A group of researchers at the University of California have finally solved a centuries-old mystery about why red wine can cause headaches, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. While it is common for people to experience hangovers after drinking, red wine headaches can strike within 30 minutes to three hours of 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 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 how when quercetin gets into your bloodstream, your body converts it to a different form called quercetin glucuronide. This compound blocks the metabolism of alcohol and prompts acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism, to accumulate in the body. High levels of acetaldehyde are known to cause facial flushing, headache, and nausea.
Dr Apramita Devi also noted that not all red wines have the same effect on causing headaches. The amount of sunlight exposure during grape growing season influences the quantity of quercetin in wine made from those grapes. Wines made from grapes grown in sunnier regions are more likely to trigger near-immediate headaches due to higher levels of quercetin in those wines. Additionally, ageing wine can also affect its composition and impact on human health.
Finally, Professor Morris Levin co-authored the study and highlighted that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches due to an increase in sensitivity caused by these conditions.
Levin stated that “We think we are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery,” but further studies will need to be conducted on humans before concluding any final answers.
Overall this research provides insight into why red wine causes headaches and highlights important factors such as region where grapes are grown and individual sensitivity which should be taken into account while consuming alcoholic drinks like wine.