSystems on October 18, analyzed 172 oral samples and 1,996 fecal samples from the American Gut Project. The self-proclaimed migraine sufferers of the group had a higher number of a certain microbacteria in their bodies that turns nitrates into nitrites. Thanks, bacteria.

These bacteria, which live in our mouths, live off of nitrates. For each nitrate (which is made up of one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms) they consume, they spit out a nitrite (which is made up of one nitrogen atom and two oxygen atoms). Previous studies referenced in the migraine study show that nitrites can turn into nitric oxide (which has just one nitrogen and one oxygen atom) after it gets to your bloodstream. Nitric oxide then leads to migraines.

The fact that migraines are caused by such a small creature probably doesn’t surprise you if you saw “The Magic School Bus episodes about the human body. Because while the world seems big to us, to certain bacteria, our bodies are the world, and those microbes love when we eat and drink nitrate-rich food and wine.

Technically, that means people prone to wine-graines should avoid a hearty Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner. They can still smell the wine if they want to get some of wine’s benefits, though.

Embriette Hyde, one of the researchers, acknowledged in a statement to Science Daily that the correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, and “it remains to be seen whether these bacteria are a cause or a result of migraines, or are indirectly linked in some way.”

The good news out of this? Understanding the problem is the first step to solving a problem, so this study is the first step to a migraine-free glass of wine. That’s something we can all say “cheers” to.