Red Wine Headache, and Why Some People Get It

Getting a headache when inebriated is par for the course. Anybody who has experienced hangovers would know the aftermath of a wild night of partying and drinking a lot of alcohol. But that's not what red wine headache (RWH) is exactly.

Usually, one might experience getting a headache after waking up from a hangover, but red wine headache is reported to occur even when individuals have only consumed small to moderate amounts of red wine. So it's not about the drunkenness of an individual. But what exactly causes it?

The fact that RWH sparsely occurs and only in very specific individuals might give us a hint that there is a substance in red wine to which somebody reacts negatively. Some have pointed to sulfites as the source of RWH, but the fact that white wine has more sulfites in it, and yet seldom do people report having migraine-like headaches from drinking white wine, which eliminates sulfites as the cause.

Another possible suspect was histamine. There are people allergic to histamine and what it does is that it makes the blood vessels dilate which causes a headache. However, studies have shown no correlation between histamine and RWH.

The latest study on RWH from a team of California scientists suggests that a flavonol called quercetin might be the culprit everyone's looking for, though they still need to test it. What made them suspicious of quercetin was that it inhibited the ALDH2 enzyme, which is responsible for metabolizing acetaldehyde in the bloodstream. When this happens, people can become flushed or get headaches.

We have yet to confirm their hypothesis but the researchers are confident that quercetin may finally explain RWH.

(Image credit: Kelsey Knight/Unsplash)

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I'm allergic to sulfites and can't drink any kind of wine because it gives me terrible headaches. I have considered trying those drops you put in wine to prevent those headaches but I don't know if they work and don't know anyone who has used them to tell me if they do work. They make wine without sulfites but the shelf life is short and it costs more than 'regular' wine.
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