The Hangover Headache: Deconstructed | Taurine Headaches

There’s a lot of confusion about taurine headache. Whether taurine causes migraine or is a treatment for a hangover, find out here.

RELATED: 4 Reasons To Get Off The Sofa and Exercise Your Brain

In this article:

  1. Got a Hangover? Here’s Why
  2. Liver: The Detoxifier
  3. Alcohol and Its Metabolites
  4. Taurine Detoxifies Ethanol
  5. A Model for Aging
  6. But Is Taurine Headache for Real?
  7. How About Taurine Headache Among Wine Drinkers?
  8. Other Benefits of Taking Taurine
  9. Dr. Treadwell* Answers Your Questions

Taurine Headache: Setting Things Straight Once and for All

Got a Hangover? Here’s Why

What’s the deal with taurine headache? By now, you probably know all too well a healthy lifestyle featuring daily exercise, plenty of sleep, and a nutritious diet is key to top-of-your-game physical and mental health.

But as the song goes, “you’re only human” when faced with social situations where enjoying a cocktail (or two) is the norm. One of the most common partying side effects is the dreaded morning-after headache.

So why does excessive alcohol consumption make your head hurt? This journal describes the results of a recent study examining the effects of toxins produced from excess alcohol consumption.

What’s more, we discuss anti-toxins that just might help neutralize drinkers’ exposure to tissue-damaging toxins.

Liver: The Detoxifier

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A jack-of-all-trades, the liver is a hardworking organ with multiple functions. After we eat, the food is delivered from the digestive system to the liver.

This important organ goes to work scanning and filtering the foods for pathogens, viruses, bacteria, and toxins.

Since the foods we eat are a primary source for infection, as well as toxins, it is not surprising that 80% to 90% of the germ-fighting cells, known as macrophages, are located in this organ.

The liver is also responsible for acting on toxic chemicals in our environment—including the drugs we take—to neutralize and remove them from our tissues.

During the neutralization process, drugs are often metabolized to more toxic metabolites before they are ultimately neutralized and excreted from the body.

These liver-neutralizing processes normally require specific nutrients that act as vehicles for transporting toxins from the body. The sulfur-containing amino acid called taurine has been shown in recent studies to act as a transporter-neutralizing nutrient.

This means taurine may protect against cell and tissue-damaging toxins, including those caused by excess alcohol consumption.

Alcohol and Its Metabolites

Whether it’s a fancy cocktail or a simple glass of beer, ethanol is the type of alcohol present. Interestingly, our bodies are continually exposed to some level of ethanol.

Our digestive system produces the alcohol during the metabolism, or fermentation, of foods we eat. Normally, the body metabolizes this minute amount of alcohol with no apparent side effects (hangover) or toxic effects on tissues.

However, when you drink too much alcohol, the story changes. The production of toxic metabolites of ethanol makes life miserable, leading to a terrible morning-after headache and other side effects.

Chronic alcohol consumption can have serious deleterious effects on our bodies including, but not limited to, the liver, heart, and central nervous system.

Amazingly, there has never been unequivocal evidence on what causes a hangover. Ethanol is first metabolized to acetaldehyde and then by another enzyme to produce acetate.

During this metabolic chain of events, there are side reactions that produce additional oxidants, including free radicals.

Initially, investigators assumed that since the first metabolite of ethanol, acetaldehyde, was a potent oxidant and toxic to cells, it was probably the primary causative agent for ethanol’s side effects.

However, recent investigations with new more sophisticated scientific methods have led to the discovery that acetate may be the primary hangover-producing ethanol metabolite.

This metabolite is present in levels as much as 100 to 1,000 times higher than that of its precursor metabolite, acetaldehyde, as the latter is rapidly converted to acetate.

Still, the causative agent may vary for different people. What’s more, there may be more than one culprit.

In addition to acetate and acetaldehyde, there are other toxic ethanol metabolites that can contribute to the damaging side effects of alcohol.

Taurine Detoxifies Ethanol

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I mentioned above the final metabolite of ethanol is the toxic hangover-producing compound, acetate. However, a fascinating discovery was made in a study with mice.

Scientists found that mice on a high-alcohol diet had another metabolite of ethanol. It is a compound known as N-Acetyl taurine (NAT) in their urine.

Interestingly, spiders also make NAT, which is a component of the sticky droplets for catching prey in orb spider webs.

Based on this study, investigators concluded this new compound, NAT, was the product of a chemical reaction between the natural (our bodies produce it) sulfur-containing amino acid, taurine and the ethanol metabolite, acetate.

In other words, taurine is functioning as a nutrient in the removal of the headache-producing, tissue-toxic acetate. This detoxifying reaction was found mainly in the kidney and liver.

Another recent study supported the tissue-protective effects of NAT by showing that mice fed supplemental taurine were largely protected from the toxic tissue-aging effects of ethanol.

A Model for Aging

The above work, although carried out in mice, is interesting. It provides a model for what likely occurs with aging in humans.

Ethanol, although fairly harmless in small amounts, can produce toxic oxidants when consumed in high quantities. The aging of our bodies is accelerated by the quality and quantity of foods in our diet.

Certain foods, especially those high in sugar/saturated fat and deficient in nutrients/antioxidants, are more likely to be converted to toxic metabolites. These toxins bind to and age our tissues causing wrinkled skin and cross-linked or hardened arteries.

Antioxidants, such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), lipoic acid, and numerous others present in plants we consume, counter the destructive effects of oxidants by increasing levels of toxin-neutralizing cellular antioxidants.

NAC is also an important precursor in the synthesis of taurine. It can help in the removal of toxic metabolites including those produced from ethanol.

A healthy diet rich in fruits, berries, whole grains, and vegetables (especially cruciferous) can also help maintain adequate amounts of antioxidants to help protect against the age-associated increase in tissue destroying oxidants.

RELATED: Alcohol And Cholesterol: The Link Between The Two

But Is Taurine Headache for Real?

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Based on the study, does this mean taurine headache is real? The answer is yes, but there’s an underlying explanation.

These headaches tend to be “symptoms” of the body’s detoxifying process as it tries to eliminate the harmful effects of alcohol.

Taurine headache, though, isn’t true for everyone. First, there are different kinds of headaches:

  • Tension-type headache, which happens when the muscles in the head contract due to anxiety, stress, or injury
  • Cluster headaches, which are many headaches in one side of the head probably due to problems in the hypothalamus
  • Migraine headaches, which are one of the symptoms of migraine and often feel like pulsating headaches

Other popular triggers or causes for headaches are:

  • Caffeinated beverages and caffeine withdrawal
  • Dehydration
  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • Herbal supplements
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Consumption of energy drinks

Among these, energy drink consumption can lead to taurine headache. The common ones are migraine headaches and cluster headaches.

Taurine is one of the primary energy drink ingredients. This organic molecule may improve athletic performance. It helps stabilize blood sugar levels and regulate muscle function, to name a few.

Energy drinks can contain other substances such as sugar and caffeine, which may come from the guarana plant. People who are sensitive to coffee can definitely feel the effects of caffeine including headaches.

If you’re a habitual drinker of energy drinks, “taurine headache” may occur due to sugar and caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Taurine for Migraine

Interestingly, a possible treatment of migraine may be taurine. In a 1993 study, the levels of taurine in the cerebrospinal fluid and the plasma among migraine sufferers were higher than those of the control.

This is even if they take into account other factors such as age and gender. Despite this, there’s an inverse correlation between the severity of the headache and the taurine levels for those with classic migraines.

In other words, the higher the amino acid levels are in the plasma, the less severe the headache they experienced.

How About Taurine Headache Among Wine Drinkers?

Some people also think taurine headaches can occur due to drinking wine. In reality, the explanation may be histamine intolerance.

Histamine intolerance is a condition wherein the body becomes sensitive to histamine, a by-product of an active immune system.

When the immune system detects something as a threat, such as food, it goes into action to deal with it. In the process, the body releases histamine.

Histamine intolerance is complex, but one of the possible reasons is a low level of a substance known as diamine oxidase (DAO). A potential treatment to this is not taurine but vitamin B6 or pyridoxal phosphate.

Diamine Oxidase Definition: An enzyme highly present in the gut involved in metabolism and inactivation of histamine

You can get vitamin B6 from your diet such as soybeans, meat and poultry, and oatmeal. There are also dietary supplements that provide vitamin B complex, like Essential Multivitamin.

Other Benefits of Taking Taurine

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Taurine is beneficial not only for migraine patients or as a treatment for cluster headaches but also:

  • It is an important nutrient for the brain since it promotes electrical activity among the nerve cells by working with calcium.
  • It can work like a neurotransmitter, which helps these nerve cells to communicate properly.
  • Taurine may decrease high blood pressure by calming the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates and regulates the body’s flight-or-fight response.
  • Magnesium and taurine can work together to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
  • It promotes healthy blood vessels to ensure ideal blood flow.
  • Taurine may help protect the kidneys from damage due to diabetes together with melatonin.

Taurine headache can be an adverse effect of drinking alcohol, leading to a feeling of hangover. Not all types of headaches are the same, however.

The headache may be an adverse side effect to caffeine intake, sports drinks, or herbal ingredients. It may also be your body’s way of detoxifying you from the harmful effects of alcohol.

Either way, to be pain free, it’s good advice not to drink alcohol or to do so in moderation. For any taurine deficiency, eat foods high in the amino acid or take dietary supplements with it.

How do you deal with migraines? Share your tips in the comments section below!

Up Next:

Dr. Treadwell* Answers Your Questions

Question: I have recently been diagnosed with osteopenia. I was informed by my doctor that it was an early sign of bone mineral loss, which often progresses to osteoporosis.

Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do to help prevent any additional bone loss and the development of osteoporosis?


Answer: There are a number of things one can do to help improve bone health and delay the development of osteoporosis. Exercise, especially resistance exercise, has been shown to improve bone strength and mineral density.

Studies have also shown there are certain supplements that can have significant positive effects on bone health. These supplements include:

  • Vitamin D3, 2000 IU/day
  • Calcium citrate (or carbonate) containing 800 mg of elemental calcium and 400 mg of magnesium per day. The magnesium is added not because of its effects on bone strength, but rather due to the fact that calcium competes with the uptake by cells of the body of magnesium.
  • Magnesium is an important element required for over 400 different biochemical reactions. It is especially important in preventing muscle cramping and for cardiovascular health.
  • Strontium Citrate, 700 mg of elemental strontium/day

Several recent clinical trials have shown that strontium (an element with a similar atomic structure to calcium) binds more tightly to form bone than calcium.

Additionally, it can prevent mineral loss as well as restoring mineral to bone previously lost. The studies have demonstrated this element to have few if any side effects.

To be on the safe side, it’s always wise to consult your health care professional before starting on any new drug or supplement.

*Dr. Benjamin V. Treadwell is a former Harvard Medical School professor.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 12, 2012, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.