Since I lead wine tastings for a living, I get a lot of people telling me about their red wine headaches (RWH), which they attribute to sulfite or tannin sensitivities. Because I hear these complaints so often, I did a little research and will share with you what I learned about possible causes of and solutions for wine sensitivities.
The long and short of it ~ there is a real phenomenon called red wine headache (RWH), and there is no consensus on causes or cures.
There is also no consensus on when it shows up. Some people, for example, can drink French red wines but not American red wines. Some people can drink American but not French. Some people are okay with certain red varietals. Some people are sensitive to all red varietals.
Causes of Wine Sensitivities
Here is an explanation of the factors that have been considered the most likely culprits. In all likelihood, it is a combination of these and other factors.
|Sulfites – natural byproducts of yeast; improves wine’s shelf stability||Many people assume that the sulfite warning on wine bottles is meant to warn people about the possibility of sulfite headaches.
In fact, the sulfite warning is meant to warn the 1% of the population who suffer from sulfite allergies. People with sulfite allergies typically experience breathing problems. The exception is that sulfite-allergic people with asthma experience headaches.
|Tannins –flavonoids in wine that make your mouth pucker; more prevalent in red wines than in whites||Some studies show that tannins cause the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that, at high levels, can cause headaches in people who suffer from migraines.||
|Histamines – compounds found in grape skins (and other plants); more prevalent in red wines than in whites||Some experts believe that the combination of alcohol and a histamine deficiency can cause headaches.||
|Prostaglandins – substances that contribute to pain and swelling||RWH could be caused by the release of prostaglandins, which some people are not able to metabolize.|
Solutions for Wine Sensitivities
There is not a single solution that will work for every RWH sufferer. But here are a few possible solutions:
- Take ibuprofin, acetaminophen or aspirin one hour before drinking red wine.
- Take an antihistamine one hour before drinking red wine.
- Drink black tea before drinking red wine.
- Try a small amount of red wine and wait 15 minutes. If you don’t feel a headache coming on, the wine you’re drinking is probably fine for you.
- Stay away from really cheap wine.
If you suffer from RWH, try each of these remedies at different times and keep a journal to track your reactions.
For additional information on wine sensitivities, please refer to the sites from which I got my information:
I would love to hear from you about your experiences with RWH.