The Real Reason Wine Gives You A Headache

If you're a wine drinker, you're probably familiar with the unpleasant headaches that can follow. For some, the reaction isn't due to over-indulgence, but is actually the triggered by ingredients or additives in wine. People readily point the finger at a few common things as the culprits: sulfites, tannins, histamine, and tyramine have all been blamed. In reality, it's a combination of factors, according to the Food Network.

Sulfites is a buzzword you've probably heard around wine and headaches. Since so many blame them for causing problems, it's worth knowing that sulfites are a naturally occurring compound in many foods, including eggs and tea. According to Dr. Nadia Berenstein in an article for Food & Wine, sulfites have been used to keep food fresh for hundreds of years and only one in about 100 people are truly allergic to it. Headaches aren't even a typical allergic reaction to sulfite allergies, but hives and trouble breathing are. Another fun fact: white wines typically have more sulfites than reds.

Berenstein, who (according to her website) is a James Beard Award winning author who has dedicated her career to researching the science and technology of food, says that while many people tend to blame sulfites for their headaches, they aren't actually the cause. Instead, it's likely a number of things that occur inside the bottle.

Wine headaches are not as simple as they may seem

Let's look closer at typical causes people cite for wine headaches. Tannins, which Food Network says naturally occur in grape skins, seeds, and stems (and are also present in tea and chocolate, according to Healthline) and often pointed to. Tyramine, another potential culprit, is found in not only wine, but many other foods as well (like aged cheese and smoked fish) and is known to trigger headaches. Histamine, which is naturally produced through fermentation, is also produced by the immune system; but the Food Network says a specific enzyme is needed to break it down correctly. For Food & Wine, Berenstein points to emerging research that suggests that it is the presence of phenolic flavonoids (aka tannins) and biogenic amines (both tyramine and histamine) that are usually to blame.

As for the new "clean wine" trend, touted by many wine drinkers and celebs alike as a solution, Food Network says it unfortunately doesn't really hold water. These so-called clean wines are often made without added sugars, using organic ingredients, and with fewer sulfites, but there are also no regulations or certifications to differentiate the clean bottles of wine from any other bottle on the shelf. Further, any of the potentially triggering compounds found in regular wine can be present in clean wine, too.

As is the case with wine, with its varying elements (from the grape to the wine producer) that could be potential factors in causing headaches, people are complex. Things like stress, fatigue, dehydration, or whether you are drinking on an empty stomach could all be the source of your pain, says Healthline. The best way to prevent wine headaches? Avoid overindulging and stay hydrated