Getting home after a long day at work calls for a glass or bottle of ice-cold beer. However, it’s common to experience a headache after you drink it. Due to this, you may ask, “Why does beer give me a headache?” The answer may surprise you, so read on to find out more.
What are Beer Headaches?
As the name suggests, a beer headache happens after you consume beer or a beverage that has beer in it. Many people mistakenly believe these headaches are due to a hangover, but they’re actually different. A beer headache’s main cause is usually dehydration while a hangover happens due to exposure to alcohol and beer’s ingredients.
Drinking beer or any alcoholic beverages cause your blood vessels to relax and dilate, and this boosts your blood flow to the brain. In turn, this can cause an instant headache when you drink beer. If you’re prone to developing migraines, your chances of developing a beer headache increases. There are two main types of beer headaches you can get, including:
- Delayed Beer Headache – This headache is what you’d call a hangover, and you suffer from it 5 to 12 hours after you drink.
- Immediate-Induced Beer Headache – Also called the Cocktail headache, this one happens within three hours of drinking, and it usually fades within three days. It usually has a pulsating pain on both sides of your head, and getting up to do anything makes it worse.
Why Understanding the Causes of Beer Headaches Are Important
One of the main reasons you want to get to the bottom of what causes your beer headaches is so you can find the appropriate treatment routes to cure them. Also, knowing why beer headaches happen can help you find a beer with a lower alcohol content.
It can also help you understand your health or any underlying health conditions you have. Finally, developing beer headaches can be a clue that you may overindulge and want to consider cutting back when you go out and drink.
Seven Main Causes of Beer Headaches
No two people are the same, so it makes sense that the biggest causes of beer headaches vary. If you have a sensitivity to alcohol, it’s more likely you’ll get a headache when you drink. Below, you’ll find several big reasons you might end up with a beer headache after a night of drinking:
You find congeners in beer as these are what helps flavor the beverage and give it the signature hops taste. However, congeners are also responsible for increasing the frequency of any hangover symptoms, and this includes headaches. This is because they aggravate your blood vessels and brain tissues to contribute to your beer headache.
Congeners are also responsible for slowing down how fast your body breaks down the alcohol, and this can make your headache stronger and longer-lasting. They encourage your body to release stress hormones and cause body-wide inflammation when you drink. This causes lethargy, headaches, and nausea.
2. Ethanol or Alcohol Content
Ethanol is another name for alcohol, and this is the chemical in beer that causes headaches. Ethanol is a diuretic, and they can cause dehydration because they make your kidneys work more. This is why you might sweat or have to pee more when you drink, even if you don’t drink a lot of beer in one sitting.
When you’re dehydrated, your body tissues and your brain contract or shrink. As your brain starts to shrink, it’ll pull away from your skull. In turn, this applies pressure to your nerves and causes pain. Even being mildly dehydrated can cause a headache or migraine.
Also, even though beer has a lower alcohol content, it has enough to make your body create more cytokines. These are proteins that cause inflammation, and alcohol also causes inflammation. When you have a higher level of these proteins in your body at one time, they can cause your blood vessels to dilate. As they do, you’ll notice a feeling of pressure in your head. Eventually, this can turn into a throbbing pain.
Did you know some people have a shortage of enzymes responsible for breaking down histamine in the small intestine? Drinking beer or any alcoholic beverage also inhibits how well this enzyme works, so this can cause a histamine increase in your body. This can dilate your blood vessels and lead to a headache.
These are natural compounds in beer that come from hops and malt. They create your beer’s flavor, color, and smell. In small doses, they can help protect your body from free radical damage, but drinking can introduce too many polyphenols at once.
When this happens, your hormones can drop or spike, particularly dopamine and serotonin. If they make your dopamine levels drop, it can trigger a headache because this neurotransmitter is responsible for dampening your body’s pain sensors.
When it does, it can make things like light and sound painful where you’d usually be able to ignore it. Serotonin has the ability to make your blood vessels narrow, and this makes the blood pump harder to get through them, causing a headache.
Sugar and alcohol can create a powerful headache when you combine them. When you consume them, you need a lot of water to help process them. If you’re not hydrated, your body will pull the water from other areas, including your head. As it pulls this liquid, it causes a headache to form because your brain starts to contract.
Another big reason the sugar in beer causes headaches is because sugar makes your hormone levels fluctuate. These fast hormone level shifts can change how dilated your blood vessels are in your brain. When your blood vessels expand or contract quickly, a headache can build.
These are compounds in grain husks that you find in small doses in beer, and they’re also in wine. They can cause beer headaches, but you do have to drink considerably more for them to trigger one since there isn’t a lot in a serving of beer.
However, tannins encourage your body to release serotonin. While this isn’t a problem for some people, higher levels can make your head hurt. They can also cause your blood vessels to relax fairly quickly, and this can trigger a migraine or headache.
When amino acids break down, tyramine forms. You can find it in beer after the fermenting process. This compound is better known as a monoamine, and your body needs monoamine oxidase to help break it down and get it out of your system. Normally, this isn’t a big deal because you only get trace amounts, but drinking beer can make your levels go up.
When this happens and your body can’t break it down fast enough, you can get a headache. Additionally, tyramine can make your blood pressure go up, and one main symptom of high blood pressure is a pounding headache.
Beer Headache Prevention and Treatment
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to prevent your beer headaches from happening or to treat them once you have one. They include:
- Applying Cold or Heat – Putting a cold compress on your forehead can help with your headache. The cold will reduce any inflammation and make the pain go away. If you have tense muscles, putting a warm pack on the area can help you relax.
- Drinking in Moderation – Ideally, you’ll want to start drinking in moderation. This means women will have one 12-ounce beer a day or less while men can have two 12-ounce beers a day or less.
- Choosing Beer with Low-Congeners – Remember, congeners help give dimension to beer, but they also aggravate your brain and blood vessels. Picking beer with low amounts of congeners can help lower your chances of developing a beer headache, including Miller Lite, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Heinekin, Modelo Especial, and Guinness Original.
- Hydrating While You Drink – When you go out and drink, make a point to stay hydrated so your body doesn’t start pulling liquid from your head to combat dehydration. A few hours before you go out, while you drink alcohol, and before bed, drink water. This can help replenish any water your body pulls from your tissues.
- Take Pain Relievers – You can try taking medication like Tylenol or Advil to help with your headache. Advil can help by getting rid of inflammation, and Tylenol helps relieve pain. This is why a lot of people like to alternate taking them every few hours when they have a headache.
So, why does beer give me a headache? Now you know why many people tend to develop beer headaches, the ingredients, and how to prevent or treat them. You can take this information and use it to enjoy your favorite beverages without worrying about suffering from a headache when you finish enjoying yourself.
As a homebrewer, Michael would get frustrated about the lack of brewing information on the internet. After hundreds of gallons of spoilt batches, Micheal had enough. And he founded Unknown Brewing as a resource for homebrewers.