A team of researchers from the University of California has solved a “millennia-old mystery” about why red wine can cause near-immediate headaches, according to a study published in the journal Alcohol and Health Research. While hangover symptoms are common after drinking sessions, red wine headaches can strike within 30 minutes to three hours after consuming just one small glass. The researchers discovered that a naturally occurring compound called quercetin may be responsible for these headaches. Quercetin is an antioxidant and a type of flavanol, a plant pigment that gives fruit and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol, leading to migraines, flushes, nausea, and headaches.
Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department explained that when quercetin gets in your bloodstream, your body converts it to a different form called quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. Quercetin glucuronide can also prompt acetaldehyde, a toxin, to accumulate in the body. High levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headache, and nausea. Dr Apramita Devi added that not all red wines have the same effect on headaches. Sunlight, age, and the wine-making process can all influence whether a glass will trigger a headache. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin and therefore more likely to cause near-immediate headaches. Professor Morris Levin further noted that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches.
The study’s author stated that they think they are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery and indicated that the next step is to test this scientifically on people who develop these headaches.
This research could have significant implications for individuals looking to avoid red wine-induced headaches as well as for winemakers looking to produce wines that are less likely to trigger these reactions in consumers.
Overall, this discovery highlights how even seemingly simple substances like alcohol can have complex effects on our bodies and underscores the importance of understanding these effects in order to make informed decisions about our health choices.