Dear reader, here I am going to talk about headaches and wine, its causes and prevention. I will not be talking about hangovers, because if you drink too much and you’re like most people, you will get a headache. I am talking about otherwise headache-free people who drink a (few) glasses of wine, mostly red and are seized by headaches. And your dog does not like it either! These aches bear no relation to the price or corresponding quality of the wine. The cause of these headaches lies in a combination of substances present in each wine, which also might strengthen each other. I will start off with a common misunderstanding. I trust that after reading this article, you will have a better idea of why we get headaches from drinking wine.
Many people seem to think that sulphites in wine cause headaches, some even indicate that sulphites are in the wine. Many scientists think that’s not true, stating that sulphites can cause allergy and asthma symptoms, but they don’t cause headaches.
Many winemakers even add small amounts of sulphites to their wines to help preserve them and to kill wild yeasts that can ruin a wine’s taste. They do it to shut down the native yeasts and bacteria that come with the grape skin, to preserve the wine’s taste. Sulphites are the most benign way of doing that, but they don’t cause headaches. Also wines might have a very limited shelf life without them.
Headaches are mostly associated with dilution or constriction of blood vessels in and around the skull. This constriction or dilution causes an irritation of the nerve ends of these blood vessels and this probably is responsible for the headache. In wine there are 4 substances of which we know they will influence the blood vessels.
It is general knowledge that alcohol, or scientifically ethanol, dilutes the blood vessels, so I will not go into further detail about this one. But have you ever heard of fusel alcohol (I hope it is the correct English term)?
The term fusel is sometimes used for a wine of inferior quality with a lot of sediment. The plural “fusels” are the by products of the fermentation process. These are the so called higher alcohols such as butanol en propanol. They can arise when the fermentation process takes place under higher temperatures. These fusels are more poisonous than ethanol.
These are derived from the skin of the grape, where red wine has a much higher content of flavonoid phenols than white wine. Hence many people get a headache easier from drinking red wine than white.
Histamine and tyramine (amines)
Although experts say more study is warranted, and there is dissent, a lot of research suggests that the headache is caused by histamine and tyramine, other chemical substances that are naturally present in wine.
Histamine dilates blood vessels and tyramine first constricts then dilates blood vessels. Several studies show that “red wines, in general, contain more histamine than Champagnes or sparkling wines and those usually contain more histamine than [still] white wines. From personal experience I can tell you that I hardly ever get a headache from drinking white wine, however, with red wines it occurs occasionally.
So what are we to do preventively?
Some scientist suggests you drink in moderation and with food, and that if you’re sensitive to histamine, consult your doctor and take precautions. Some doctors and researchers say taking antihistamines, ibuprofen or aspirin before you drink is effective in preventing headaches. Also, Vitamin B6 can help your body metabolize histamine. But, remember, some people can have harmful reactions to the use of these over-the-counter drugs with alcohol, so ask your doctor first. Drinking plenty of water when you’re having wine might also help. Dehydration can cause headaches, too, but is more usually the cause of the hangover feeling.
The most common reason for a headache is overdose, you have simply drunk too much of the good stuff. The other is histamine/tyramine/(fusel)alcohol/flavonoid phenols levels in wine. Maybe the logical advice is the following: If you drink wine with any regularity, drink it in combination with some food and water, look at sediment levels. If you find there’s a type of wine that you enjoy and that doesn’t give you headaches, try to stick with it or something similar.
Of course my best bet would be to try and drink Chardonnay wines. I have selected some of the world best Chardonnays, reviewed and rated them. Click the pictures to the right (for mobile users just under this text) for access to these special wines for delivery to either the USA, UK or Australia.
I hope you like the information in this post, however, please feel free to comment at any time.