Wine Headaches
What causes them and how to help prevent them

Christmas is near… the party season is upon us… the celebrations are beginning to take place…  but no one wants the dreaded wine hangover…

Read on to find out what may cause wine headaches as well as some tips to help avoid them this festive season.

If you know the feeling of enjoying your favourite wine only to develop a throbbing headache then you are not alone.  This is a common problem for wine lovers.  

While some headaches are caused simply by over consumption of wine (alcohol intake) it is not always the sole cause of wine headaches. 

There are of course potential health benefits to drinking wine (read our recent article 7 Health Benefits of Drinking Wine) but from time to time for many wine lovers headaches can begin to develop from the very first glass of wine.

Allergies to sulfites are often blamed for the throbbing wine headaches.  However while sulfites are used in almost every type of wine as a preservative agent, the percentage of sulphites in wine is really quite low.  White wine contains between 250 to 450 parts per million of sulfites and even though red wine headaches are common they contain even less sulfites with a range of between 50 to 359 parts per million.  We can compared that to dried fruit which has a range of 1000 to 3000 parts per million. 

The truth is there are lower levels of sulfites in wine than in most lollies, jam, soft drink, packaged meats, canned soup and frozen juice.  While sulfites can most definitely cause allergic or asthma symptoms in some people, it doesn’t seem likely that they would be the main cause of wine induced headaches.

The more likely culprits responsible for the majority of wine headaches are Histamines and Tyramine – both present in all wines.

Histamines dilate blood vessels creating the flushing and inflammatory sensations of a wine headache.  The amount of Histamines present in red wine are much more prevalent than in white wine.  Histamines in red wine have been measured to be (in some cases) up to 200% higher in red wine than commonly found in white wine.

Tyramine is responsible for constricting and then dilating blood vessels causing blood pressure to rise slightly – just enough to induce a headache. 

Histamines and Tyramine are by-products of the fermentation process and of the two, Histamines seem to be more responsible for wine headaches.  

People who suffer from wine headaches more often than others are possibly deficient in the enzyme that metabolises Histamines.   

To help prevent wine headaches it is recommended to drink one cup of water per each glass of wine to help prevent dehydration.  Taking a non drowsy anti-histamine before before drinking wine can minimise the chance and severity of wine headaches.  Taking Vitamin B before drinking wine has also been known to reduce the likelihood of wine headaches.  

Enjoy our wines in moderation leading up to the festive season.   

(This article is not medical advice and if you have any concerns consult your doctor)