You’re at the end of a long evening, having consumed a lot of wine, and you start to feel this intense headache. For most people, the cause of a wine headache is simply drinking too much wine and not enough water. The simple solution here is to always be conscious of how much alcohol you consume and always stay hydrated.
For a smaller section of our population, headaches from wine occurs even when we don’t drink too much alcohol and stay hydrated. A common myth is that sulfites cause these headaches, but this is false. While sulfites can cause asthma symptoms, they do not cause headaches. So, what really causes these kinds of headaches and how can we avoid them? Well, there are three main culprits:
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds and stems. You experience headaches from tannins when you drink wine that creates a drying sensation in your mouth, and for the majority of us, tannins cause no headaches at all. In fact, tannins are a great antioxidant source.But, if you seem to get headaches from wine more often when you drink red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec, you can do a quick test to see if tannins are the source of your headaches.
Brew a cup of black tea and let the tea steep for 5-10 minutes longer than the package says. Black tea is strong in tannins and over-steeping the tea will ensure they are all released into the water. If you get a headache after drinking the tea, you are susceptible to tannins and should avoid red wines altogether.
Alcohol and sugar, when combined, can cause a powerful headache. When you consume alcohol or sugar, you need lots of water to process the substances, and you are not well hydrated, your body starts to pull the necessary water it needs from other parts or your body, including your head. As the liquid in your head depletes, you get a headache.
The solution to this problem is to avoid sweet dessert wines and white wines such as Riesling that are labeled semi-dry or sweet. If you enjoy Riesling and don’t want the sugar headache, be sure your wine is labeled “dry”. You should also avoid cheaper wines, which tend to have more sugar because mass producers add sugar during fermentation to boost the alcohol.
Histamines are chemicals released when we have an allergic reaction. They can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, dry eyes and a headache. Recent research has found that aged food and drinks such as dry aged meats and red wines can cause our body to release histamines and cause these allergy-type symptoms. To prevent a histamine headache, simply take a histamine blocker such as Claritin prior to having a glass of red wine.
NOTE: Again for most of us, the cause of a wine headache is simply drinking too much wine and not enough water. To avoid wine headaches, stop it before it even starts. In other words, don’t overdo it!