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?