When we get headaches, we want to know two things: How can I get rid of this? And, What caused this? It would be great correctly identify the cause so that we can avoid it in the future; but at the same time it would be tragic to misidentify the cause and blame something that doesn’t deserve it. When it comes to wines, it’s best to understand if they could in fact be the cause of your headaches before you blame them or write them off.
Sometimes people complain that red wine gives them headaches, claiming that they suffer extreme migraines with blinding white spots after drinking a glass of wine. Some even get symptoms of nausea and flushing. One of the most popular myths about wines and headaches is that sulfites in wines cause headaches – but this simply is not the case.
Wine labels state the wines contain sulfites, but there is no connection between red wines and headaches because of these sulfites. In fact, white wines contain more sulfites than reds, and even other foods like dried fruit and lunchmeat contain sulfites. Studies even show that only 1% of the population possesses sensitivity to sulfites, so it is unlikely that sulfites in wine are to blame for headaches.
Like sulfites, many others claim that tannins are headache-causing culprits; but also like sulfites, studies suggest that tannins also are not to blame. Tannin populations are more concentrated in red wines, and are responsible for the flavor, dryness, and aging of wine. When ingested, tannins cause the body to release serotonin which could possibly be linked to headaches – but other foods like chocolate, soy, and tea also contain tannins but are not commonly associated with headaches.
Although others might suggest histamines could contribute to headaches, the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Feb 2001) would beg to differ. It reports that histamines in low and high doses affected individuals only in rare cases. If you feel that you might be one of the rare people affected by histamines, a simple solution would be to take Claritan about an hour before you plan on drinking wine – this will help determine if you have a histamine reaction.
Finally, still others point to prostaglandins as the headache culprits. A prostaglandin is a group of compounds that come from fatty acids, and it has an important function in the body aiding the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle tissue. Although, like the other chemicals listed above, prostaglandins rarely contribute to headaches from wine, Ibuprofen and acetaminophen, as well as aspirin, act as inhibitors of this chemical, and some wine drinkers may benefit from taking these before or after consuming wine.
Still, despite the evidence against wine causing headaches, you might be convinced that wine does in fact cause headaches for you. It may well be case. The best way to find out is to experiment with the preventative measures outlined above and try to determine where your allergic or chemical reaction may be coming from. Before the wine-drinking community can know anything definitively, we must wait for further study. Although wine might in fact be the cause of your headaches, the cause might be from your specific choices in wine, your other physical factors when you drink, or even an unpredictable variable that studies have not yet disclosed. Either way, you don’t have to give up wines to get rid of headaches – experiment with various medications and types of wine might reveal to you the solutions you need to keep on drinking without the uncomfortable side effect of a headache.