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Why Do People Get Headaches After Drinking Red Wine?

Why Do People Get Headaches After Drinking Red Wine? Image

Have you ever indulged in a glass of red wine only to find yourself nursing a throbbing headache later? While enjoying a glass of wine can be a delightful experience for many, some individuals are left with the unwelcome companion of a headache. Let's explore the cause behind red wine headaches.

Flavonol: The Culprit Behind Red Wine Headaches

The quest to understand red wine headaches recently reached a breakthrough. Researchers at the University of California in Davis have identified a flavonol, a naturally occurring compound found in red wine, as a trigger for these headaches.


The flavanol, known as quercetin, is a healthy antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables, including grapes. The issue arises when it's mixed with alcohol. Once quercetin enters the bloodstream, it's converted into quercetin glucuronide, a form that blocks the metabolism of alcohol.

Varietals: Not All Wines Are Created Equal

It comes as no surprise that different wines contain different levels of quercetin. The amount of sunlight the grapes absorb is responsible for the production of this pain-inducing flavonol.


Many of Napa Valley's Cabernet Sauvignons are grown with the clusters exposed, for instance, meaning these particular Cabs will have higher levels of quercetin. Drinking a lot of quercetin-rich wine can accumulate a toxin called acetaldehyde in your body.

Acetaldehyde is a well-known toxin, irritant, and inflammatory substance. Researchers have established a clear connection between elevated acetaldehyde levels and adverse symptoms, such as headaches and nausea.


The Final Verdict

It remains uncertain whether individuals prone to red wine headaches exhibit enzymes that are more readily suppressed by quercetin or if they just experience a heightened sensitivity to the accumulation of acetaldehyde.

While human clinical trials will be needed to uncover the true causes behind red wine headaches, the identification of the flavonol quercetin as a potential trigger is a huge step in the right direction. Until then, for those who enjoy a glass of red wine but find themselves susceptible to headaches, exploring different varieties and adopting preventive measures such as staying hydrated can contribute to a more enjoyable wine-drinking experience.

References: Mystery of Red Wine Headaches Solved as Flavonol is Identified | "Inhibition of ALDH2 by quercetin glucuronide suggests a new hypothesis to explain red wine headaches

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