Researchers Take On Mystery of Red Wine Headaches in New Theory

Scientists have come up with a new explanation for why some people experience headaches after drinking even a small amount of red wine.

The mystery of the first vintages dates back to ancient Greece. Some theories include that headaches can be caused by sulfites or the body’s reaction to tannins in grape skin. However, there is no conclusive proof to support these theories.

A team of University of California scientists conducted a study in which laboratory tests revealed that antioxidants could trigger a process that prevents the body from properly breaking down alcohol, resulting in toxic build-up. This can cause headaches within hours of drinking red wine. The results were published in Monday’s issue of Scientific Reports.

Researchers believe that the headaches are only experienced by some people. Not all red wine is responsible for the symptoms. The headaches start shortly after drinking red wine and are not due to a hangover the next day.

According to laboratory tests, researchers believe that the flavanol quercetin is the culprit for headaches. It is a good antioxidant and can be bought in supplement form.

Does Wine Have Any Health Benefits?


Alcohol: Risks vs. Benefits

Drinking alcohol can lead to impaired judgment, a greater risk of cancer, stroke and liver disease, obesity, and many other health problems. Moderation can also have positive effects: it helps to raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, prevents blood clots from LDL cholesterol and the damage that they cause, and improves blood vessel function.


Why Wine?

Wine is not only good for you because of the alcohol (ethanol) but also because it contains antioxidants known as polyphenols. They protect your blood vessel lining and prevent plaque from building up in your arteries.


Reach for Red

The skins are removed before the fermentation process when winemakers make white wine. The skins of grapes are used to make red wine, which is where the majority of antioxidants reside. Even though red wine has a slight advantage, there are not enough scientific studies to say it is “healthier.”


Wine is a Super Ingredient

Resveratrol is an antioxidant polyphenol that has been touted as one of the many benefits of wine. This plant compound is still being studied, but it has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and make you more responsive to insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar.


Polyphenols elsewhere

While the polyphenols found in wine provide many health benefits, drinking a glass of Cabernet is not the only way to reap the rewards. Even more than wine, tea, coffee, berries, and onions are found in apples, pears, and a variety of berries.


Sulfite side effects

All wines contain sulfites. Some wineries increase the sulfites in their wines to extend shelf life. Sulfites may worsen asthma symptoms and cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and flushed skin in some people.


What is Tannins?

Tannins, another polyphenol found in wine, have a different effect from resveratrol. They can cause digestive problems, even though some studies have shown that they are anti-inflammatory and antioxidants. In high doses, they can also make it difficult for your body to absorb iron.


The Battle Against Germs in Your Gut

Red wine is more antibacterial than other alcohols, especially against bacteria in the gut like H. pylori. The polyphenols, called flavonoids, are responsible for this and may reduce your risk of stomach carcinoma.


Serving Size Does Matter

According to the American Heart Association, drinking up to two drinks per day can reduce your risk of heart disease and blood vessel problems. In the U.S., a drink is usually 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or one 1/2 ounces of hard liquor. You are now in the danger zone.



Doctors do not advise you to start drinking alcohol if you have not done so already. Drinking moderately is the best way to reap its benefits.

In a press release, co-author Morris Levin MD, professor of neurology at the University of California San Francisco and director of its Headache Center, stated that “when susceptible individuals consume wine with modest amounts of quercetin they develop headaches.” We have finally found the answer to this age-old mystery. Stay tuned as we test this scientifically on those who suffer from headaches.

Researchers noted that red wines contain ten times more flavanols compared to white wines. The amount of quercetin in red wines can vary greatly. Flavanol levels are higher in wine grapes that have been exposed to sunlight, as opposed to grape clusters that were shaded. Some vineyards manage grape sun exposure by using trellises or leaf thinning. Researchers found that wine-making techniques can also affect quercetin concentrations, including how the wine is made and whether the skins of the grapes are left on or removed.

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In a follow-up human study, the effects of wine with a high level of quercetin on headaches will be compared to those wines with comparatively low levels. Researchers hope to investigate in the future why some people get more red wine headaches than others.

If our hypothesis is confirmed, we will be able to address these important questions, said Andrew Waterhouse, PhD., wine chemist and author and professor emeritus at the University of California Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Jacobson says that it is possible for some Medicare Advantage plans to view prescription drug benefits as a way to retain and attract enrollees. She noted that they must show how it benefits health.

David Muhlestein, Ph.D., a visiting fellow at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and former chief research and innovation officer at Health Management Associates, agreed with Jacobson. Health plans are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves from traditional Medicare. This could be a way to achieve that.

He added that “these food programs showed promising results in certain studies, suggesting that they could be a way to reduce medical costs of care.” I believe Medicare Advantage plans are looking for non-medical ways to cut their medical costs.

Humana and Elevance are two leading insurance companies that explain why they provide medically tailored meal and grocery allowances for some of their members.

Humana offers the Healthy Options Allowance for eligible members of “chronic conditions special needs plans,” as well as certain Medicare Advantage members. The allowance, which can be up to $325 per month, helps members cover “essential expenses” such as groceries, rent, utilities, and over-the-counter drugs.

Humana’s spokesman said that the program was “designed to assist certain Medicare Advantage members in addressing health-related needs. This can reduce stress and help to contribute to a healthier life, both mentally and physically.”

Elevance Health will “offer nutritious meals and grocery allowances for many members in order to help them to access healthy food,” a spokesman from Elevance said. The post-discharge benefit includes “grocery and healthy meal benefits that provide [healthy foods] to many of our members who are chronically ill.”

Humana and Elevance both focus on members who have dual eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid. Elevance’s spokesman noted that many low-income individuals live in “food desertions.” “Providing support to our members for access to meals and groceries allows them to prioritize their health costs and alleviates the difficult choice of whether to go to the doctor or pay for necessities like healthy foods.”

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