• Wed. Nov 29th, 2023

Uncovering the Causes of Red Wine Headaches: A Comprehensive Look


Nov 20, 2023

A recent study published in Science Advances has shed light on why some people cannot drink red wine, even in small quantities, without experiencing a headache. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of California at Davis (USA), who found that a flavanol compound found naturally in red wines can interfere with the proper metabolism of alcohol and cause headaches.

Specifically, this flavanol is called quercetin and is present in all types of fruits and vegetables, including grapes. While considered a healthy antioxidant and supplement, when metabolized with alcohol, it can be problematic. According to Andrew Waterhouse of the Department of UC Davis Viticulture and Enology, when quercetin reaches the bloodstream, it gets converted into quercetin glucuronide which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. This buildup of acetaldehyde toxin causes redness, headache, and nausea.

The lead author Apramita Devi explains that acetaldehyde is a toxin known for being an irritant and inflammatory substance. High levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial redness, headache and nausea. Disulfiramine, prescribed to alcoholics to prevent them from drinking, causes these same symptoms because it also causes the toxin to build up in the body when normally an enzyme would break it down. About 40% of the East Asian population also has an enzyme that doesn’t work very well allowing acetaldehyde to build up in your system.

Co-author Morris Levin suggests that when susceptible people consume wine with even modest amounts of quercetin they develop headaches especially if they have a preexisting migraine or other primary headache condition. The next step for these researchers is to test their theory scientifically in people who develop these headaches with red wines that contain a lot of quercetin and red wines with very little quercetin levels. However, there are still many unknowns about the causes of red wine headaches such as why some people seem more susceptible than others or if the enzymes in people who get red wine headaches are more easily inhibited by quercetin or if this population is simply more easily affected by the buildup of acetaldehyde toxins.

It’s important for individuals who experience red wine headaches to be aware of their limits and choose other beverage options if necessary while further research continues on this topic.

Overall, this study provides new insights into why some people cannot drink red wine without experiencing adverse effects such as headaches. The research highlights how certain compounds found naturally in food can interact with other substances like alcohol leading to unexpected health outcomes

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