If you get a headache every time you drink red wine, it’s easy to understand why you avoid it. But if white wine and rosé wine doesn’t give you the same adverse effects, what is it in red wine that’s the culprit?
The answer might be a little more complicated than you think. While there are a few common elements that are known to be problematic, what causes your headache might be different than what causes your friends’ headaches.
Today we’ll look at some of the top reasons why red wine gives you headaches. If you know your health history, allergies, and how your body reacts to certain foods, these insights should help you solve the mystery!
Red Wine Headache – Reasons
Many modern red wines have alcohol levels (ABV) of 14.5% or more. The higher the alcohol, the greater the potential for headaches. Alcohol—any alcohol—dilates the blood vessels in your brain and can cause a headache. Drinking high-alcohol wine on an empty stomach or in the absence of water may cause a headache in as little as 15 minutes. Try to stay hydrated, drink a glass of water between glasses of wine, and choose red wines with an ABV of 13% or less and see how you feel.
Tannins are naturally present in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. There are typically more tannins in red wine than in white or rosé, although this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Extended skin contact will extract more tannins from the grapes, and mass-produced wines often have tannin added to preserve color, add structure, and flesh out the mouthfeel. If tannin is the cause, we could assume that choosing lighter, low-tannin reds like gamay and pinot noir would be headache-free.
Some people are allergic or highly sensitive to sulfites in wine. There are legal limits to how much sulfur can be added to wine, and it’s always below the taste threshold. However, if you know you’re allergic to sulfur, try to choose organic or low-intervention wines to minimize your exposure. If you’re getting headaches from red wine and not white, it’s not likely a sulfur issue. White wine always has more added sulfur than red wine.
Histamines are present in grape skins and more predominantly in red wines because of how they are made. Red wine spends time resting on the skins to extract color and tannin, while white wine is filtered off the skins immediately after pressing. An exception to this rule would be skin-contact wines (also known as orange wines), which are white wines that get extended skin contact. Histamines may initiate an allergic reaction in some people. Also, alcohol inhibits the enzyme in our body that breaks down histamine. Some people lack this enzyme naturally, resulting in high blood histamine levels, dilated blood vessels, and potentially causing severe headaches.
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