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Red Wine Headaches - What Causes Them?

red wine headacheHeadaches from red wine are a genuine and troubling phenomena, troubling because any certain sufferer will get a headache from certain red wines and not from others. But there doesn't seem to be just one individual cause. Red wine headaches vary in their severity from mildly gentle to full-on migraine.

Just half a glass of wine can trigger an attack within fifteen minutes or thereabouts, and these attacks can last for several hours. Two average sized glasses of wine could even trigger a migraine in those people who are prone to getting them.

Some experts question whether the sulfites in the wine are the source of red wine headaches (RWH), for these reasons:

  • Breathing problems (which include asthma attacks), and not headaches, typically react more to sulfites;
  • Red wine is most likely to be the trigger, however many sweeter white wines contain considerably more sulfites than red wines, because they have a much higher sugar content;
  • Numerous other foodstuffs contain sulfites, so these headaches should not be particular to any red wine.
A few allergy experts think that tannins are responsible for the severe headaches. The Harvard Health Letter noted,
"Some controlled experiments show that tannins cause the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Fairly high levels of this serotonin can cause headaches, which may well be the cause for the RWH in people who already suffer from migraines."

Somehow the experiments fail to explain why it is that people get headaches from red wine who are not susceptible to migraines, or why people don't similarly suffer from the high tannin levels in tea and chocolate.

Winemakers use sulfites during the winemaking process to prevent the wine from oxidizing, helping to keep it clean and fresh for longer. When a wine is allowed to come into contact with oxygen for a long period of time, it will oxidize and spoil immediately, ultimately turning into vinegar. It's unlikely that sulfites are the only culprit, but as many white wines contain larger amounts than reds, they don't generally seem to cause a reaction.

Research from 30 years ago suggests that prostaglandins may be to blame for these headaches. Prostaglandins are substances that contribute to pain and are blocked easily by drugs that inhibit prostaglandin synthetase, i.e. aspirin, and even Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen.

The majority of researchers believe that one or more of the remaining suspects to be the cause of most red wine headaches. These include tannins, histamines, tryamines, as well as prostaglandins. Histamines and tryamines are by-products of a secondary fermentation in red wine, resulting in amine quantities up to two hundred percent higher in red wine than in white.

Excessive wine drinking can cause almost anyone to get a headache, but for some folk, drinking just a minute amount of wine will bring on a nasty migraine, combined with nausea and flushing. In order to minimise the chance of getting an RWH, just sample a glass of a certain red, and if you suffer within 15 to 20 minutes, obviously don't drink that wine. If you are a sufferer, reduce the risk by lowering your intake first, and remember to go for the best quality red wine you can afford. Cheaper wines tend to be less stable, although not always the case, and therefore could contain more sulfur dioxide.

3 Reasons why sulfur dioxide is used in wine

  1. As a prevention for bacterial growth.

  2. As a protection agent for the wine against oxygen.

  3. To bind to various nasty aroma compounds, like acetaldehyde.

If you try to find wine without any sulfites when shopping, good luck! Sulfites are a natural by-product from the winemaking process, so all wine contains at least small amounts. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is not a bad substance, but used incorrectly or excessively, it can be disastrous for a wine, and not great for your health. But, without it winemakers could not make good wines and wine would not age so well.

In the end it comes down to the usual adage - drink in moderation to gain all the benefits; overdo it, and you may suffer in any number of ways.

EzineArticle Source: Red Wine Headaches - What Causes Them?

By Rob Hemphill

Sulfites and Red Wine Headachestop of page

sulfites and red wine headaches

What is the culprit in red wine that causes headache or migraine, or as it is sometimes known "Red Wine Headache" (RWH), after a glass or more of this lovely beverage? Is it the red wine in its entirety, the sulfites in the wine or perhaps even the tannin?

The RWH is said to be a misunderstood phenomenon - try telling that to any sufferer - but there are so many theories about it's causes, yet fairly few facts to back them up. One thing for sure is that it is some compound within the red wine itself.

What are the likely causes of Red Wine Headaches?

Compounds within grape skins are likely causes, these can be either naturally occurring or be a product of the fermentation itself. Yet the blame for RWH nearly always comes back to sulfites that are added to the wine during the winemaking process. But there are other possible causes:

  1. Tannins could well be responsible for some of the headaches. It is these flavonoids in the wine that make one's mouth pucker that could be to blame. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter is shown to be released by tannins, and high levels of serotonin may cause headaches to people who also are migraine headache sufferers. But why do we not hear about headaches caused by tea, soy or chocolate, these all contain tannins?

  2. What about histamines? The histamine level in red wine is up to twice as high as it is in white wine. Therefore anyone with an histamine allergy may be deficient in a particular enzyme. The combination of the alcohol and that deficiency could (although not proven) be yet another cause of the headaches.

  3. A third idea is that prostaglandins may be the root cause of RWH. These are substances that contribute to pain.

  4. A fourth cause, and often the one most drinkers blame is sulfites. Sufferers who are sensitive to sulfites may not get a headache at all, but may experience an allergic reaction. Sulfites are remarkably powerful in their task as anti-oxidants. They are known to increase the symptoms of asthma in a small number of asthmatics while some sufferers may experience difficulties when eating food or drink containing sulfites. The inhalation of sulfite vapors can also be extremely irritating.

Why is there a need to add Sulfites to Wine?

Sulfites are added for a variety of reasons, these include:
  • The control of bacterial growth before, during and after the fermentation of the wine.
  • Slows down the oxidation or browning of the juice/wine. This ensures a good, clean sample will not be affected at all.

N.B. Many sweet wines require more sulfites than red wines. The tannin in the red is effective in acting as an antioxidant.

One thing is for sure, people who suffer from RWH want to know how to cope with the problem. Prevention is one answer, but a bit drastic to wine lovers. Another is to take antihistamine tablets like Clarityn or an aspirin to help cease prostaglandin production.

My recommendation to minimise the chance of getting a red wine headache is to sample just one glass of a particular red, and if you don't suffer within 15 or 20 minutes, stick to that wine. The jury is still out on what causes red wine headaches, so if you are a sufferer, why not reduce the risk by reducing your intake first and always try the best quality red wine you can.

A final thought. Whatever the cause of RWH, if you suffer from a nasty headache several hours after a long night out, you haven't got RWH - you've got a hangover!


EzineArticle Source: Sulfites and Red Wine Headaches

By Rob Hemphilltop of page