Red wine has many health benefits: it can clear up acne; it's good for your heart. Are there any downsides to drinking red wine? Well, yes. For some people, drinking red wine causes headaches — and I don't mean the kind that are caused by a hangover from drinking too much red wine. It can actually trigger migraines for certain people, which is definitely not ideal. Until recently, we didn't really know why red wine causes migraines, but a new study from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine has finally begun to clear it up —and the reason is probably something you would have never suspected.
Basically, the researchers noticed that of the 38 million Americans who suffer from migraines, many report an association between consuming nitrates and getting headaches. And guess what beverage contains nitrates? You got it — red wine. When we consume nitrates, bacteria in our mouths turns those nitrates into nitrites. Nitrites in the blood can sometimes be converted to nitric oxide, a molecule that can aid with cardiovascular health, among other functions. I'll give you a minute to reread those last few sentences because I know, all those words are basically the same and it's a little confusing.
OK, now here's where things get interesting. Remember those cardiovascular benefits we just talked about? Well, about four out of five people with heart conditions who take drugs containing — wait for it — nitrates report severe headaches as a side effect.
So knowing this, the researchers gathered some samples from people who reported experiencing migraines and some who didn't, and did some bacterial sequencing. Basically, among people who get migraines, they found slightly more genes that "encode nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide-related enzymes" in the mouth. Embriette Hyde, associate project scientist, said, "We know for a fact that nitrate-reducing bacteria are found in the oral cavity." In other words, nitrates are associated with headaches, and people who get migraines a lot may have more bacteria in their mouths that produce nitrates.
Though they were not able to determine if the bacteria are a cause or a result of migraines, it's still an important step in the right direction to understanding what causes migraines and what we might be able to do to stop them. For now, if you get migraines, you may want to go easy on the vino. I know. I'm sorry. I'm just the messenger.
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