WINE 101: Red Wine Headache

The dreaded Red Wine Headache: maybe you think it’s all “in your head,” or just a coincidence. Sadly, it’s a real thing, even given the official name “RWH Syndrome” by researchers. If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer from it, you probably wonder what the cause is.

Many people think it’s the sulfite or sulfate in a wine, but researchers agree that’s not the red wine headache causes case. {Read all about sulfites in wine} In fact, that’s one of the few things researchers can agree on. While there are several good theories about what causes RWH, there are no proven causes.

One of today’s leading theories is that Tyramine, a compound found in aged and fermented foods, increases blood pressure and causes blood vessels to dilate, triggering headaches and migraine pain. Tyramine is also found in high levels in cheese, yogurt, soy sauce, dry-aged meats like salami, chocolate, sauerkraut, and lots of other foods. The hypertensive effect of Tyramine is increased in people taking MAOI inhibitors.

A second theory is that histamines cause inflammation, which triggers headache. Histamines, which are produced by bacterial fermentation, are present in aged and fermented foods like yogurt, miso, cheese, beer, and wine. They are also present at higher levels in red wines than white. One way to test if this is the cause of your headaches is to take an antihistamine drug when drinking red wine. The antihistamine should block the histamines and the corresponding inflammation that could be triggering headaches.

Some researchers propose that other items in the wine and that vary from varietal to varietal and growing region to growing region could be the cause of RWH. These include yeasts and bacteria present on the grapes or used in the fermentation process and tannins, which are present at higher levels in red wines than white.

Unfortunately, all this conflicting information means that there’s no simple solution to eliminating RWH. If you find a wine that doesn’t give you headaches, stick with it! And if you’re looking for ways to enjoy your favorite heading-inducing wine, check out next week’s article on how to minimize your Red Wine Headache.

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  1. Pingback: Water2Wine | WINE 101: Sulfites

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