Ooh, what a headache!

I am a fairly healthy person.  Okay, I’m overweight, high cholesterol, and have one heart attack under my belt.  I still view myself as healthy. Yes, and denial is a river in Egypt!

As such, I am not very sympathetic to people who have bad backs, allergies, and migraines.  In fact, I’ve been told, I am sometimes an absolute shit!  And they say I’m unsympathetic!  One group of people  that I have been less than understanding with have been the poor souls who say they get wine headaches.  I’ve had a “hangover” maybe three times in my life, so I don’t understand how people can say, “wine gives me a headache’!

Well, I have done extensive research. Okay, I listen to a really good podcast from Wine for Normal People.  Come to think of it, normal people is another concept that I haven’t fully gotten down yet either.  If you ask me, we’re all nuts!  However, that is a subject to be covered in a later blog.

Wine for Normal people did a really good blog on why you might get headaches from wine.  And because the host of Wine for Normal people Elizabeth Schneider use the Family Feud analogy in another podcast, I’m going to use it here.

What is the number one reason for wine headaches?  Survey says! Alcohol!  Didn’t see that one coming did yah?  Yes, wine contains alcohol and alcohol causes dehydration which can cause headaches.  I usually never drink wine by itself, I always drink it with food.  At the bare minimum cheese and crackers. The food slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream reducing the chance of a headache. Professional drinkers, by that I mean people in the wine industry, usually have a trusty bottle of water with them and drink lots of water in between glasses of wine.  You could also switch to wines with lower alcohol levels. Most red wines have an alcohol level of 14%, some higher, French wines are a little lower at 11% to 12%. Check the label the alcohol level will be there it’s required by law.

Second reason for headaches is Histamines. Histamines are compounds that basically were put on Earth by God to make us miserable.  That means if you have been frowned upon by the Almighty, and you have a sensitivity to these freaking enzymes, then you get rashes, sneezing and yes, headaches.  Alcohol will raise your histamine level in your blood and guess what, you could end up with a headache.  Taking an antihistamine about a half an hour before you drink wine, with a FULL glass of water to prevent dehydration could be the solution to your problem.  Always  check the box to make sure there are no nasty interactions between the antihistamine and the alcohol.

Do you get headaches when you eat pepperoni or hot dogs, soy sauce or Bleu cheese?  If so you might get headaches from wine too because of the amino acid tyramine.  These little buggers also cause migraines.  Wine contains less of these amino acid than most foods, but the effect is cumulative if you combine the foods above, you might get a headache.

Wines that go through Malolactic fermentation, a  process where the tart tasting malic acid is converted into softer tasting lactic acid, can also cause headaches.  Most red wines go through Malolactic fermentation to reduce bitterness. Malolactic fermentation raises the “amines” by about 200% and that can give you a headache.  Research here is not conclusive.

Number Three on the survey is Tannins.  Tannin comes from skins, pits and stems of the grapes and is a natural preservative in red wine.  It’s also the reason they do malolactic fermentation to “soften” the taste.  When you think tannin, think “astringent”.  This is also why cheese and beef taste better with red wine, the “milk” or “fat” in the food will  soften the tannins.  Personally I love highly tannic wines, can you say Brunello di Montalcino.  

Now this might be your issue with red wine if you can drink whites without getting a headache.  Tannins change your serotonin level and yes this can also cause migraines.  They also release fatty acids called prostaglandins that can lead to a headache.  

The solution is take some aspirin or tylenol before drinking wine.  Once again, my law firm of Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe tells me to advise you to check the box for interaction between the wine and the drug.

Number four on the list is Sulfites.  Sulfites are the natural result of fermentation, and are added to wine to control spoilage and browning. If you can eat dried fruit or most lunch meats and not get a headache then sulfites are not your problem.  Medical research shows that 1% to 5% of the population have a sulfite allergy and you will know it long before you can legally drink wine.  The reaction goes way beyond a headache, think asthma attack or worse.

I don’t know if this helped you but it sure made me feel better.  After doing this research I now have all kinds of compassion for you folks who get headaches drinking wine.  My solutions are simple (1) drink lots of water, (2) take an aspirin or antihistamine, or (3) let me drink the wine and I’ll tell you how great it is!




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