Many people complain of getting a headache from drinking red wine, even if they have consumed just a glass.The phenomenon, known as “Red Wine Headache,” is very common and may sound strange to some. But what causes red wine headaches and why are white wines easier on your heads? Also, is there anything you can do to keep drinking wine without hurting your head?
What Causes Red Wine Headache?
There are two reasons why red wine might be giving you headaches. First, it could be due to a compound found in grape skins called histamine. Red wines have higher histamine levels than white wines due to fermenting grape skins with the juice to achieve their vibrant colour. In some individuals, the small intestine doesn’t produce enough enzyme to break down histamine effectively. Also, alcohol has the tendency to block this enzyme. Either of these factors or a combination of both cause a surge in the level of histamine in our blood, which leads to dilation of blood vessels and an eventual onset of a headache.
The second reason for red wine headaches is tannins. Natural wine compounds add flavor, prevent oxidation, but can surge serotonin, triggering headaches due to histamine. If headaches occur after consuming tannin-rich wines like Syrah, Malbec, or Cabernet Sauvignon, they are likely caused by these high-tannin varieties.
Insufficient water intake and improper pacing of red wine consumption can also cause headaches, as with all alcoholic beverages.
Myth: Many people blame sulfites for their red wine headaches, however, there is no scientific evidence to corroborate this claim. If you have a sulfite allergy then it will give you skin rashes or breathing difficulty, but not a headache. White wines contain more sulfites than red wines, so if your headaches are specifically related to red wine consumption, sulfites are not the likely trigger.
What Can I Do About Red Wine Headaches?
If your headaches are being caused by rise in levels of histamine in your blood, consult a doctor and ask them if there is an antihistamine medication that you can take. However, take such medicines following your doctor’s guidance and stick to the instructions they give you. Switching to red wines with lower tannin content can prevent headaches caused by this compound.
Here are some tips that you should always follow to reduce the chances of getting a headache after drinking wine:
❌ Never consume wine on an empty stomach
❌ Avoid eating sugary foods
✅ Pace yourself
✅ Drink plenty of water while sipping your wine and in between your refills
✅ And lastly, drink in moderation
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