Wine Headache – the Mechanics and the Cures

(Last Updated On: May 2, 2017)

Wine Headache – Guest Post by Ann of DontTellTheJoneses

wine headachePeople have been enjoying wine for centuries. Wine enhances the taste of meats, produces a warm fuzzy feeling and lavishes the senses. However, less enjoyable are the “migraine” like headaches that may follow the next day. These are the unpleasant “wine headache” or “wine hangover.” We will use these two terms interchangeably in this post.

In today’s post, we’re going to explore some claims for cures to this affliction and bestow my own thoughts and opinions on the matter. A cure for a wine related headache is a strong claim. It’s a claim that deserves exploration and expansion.

But, before we get into that, we need to understand the mechanics behind a wine related headache. And we say “wine related headache” and not “alcohol related headache” as the two are distinct (more on that later).

The Mechanics of a Wine Related Headache

wine headache

We all know that feeling when out with friends. We’re enjoying the moment and each other’s company. Then someone orders another bottle of red, and it’s not even 7 pm yet! “Drat, there goes your plan to only drink 2 glasses of red tonight!”

Anecdotally, if you suffer from wine related headaches, you may notice that they only occur after 1 ½ glasses or some other particular amount. Why should that be?

Well, your body has a certain threshold and tolerance for the chemicals found in wine before a number of reactions occur, including the wine headache.

Most theories of the wine headache focus on 4 chemical structures: Sulfites; Histamines; Tannins; and lastly Alcohol.

Sulfites

Sulfites are naturally abundant in the winemaking process. Winemakers add still more to your wine to help preserve it. So why is it that sulfites should cause a headache?

Well as Dr Ben Lynch from seekinghealth.org explains: sulfites are broken down to sulfates. The outcome of a long metabolic reaction is that Thiamine (Vitamin B1) absorption is hindered. Thus sulfites = poor thiamine absorption, which is needed for various bodily functions.

And it’s the low vitamin B1 that causes a chain reaction in your body to give you those dreaded headaches. Thus a B vitamin supplement might prevent or at least minimize a wine headache. Well, that’s one theory!

Histamines

Histamines are also found in wine. A general rule of thumb is the more aged the wine and champagne, the higher the concentrations of histamine will be found. Histamines, as you may know, cause inflammation.

Inflammation isn’t always bad, such as when the body receives an injury. The problem arises when histamine keeps your brain in a more wakeful state, or there’s an abundance of histamine present in your body. This can cause vasodilation to occur in the brain, which can create that “thumping effect.”

Your body relies on two enzymes to break histamine down. Many people don’t have enough of these enzymes to inactivate histamine quickly enough. And the result of course, is excess histamine within the body and the problems associated with it. These problems may include allergy symptoms, interference with sleep and of course the wine headache.

Tannins

Tannins are found in a range of products we consume on a daily basis, such as wine, tea and chocolate. Wine and tea benefit from tannins, which contributes a bitterness that can enhance overall flavor. (Interestingly, it’s why people add milk to black tea, to help combat the natural bitter taste of tannins in tea).

Researchers believe that a sensitivity to tannins may be a cause of the wine headache. One reason may be that tannins release serotonin in the brain, and people who suffer with migraines typically have a sensitivity to serotonin. However, that idea may only apply to only a small population of wine drinkers.

Alcohol

For the purpose of discussion we are segregating wine from alcohol, although wine technically is an alcohol. Not all alcohols contain histamines, tannins or sulfites.

Alcohol has a very complex relationship with the human body. In large quantities, alcohol will inhibit an important enzyme called ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase), which helps reabsorb water back into the body.

The main culprit for headaches in this case is your body signaling to you “drink more water.”

Other Evil Actors

And of course there are other issues surrounding congeners, flavonoids, tryptamines and acetaldehydes. These chemicals, which may be present in all alcoholic beverages including wine, may contribute to the formation of alcohol-related headaches and hangovers. Congeners in particular are present in higher concentrations in darker-colored beverages and appear to cause more severe hangovers. You can control these chemicals by choosing different wines or liquors, and of course by limiting the amount you drink.

This blog post only addresses the effects of hangovers surrounding a few glasses of wine and not all alcohols. Therefore, we’ll now move into some “cures,” building on what we’ve just discussed.

Can You Cure or Even Prevent a Wine Headache or Hangover?

Recently many “cures” have begun to focus on limiting the amount of sulfite and histamine we consume.

Dr Anthony Youn uses a product called “The Wand.” The wand resembles a teabag attached to a stick. The wand supposedly absorbs sulfites and histamine within your drink without changing its flavor. Simply put the tea bag into a six-ounce glass of wine and stir for 3 minutes. Then remove the wand and enjoy the wine.

            Another Option: Üllo

A more recent product called Üllo takes this concept a step further. Üllo has the shape of a funnel you can place over a decanter or a wine glass. Therefore, instead of constantly stirring you can simply pour your wine through the funnel and let it work its magic.

wine headache

Üllo also has an option to increase airflow to your wine whilst you filter the sulfites and histamines out. After the wine passes through the Üllo filter it flushes down a spiral tube. This increases the surface area for the wine to mix with the air.

By thus filtering your wine, you supposedly reduce the bitter taste of the wine whilst also reducing the potency of the tannins within your drink.

So while this may be a great idea…. the question arises does this work?

Well as you can expect, users give this product mixed reviews. This video shows users testing Üllo’s ability to remove sulfites… and well they didn’t find anything significant. But that’s one test and they didn’t test for histamine levels.

Other users relate anecdotal experiences suggesting that, by filtering these unnecessary chemicals out, they’ve completely banished their headaches.

So really the answer is inconclusive but it may work. I’d suggest trying a magic wand (they’re inexpensive compared to an Üllo). If that works for you, make the jump and see whether the Üllo does an even better job.

At the moment the effectiveness of these “filtering systems” is very situational and differs from person to person.

Are There Any Other Wine Headache “Cures” Worth Investigating?

Dr Ben Lynch reports that he sometimes treats his patients with a molybdenum supplement. This supplement assists enzymes in the oxidation of sulfites to sulfates. This means that more Thiamine (B1) is left to do its job. Some users experience a reduction in wine headaches when taking this supplement.

Another and last suggestion is to consider changing your drink based on your experiences. Typically red wine contains more histamine than white, and white wine contains more sulfites than red.

So if red wine gives you a wine headache but you realize you’re fine drinking white, it’s likely you have a histamine sensitivity. If you drink white and realize you feel better drinking red, it’s likely you have a sulfite sensitivity.

Using this information, you might consider taking antihistamines when you drink red wine. Conversely, you could try a molybdenum or B vitamin supplement when you drink white wine.

If you take note, you may also find that some specific wines are less or more likely to cause a wine headache. Wines are complex mixtures of chemicals that affect the human body in many different ways. Therefore, the best solution for you is likely to be the one that you find for yourself.

Does an enjoyable portion of wine also subject you to a wine headache? If so, you may wish to experiment with the ideas above to find a perfect balance: a pleasant quaff today and a comfortable morning tomorrow.

Guest Post Contributed By: Ann of DontTellTheJoneses

Image Credits: Ann of DontTellTheJoneses


Comments

Wine Headache – the Mechanics and the Cures — 6 Comments

  1. Hello Ann and Art. I, too, enjoyed reading this information because so many friends seem to prefer white over red or vice versa. My experience has demonstrated that I can drink more French reds than I can domestic or other International reds. I have been told that French reds do not have as much tannin and sulfites so, therefore, are less likely to cause headaches. Is this true? My true preference is Champagne!
    Cheers! Lydia

    • Hi Lydia! Ann has not weighed in, so I’ll take the liberty of responding. I found a couple of interesting articles that relate to your comment. http://www.wineintro.com/basics/health/headaches.html says that European wines, including French wines, actually have MORE tannin and sulfites. More tannin because Europeans like the astringency it provides (unlike Americans, who like sweeter wines). And more sulfites because they are necessary to keep the wine from spoiling until it is imbibed, and sulfites have been used since the days of the Romans for that purpose so the Europeans see no problem with them. For people sensitive to either one, that can cause a problem, but perhaps you are immune to them! The article also points out that foods other than wines have high tannins, sulfites and histamines and so can be used to self-test for allergies. This author says that people drink more sensibly in France, taking wine over a longer time with meals that also include water, whole grains and healthy foods, so the less headache Americans experience in Europe come from the way they drink in Europe versus at home. But that would not apply to your French household since I’m sure that you eat and drink in just as healthy a way at home as you would abroad! So you might prefer the view of Jacques Frelin in http://palatepress.com/2012/02/wine/much-ado-about-sulfites-french-wines-and-organic-regulations/, who in addition to discussing the fuss about sulfites, seems to feel that putting quality first is the key. If the wine is of high quality, it will provide a better experience – and perhaps less of a headache! (BTW I will second your vote for Champagne, preferably the real thing, but I find Blanquette de Limoux an acceptable substitute.)

      • Well, it looks like I opened a can of worms…..didn’t mean to confuse everyone! But, now, I understand……and, yes, it is quality and how the wine is consumed! We just returned from France and enjoyed delicious wine and food, generally served together and over a long period of time, savoring every bite and sip. Water was always served and espresso offered at the end of each lunch and dinner. I recommend quality over quantity any day!
        Vive La France!

        • Yes, Art is right in suggesting that European Wine tends to have more tannins and sulfites. It’s possible that the food you were eating may have played a part in you not having a headache and also because you were on holiday. I find myself less likely to “suffer” the next day if I have a day planned of activities. There’s only one way to find out, drink more french wine at home and report back!:)

  2. Hey Art,

    Thanks again for giving me this opportunity to write a blog post for your audience. I hope they enjoy it as much as i did writing it.

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