Why Does Red Wine Cause Annoying Headaches?

Nov 05, 2015 08:20 PM EST | By Mikey Blanco

The health benefits of red wine are well-documented and knowledge about it is continuously evolving. However, one of the more contentious topics is called RWH syndrome-also read as red wine headache syndrome.

RWH can make certain people feel like they have headaches sometimes. What in the world is going on? The first suspects are sulfites which are sulfuric compounds that naturally occur in wine. Mike Johnson of Bottlerocket, a wine shop in New York City, says that "sulfites are necessary to stabilize the wine." In other words, sulfites prevent the wine from re-fermenting once bottled.

There are also others who believe in the difference of natural wine from commercial wine which use petrochemical sulfur, Huffington Post reported. Alice Feiring, a wine writer, abides by the difference. When she samples a conventional wine, she "immediately feels a pressure behind [her] eyes" which she does get with natural or low sulfur wine.

White wine, however, almost always has a higher level of sulfites than red wine. Johnson said that "I think it has to do with the perception of the strength of things." He added, "People often talk about red wine as being stronger than white wine."

But apricots also have a higher level of sulfites than red wine and you do not hear anyone complaining about apricot headaches. There might be another reason. Meg McNeill of Dandelion Wine in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, said, ""I'm not a doctor, but I believe that [the cause is] the histamines in the skins of the grapes."

The Wall Street Journal also discussed the possibility that histamine and another compound called tyramine could be to blame for red wine headache syndrome. Histamine dilates blood vessels while tyramine first constricts then dilates blood vessels.

Dan L. Keiller, president of the Medical Wine Interest and Education Society in San Diego, said, "Red wines, in general, contain more histamine than Champagnes or sparkling wines and those usually contain more histamine than [still] white wines."

It is recommended that folks who have previously had problems with red wine headache syndrome to steer clear of thick-skinned grapes like Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon and choose, instead, thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir, Semillon, and Merlot.

While there is still nothing conclusive on the exact causes of red wine headache syndrome, perhaps the best way to deal with it is by making sure you get good meal and drink lots of water before moving on to wine.

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