Tannins – could they be giving you migraines?

Have you heard about tannins? Researchers are trying to find out what kind of connection they have to migraine. Meanwhile, some have found that cutting them out of their diet has drastically cut down the migraines that they get. Why?

You may know that tea and wine are both migraine triggers. But why? The caffeine in the tea? The alcohol? Perhaps tyramine? The problem is that there are lots of chemicals in every food which could cause a problem. But one thing that wine (red wine especially) and tea have in common are tannins.

So what are they exactly?

Tannins are compounds found in plants. They react with proteins, and in the body can keep proteins from absorbing. They give a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth, a taste that is common in many teas and wines and beers among other things. When you add milk or cream to your tea, much of that bitter taste disappears because the tannins go after the protein in your milk rather than the protein in your mouth. Tannins are phenolics, a group of compounds also found in household cleaners paints, and food dyes (sounds appetizing, doesn't it?).

It has been theorized that these compounds are a part of what causes hangovers when you drink alcohol. So they already have a bad reputation!

How might tannins cause migraines?

That is the mystery! They do indeed keep your body from absorbing proteins, minerals and other things your body needs. But that doesn't explain how they seem to be a trigger for some – it would be a long term problem, not a trigger. Of course, with so much of this compound in our food and in the environment, perhaps they could be a combination – triggering migraine and also making things worse by depriving the body of things it needs. Could it be that the amount of build up we have around us has reached such high levels that our bodies have become sensitive and defensive? In that case, maybe even the smallest amount could trigger a migraine in some people.

What foods contain tannins?

The list is long, including black walnuts, red wine, tea, chocolate, vanilla, raspberries, and most herbal products. For an excellent list visit Jeanette Navia's excellent tannins and migraine website. Most of the things on the list are already well known migraine triggers, but a few, such as herbal products and vitamins, may be things that you're taking to help prevent migraine.

The research is still in its infancy, but there are some excellent websites to look at if you'd like more information. Check the two I mentioned above, and also this article from the Alaska Science Forum on initial research on red wine, this interesting article about tea, and this article from Wikipedia.

Read more about diet and migraine...

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