Wine Headaches Suck
I used to get a wine headache it seemed with every glass of red wine. As much as I prayed it was a fluke and that I wouldn’t fall victim to the infamous Red Wine Headache (RWH), with every drink, after about an hour, my head would start throbbing. Does this sound like you or someone you know who refuses delicious wine in order to save themselves a headache? Well, as it turns out there are several things that could cure you. There are also a very small number of people who are incurable and life will suck for them for reasons other than just wine.
3 Tricks to Remedy a Wine Headache
#1 Drink a Glass of Water With Every Glass of Wine.
The most common mistake that wine drinkers make is hydration. It’s easy to forget because you are drinking already. When there’s wine involved hydration is key and water is what you need. Make it a habit to chug a glass of water prior to enjoying a glass of wine. It may stress your waiter out but your forehead will appreciate you.
#2 Take “Two” Asprin Before Drinking.
By “two” I mean two aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. This is not recommended if you drink heavily, however if you’re like me and just want to enjoy a glass of wine without the ensuing headache, it’s reasonable to de-crud your blood with some over-the-counter blood thinners. The pills are also a great way to force yourself to drink a glass of water. Since I’m suggesting over-the-counter-drugs and I’m not your doctor, be sure to consult your doctor first. If you are uncomfortable with this idea, skip to trick #3 and repeat trick #1.
#3 Don’t Eat Sugary Things with Wine.
The only thing worse than a red wine headache is a cake-and-wine headache. Confetti cake sounds particularly amazing (especially after a glass of wine), however the combination of sugar and alcohol will greatly exacerbate the potential for a headache. If you are sensitive to wine, reserve confetti cake for your midnight coffee-and-cake binges only and stave off the dessert desire while drinking wine.
What Causes a Wine Headache?
When I started drinking wine I got a lot of headaches. As it turns out, my wine choices (of cheapo grocery store wine) may have contributed to the reaction. Poorly made wines tend to have more adulteration such as residual sugar, sulfur, fining agents or higher alcohol to make them taste better. If it comes from a box or has a critter on the label then it’s suspect for headache potential.
“If it comes from a box or has a critter on the label then it’s suspect for headache potential.”
MYTH: Sulfites in Wine Cause Headaches
Back in the 1980s the food and drug administration discovered that about 1% of the population was allergic to sulfites. Because of the health concern for the sensitive population, wines above 20 ppm (parts per million) must be labeled with “contains sulfites”. Sulfites are found naturally on grapes and sulfur is also commonly added in small amounts at the beginning of fermentation and prior to bottling. Typically red wines have about 50-350 ppm and white wines have more, about 250-450 ppm (because of extreme sensitivity to light, heat and discoloration). The general litmus test for sulfites sensitivity is dried fruit. Mangos and apricots contain about 4-10 times as many (1000-3000 ppm) sulfites.
FACT: Histamines Cause Inflammation
Dr. Freitag from the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago originally wrote an article about how histamines may be the culprit in causing red wine headaches(1). Foods that have been fermented or aged have higher levels of histamines such as tofu, tempeh, champagne, red wine, ketchup and aged meats. Histamines can cause inflammatory flushing and wakefulness at night. Since most histamines are a cause of allergic reactions (similar to hay-fever), taking an anti-histamine prior to drinking may solve the problem. An ancient Chinese cure calls for black or oolong tea to reduce swelling(2).
THEORY: Sensitivity to Tannins
Tannin is what gives a red wine pigment, bitterness and that mouth-drying reaction. It also is what makes red wines last a long time. Many red wine headache sufferers point to tannin as the problem because white wines contain much less. The tannin comes from the skins, seeds and stems of a grape and also from wood. Many commercial wines also add tannins from commercial refined sources made from chestnut, Indian gooseberry, gambir leaf and the wood of a very dense dark-wooded Spanish tree called Quebracho(1). The problem with the tannin argument is that chocolate, tea and soy are also all very high in tannin, so it begs the question “If you do not react to tannin in tea, why would you react to tannin in wine?”
THEORY: Increased Tyramine Levels
As foods age and proteins are broken down tyramine levels increase. Tyramine as an isolated enzyme is a major headache-causer for people who suffer from migraines. The enzyme is known for causing tightening of blood vessels(1). However, as much as tyramine could be the culprit, its presence in such a variety of foods such as aged cheese, cured ham, yogurt, soy sauce, beans, shrimp paste, coconut, yeast, bananas, raspberries, peanuts, pineapple, avocado, eggplant and others begs to differ. In fact after repeated exposure people actually tend to have a reduced reactionary response. So… more drinking to overcome the classic RWH?
Don’t be quick to blame wine when you’re not drinking enough water.
NOTE: Allergic Reactions to Alcohol or Yeast
People with heightened sensitivity to alcohol and yeast should be careful with wine because it contains both. Don’t have your wine with hard cheeses and bread (what?!) if you’re trying to keep your yeast intake down. All in all, test your theories carefully and don’t be quick to blame wine when you’re not be drinking enough water.
1. Wikipedia on Tyramine, Tannin(wine), Gambir, Myrobalans, Phyllanthus emblica, Quebracho tree, Histamine, RWH
2. The Billionaire’s Vinegar