Have you ever had a glass of wine with dinner only to suffer from a brutal headache shortly after? If so, you are definitely not alone. Headaches associated with wine consumption is actually pretty common, and researches have linked this back to a few different theories.
Let’s take a look at why you may suddenly develop a headache after having a glass of wine and then some steps you can take to try to prevent it.
Histamine: One of the most well-known links between wine consumption and headaches has to do with histamine. This is thought to occur more with red wine consumption than white since red wine contains more histamine. Histamine is found in red grapes, and when someone experiences frequent headaches after every time they have a glass of red wine, a histamine issue is often to blame.
When someone doesn’t have enough of the enzyme needed to break down histamine in the small intestine, histamine levels may increase in the blood which can then dilate your blood vessels and trigger that headache. (1) Drinking red wine can cause even further issues in those who may have difficulty breaking down histamine because alcohol, in general, inhibits the enzyme needed to break down histamine in the first place. So, if you find yourself suffering from a brutal headache after a glass of red wine, but you do ok with white, histamine may very well be the cause.
Tannins: Another common culprit has to do with tannins which are plant-chemicals that contain some antioxidants, and also adds to the flavor of red wine. Tannins have been found to cause a release of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter which at high levels has the potential to cause headaches in some wine drinkers. (2)
Sulfites: Sulfites may also present an issue and lead to the headache you experience after drinking wine. Sulfites, which is a preservative found in both red and white wine, can cause issues in those who may have a sulfite sensitivity. So, if you find that you get a headache with both red and white wine, then it may be the sulfite content that may be causing the issue.
Tyramine: Tyramine is an amino acid that is found in wine as well as certain fermented foods like cheese which can cause headaches in some people. If you find your headaches come on after you drink wine or consume foods like cheese or other fermented or aged foods, then it’s best to avoid them altogether.
So, what’s the solution? While giving up wine completely is the most effective way to reduce your chances of getting a headache after wine consumption, if you want to be able to enjoy a glass here and there, there are some things to keep in mind and potentially avoid a headache.
#1 Try to Identify the Culprit: If you experience a headache after drinking wine, but it only happens when you drink a certain kind (like red or white, or a certain brand) then try to figure out the culprit. If you tolerate white wine but not red, then you may be reacting more to histamine or tannin and may do ok with the occasional glass of white wine. Be mindful of when the headaches pop up and with what type of wine so that you can avoid the one that’s causing the headache.
#2 Limit How Much You Drink: Too much alcohol consumption is never good, and alcohol, in general, can cause headaches. So, if you find that your headaches only come on when you drink more than one glass, or you aren’t rehydrating with water after a glass of wine, then you may just need to limit how much you drink. It’s best to only make alcohol consumption an occasional thing, and when drinking wine, it’s best to just stick to one glass at a time. Limiting how much you drink may very well help prevent the headache in the first place.
#3 Go Slow When You Try a New Wine: If you are trying out a new wine, it’s important to go slow. You definitely don’t want to drink an entire glass of wine that you have never tried before, so start with less than half a glass and wait to see how it affects you. Headaches related to wine consumption often come on fast, so you can expect to feel a headache come on within 15 minutes of drinking a wine that isn’t going to work for you. (3) Obviously, if this happens, stop drinking it and write that wine off the list of wines that may work better for you.
#4 Choose a Sulfite-Free Wine: If you find that your headaches come on whether you drink red or white wine, then it may be caused by the sulfite content. The good news is that there are sulfite-free wines available that may help prevent the headache if you are in fact sensitive to sulfites.
It’s important to know that it’s not only wine that can cause a headache. Alcohol, in general, can cause a headache simply from the fact that alcohol can dilate blood vessels in your brain which can result in a headache. However, if your headaches are only associated with wine consumption, there’s a good chance you are reacting to either the histamine, tannin, or sulfite content and will need to find the culprit.
If you do choose to continue to have the occasional glass of wine, in addition to implementing the tips to finding one that may work for you, be sure to also stay hydrated to prevent dehydration from contributing to an even worse headache. If you are having more than one glass, be sure to drink a glass of water in between to keep your hydration up. And, just as a general rule of thumb, it is best to limit all alcohol consumption and only make it an occasional thing.
Rebecca Jacobs N.C is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant, specializing in digestive and women’s health. She doesn’t believe in dieting but rather making lifestyle changes, and believes that healthy eating must be delicious. Rebecca is also a recipe developer and creates healthier alternatives to traditionally unhealthy foods.