great glass of cabernet sauvignon can sometimes come with a
price — a headache.
aside those who suffer routinely from migraines or someone who
tied one too many on the night before, even people not
normally prone to headaches can sometimes feel the effect
after a simple glass or two of red wine.
often get the blame for causing the affliction, but experts
said it’s highly unlikely sulfites are the culprit and that
two other substances are probably at fault.
Waterhouse, wine chemist in the Department of Viticulture and
Enology at the University of California at Davis, said people
may think sulfites are the problem because of the
"contains sulfites" phrase seen on wine labels since
look at the bottle … and they think, ‘Oh my goodness, if
it contains sulfites, that must be dangerous,’" he
winemakers add a small amount of sulfites to keep wine from
oxidizing, and sulfites occur naturally during fermentation.
are used to keep foods from browning, for instance, at salad
bars or in dried fruit, and a very small percentage of people
have a sulfite allergy, hence the Food and Drug Administration’s
decision to require the label, Waterhouse said.
Frederick G. Freitag, a headache specialist and associate
professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said headache
is not a common symptom of allergies.
never hear about ‘the salad-bar headache,’" said
Freitag, who has studied, for nearly 25 years, why wine might
cause head pain.
said red wine headaches are likely linked to tyramine and
is a naturally occurring amino acid, often produced by
fermentation. It can affect blood pressure and has been known
to trigger migraine headaches in people who can’t break down
the substance, Freitag said.
Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and manager of nutrition
services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, said aged
foods such as cheese have high tyramine levels. Consuming wine
and cheese together can compound the headache risk, she said.
and Waterhouse said there’s growing evidence that tannins
are why some people get headaches after light red-wine
consumption. Freitag said tannin is a catchall term for the
naturally occurring chemical substances found in grapes and
wine, and most of them are found in grape skin and seeds. In
white wine production, most of the skin and seeds are removed,
but in red wine those are kept as part of the fermentation
compounds, which are related to tannins, can get absorbed into
the bloodstream and metabolized by the body to open the blood
vessels, called vasorelaxation, "a key step in getting a
headache," Waterhouse said.
are also related to tannins — with the best known one being
resveratrol, which supports heart health, Freitag said.
combination with tannins, stress may also affect whether
headaches occur, which is why people may not get headaches
drinking wine on their European vacation, but do after a hard
day of work.
from not drinking red wine, Dr. Seymour Diamond, executive
chairman of the National Headache Foundation and the director
emeritus of the Diamond Headache Clinic, offered a few
two strong cups of coffee before imbibing can help, Diamond
said, because caffeine constricts the blood vessels and can
inhibit vasorelaxation. A little bit of honey in coffee can
help, as the fructose in honey can metabolize the alcohol
said red wine drinkers might want to try lighter-colored and
lighter-bodied wines, like pinot noir, that have lower levels
water also helps, said Kirkpatrick, Diamond and Freitag. Not
only does water dilute the effect of the wine overall, but
wine itself is dehydrating.
can be as simple as having a glass of water before you go. Or
sipping water as you go or sipping the wine slowly. Sipping
slow, savoring wine for what it is. There are plenty of
benefits to wine as long as we don’t abuse it,"