Why Some People Suffer From Red Wine Headaches

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. 

The title of this post is ironic because it turns out that scientists actually do not understand red wine headaches all that well. No one seems to be able to pin point the cause.

Varying Degrees Of Red Wine Headaches

There are varying degrees of a red wine headache (RWH) as some of you may know or have felt first hand. Some people get them within minutes of having a few sips while on the other end of the spectrum, there’s the headache that you get after just plain drinking way too much red wine.

I believe the latter is called a hangover and that scientists and most humans hopefully agree on the solution—drink less next time. Some people call a hangover a RWH but there does seem to be a difference in most cases.

Possible Causes Of Red Wine Headaches

Here are the most recent scapegoats for RWHs:

Histamines:  Most red wines have more histamines (some up to 200% more) than white wines. Anyway, if it’s the histamines bothering you, experts suggest that taking an antihistamine should prevent the RWH and any other histamine allergy symptoms. Well done, problem solved.

Another study that said people subject to red wine headaches drank wines with different levels of histamines and there were no reactions to prove histamines are to blame.

One interesting idea is that if you have a slight allergic reaction to histamines in wine, then you should drink black tea before and during your wine drinking. Black tea has a bioflavonoid that limits the inflammatory reaction due to histamine allergies.  This may apply to pollen or other triggers, but ask your doctor.

Sulfites:  They took the RWH rap for many years. Lunch meat has more sulfites than red wine so if you can eat that without trouble, then don’t blame the wine. Sulfite allergies do exist and you’ll know long before you ever have a glass of red wine if you have a sulfite allergy. Have you ever heard of a lunch meat headache?

Tannins:  These are the flavonoids in wine that give it a the sometimes bitter aftertaste. Tannins come from the grape’s skin, seeds, and stems. Since red wine has more exposure to all of these things during processing, red wine has more tannins. Tannin flavonoids cause a release of serotonin. Extra serotonin can cause migraine sufferers to get headaches, however, that won’t explain why non-migraine sufferers also get RWHs.  Someone also told me that cheap wine also has more tannins and to avoid cheap wine if you get RWHs.

Prostaglandins: If you take a dose of ibuprofen (check with your doctor as this is not usually recommended) before you drink red wine, then prostaglandins in red wine are also not the cause of your RWH.

Another Red Wine Headache Theory

Most RWH sufferers can hopefully eliminate the above potential causes, but a lot can’t. So, basically, there is likely something else (maybe a yeast or bacteria) in red wine that causes a number of people to get red wine headaches and scientists are still working on figuring it out.

For now, the best thing to do is keep a journal to try to pinpoint what you did, eat, breathe in around the time you had a drink of red wine to see if you can discover a root cause. And, of course, talk to your doctor before trying to self medicate. And, try to stay hydrated.

Do you suffer from red wine headaches? What helps you?

Previous post

A Visit to the Animals Asia Moon Bear Rescue in Chengdu

Next post

Why We Love The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

13 Comments

  1. Heidi Mason
    January 6, 2013 at 6:18 pm — Reply

    I wonder if any can shed some light on me situation. I am strikly a red wine drinker never have goot the RBWs afore. Hoever the other day when I was a passenger in the car with my sister driving, we were rearended. I had a couple of glasses of red wine earler, and now I have this tremendous pain over my right temple. Along with soarness in my neeck from the accident. Could it be from my recent neck injuy and i need to see a MD or could it be from the wine?

  2. Stefanie
    September 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm — Reply

    I am a RWH sufferer, and it stinks! I love trying new wines, but I can’t seem to even handle one glass of red wine – I’m the girl that gets a headache while still drinking my first glass. It’s not the histamines, I know quite well what a sinus headache is and it’s not that! Not the sulfites either. Tannis are also found in pomegranates, chocolate, strawberries, etc – so I know that’s not my cause either. I’ve been trying to research the prostaglandins but it’s hard to narrow that one down – there are so many different “types”. I haven’t tried taking ibuprofen before drinking red wine, but I prefer not to have any medication in me when drinking anything. I wish they could figure out what is the root cause of it!!

  3. August 28, 2009 at 7:49 am — Reply

    I am a Migraine sufferer, and I get RWH if I drink more than 2 glasses at one time. I can lessen the effect if I pre-medicate with my migraine rescue meds. I also have to keep hydrated with water between glasses if The Hubs and I are going to drink a whole bottle or if we are with friends and drink more than one bottle, which we have been know to do…. I am also on other pain meds for a spinal disability, so I really limit my drinking, and hardly ever drink anymore, so I don’t tolerate it well at all anymore.
    You’ve got some really great tips here… I’ve found some more that will help anyone (not just migraine sufferers) in the book “The Migraine Brain” if anyone is interested.
    .-= Lorie Shewbridge´s last blog ..ABC Wednesday ~ Round 5 ~ F is for Fun =-.

  4. August 27, 2009 at 4:06 pm — Reply

    Hi! I’m visiting from SITSA. Congrats on being the featured blog this week!

    I don’t drink wine. It’s not just wine, it’s any type of alcohol. I never acquired the taste for alcohol, even during my college years. Even if it’s light alcohol, after a sip or two, I taste the bitter flavor and don’t want any more. Weird, huh?
    .-= Aleta´s last blog ..Carport Crunch =-.

  5. August 26, 2009 at 11:08 pm — Reply

    Stopping over from SITS.
    Wow.
    I had NO idea!
    I hardly drink anything, even wine,
    but I really didn’t know all of that stuff.
    I’m a wine newbie.
    Very cool.
    Here’s to learning something new every day.
    .-= Vi´s last blog ..Eleven. =-.

  6. Flory
    August 26, 2009 at 5:13 pm — Reply

    I get RWH when I don’t drink. Okay, that’s not true. I try to stay away from the cheap wines and not drink more than 3 glasses in one day. No more headaches. Also, I always thought the headaches had to do with dehydration, so I drink water in-between glasses.
    .-= Flory´s last blog ..Customer Service at The Home Depot =-.

  7. August 26, 2009 at 4:38 pm — Reply

    super interesting! Whoduhthunkit?
    The Neuff’s Puppy ‘Dish’
    .-= Jenna´s last blog ..Thanks for all the Comments! =-.

  8. August 26, 2009 at 4:17 pm — Reply

    I used to get RWH but once I started drinking red wine more often…they have gone away. Unless I drink an entire bottle. 🙂
    .-= Connie Weiss´s last blog ..Hello SITS Friends =-.

  9. August 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm — Reply

    I seem to get headaches whenever I drink too much alcohol, no matter what kind… beer, wine, liquor… I don’t bounce back as easily as I did when I was in my twenties… ah, the good ol’ days… LOL
    .-= Mommy Reporter´s last blog ..Smucker’s announces new recipe contest =-.

  10. […] link is being shared on Twitter right now. @declantest said Understanding Red Wine Headaches […]

  11. Christine
    August 26, 2009 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    I Very much get RWH. I never did look into the reason why, though. Thanks for the info you posted. Now I can give a reason when offered, other than “I can’t drink red wine”. Haha. I’ve never tried a way to get around it, I just figure I’m allergic:)
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..I heart Drop Dead Diva =-.

  12. August 26, 2009 at 7:55 am — Reply

    I don’t get the RWHs, but I think people drink more without food in general & wine with food enjoyed over a course of hours is best.
    .-= beth aka confusedhomemaker´s last blog ..Down the Rabbit Hole, Into the Silence of Time =-.

  13. August 26, 2009 at 6:39 am — Reply

    HA! Tomato paste is the cure. LOL. YOu were just featured…how funny that I was under you today…I mean in roll call, of course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *