What makes a sumptuous holiday meal complete?
For many people, it’s the severe red wine headache that follows.
Medical researchers and wine lovers have been trying for thousands of years to figure out what causes some people to get a throbbing headache after drinking even a small amount of maroon wine Wine.
Theories abound: Some blame sulfites, which occur naturally in wines and are added by some winemakers as a preservative.
But sulfites are also found in foods such as fruits, especially dried fruits, and soy sauce, as well as white wines – but these are not usually associated with headaches.
Other experts point to histamines as the culprit, but that theory doesn’t seem to hold water (nor does it hold water): A study by Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that “there is no association between the histamine content of wine and wine intolerance.”
But a new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, suggests that the real cause of red wine headaches is a flavanol called quercetin.
Quercetin takes responsibility
Quercetin is an antioxidant that has many health benefits – it is even sold as a dietary supplement.
But when combined with alcohol, quercetin turns into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde, which can cause headaches in some people.
“When [quercetin] “If it gets into your bloodstream, your body converts it into another form,” says wine chemist Dr. Andrew WaterhouseProfessor Emeritus in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, said in a press release. “In this form it blocks alcohol metabolism.”
By blocking the breakdown of alcohol, the toxin acetaldehyde can quickly build up in the body and cause headaches within a few hours.
“Acetaldehyde is a known toxicant, irritant and inflammatory agent,” said the lead author Apramita Devi, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Davis. “Researchers know that high levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headaches and nausea.”
Another clue is the drug disulfiram, which is prescribed to alcoholics to stop them from drinking. The drug also causes acetaldehyde to build up in the body, leading to headaches and other symptoms.
“When susceptible people consume wine with even small amounts of quercetin, they develop headaches, especially if they already suffer from migraines or another primary headache disorder,” said co-author Morris Levin, professor of neurology and director of the University of California Headache Center, San Francisco.
“We believe we are finally on the right path to explaining this ancient mystery. The next step is to scientifically test it on people who develop these headaches. So stay tuned,” Levin added.
Waterhouse noted that quercetin levels can vary greatly from red wine to red wine.
“Quercetin is produced by grapes in response to sunlight. If you grow grapes with exposed clusters, you will get much higher levels of quercetin. In some cases it can be four to five times higher.”
How to prevent red wine headaches
Experts have put together some tips for avoiding red wine headaches.
First of all: try switching to white wines, champagne or other white sparkling wines.
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can cause a number of problems, including headaches. So try to eat something before the cork pops.
Dehydration can also lead to headaches. Therefore, try drinking a glass of water before drinking wine and another glass of water between wine glasses to maintain hydration.
Doctors sometimes suggest trying a pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen or taking an antihistamine before drinking wine.
However, some antihistamines can cause drowsiness. So avoid them if you’re driving – or just want to stay awake for dessert.