We are all used to hearing about the red-wine-headache. Several people say that they are unable to drink red wine because of it. It can trigger migraines and headaches. But the true red wine headache is a virtual enigma and it’s actual cause has not yet been named. There has been much conjecture as to the cause of the red wine headache over time, however. Here’s everything you wanted to know about your red-wine-headache but were afraid to ask.
What is Red Wine Headache?
Red-wine-headache symptoms are so common they named a syndrome after it by the same name, and it now has its own identifying initials- RWH. RWH is not to be confused with migraines which are a separate reaction. People who don’t get migraines from red wine still get RWH. The possible causes are an ongoing mystery as there has not been sufficient research for conclusive answers.
It is also true that ofttimes, a person will get a headache from a certain brand or grape type and not all red wines. This should present another avenue of research all together, if even just for the headache sufferer.
The Blame Game
Beekman wines and liquors in New Jersey published an important and informative article on the subject of the red wine headache. In the article they cite information from the Harvard Health Letter. It mentions that a certain Dr. Freitag, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, has stated that no one really knows the cause of these headaches. He did suggest that they may be caused by compounds in the red grape skins themselves, either naturally or through fermentation.
- Sulfites have also been blamed for RWH but a sulphite allergy has been identified, in most cases, as an allergic reaction to sulphites but not a headache. RWH is something different. Another fact against sulfites causing the headaches is that usually white wine contains more sulphites than red wine.
- Tannins are the next assumed culprit in the RWH syndrome mystery. Tannins are flavanoids found in red wines that release levels of serantonin, a neurotransmitter, and although yes, serantonin can trigger migraines, black tea, soy and chocolate also contain tannins and are not usually the cause of regular headaches.
- Another culprit blamedfor the RWH is histamines which are 20%- 200% higher in red wine than in white. People who are allergic to histamines lack a particular enzyme. However, a study, reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, of a group of people with an intolerance to wine showed no difference in reaction between low and high histamine levels.Yet there is conjecture that the presence of alcohol, along with the histamines, inhibits the body’s ability to defend itself, and that could be the difference that contributes to RWH.
- The fourth possibility is the presence of prostaglandins, which is a substance that contributes to pain and swelling. It is any one of a number of hormone-like substances that participate in several body functions.
It has been suggested that taking an aspirin prior to drinking red wine may prevent the inevitable headache. This seems to work better than taking it after the headache has begun. Also if it is the histamines that are suspected as the cause, drinking black tea throughout the evening, alongside the red wine is suggested. Apparently, quercitin, a bioflavanoid in the black tea, may help by inhibiting the inflammation brought on by the histamines.
Now that you’ve heard everything you wanted to know about your red wine headache, what can you do about it? And since the jury is still out on the exact cause of the RWH, and it could be any combination of the above compounds- you may have to take matters into your own hands. A little personal research may uncover which wines are the antagonists for you.
As Dr. Freitag suggests, true red wine headache will come within a half hour of imbibing the offending wine. And although a little self-inflicted pain may be involved in your personal research, he encourages you to conduct your own study to uncover individual intolerances. Who knows, there could be a red wine out there with your name on it.