Researchers at the University of California have uncovered a millennia-old mystery behind red wine headaches, according to a recent study. Red wine headaches, which can strike within 30 minutes to three hours after consuming just one small glass, are caused by a naturally occurring compound called quercetin, scientists have discovered. Quercetin is an antioxidant and a type of flavanol that gives fruit and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it disrupts the body’s ability to break down alcohol, leading to migraines, flushes, nausea, and headaches.
Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department explained that when quercetin enters the bloodstream, it gets converted into quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. This can cause acetaldehyde, a toxin known for causing facial flushing and headache symptoms in some people. Dr Apramita Devi added that high levels of acetaldehyde can also lead to nausea.
The study also found that not all red wines trigger headaches equally. Wines from sunnier regions tend to have higher quantities of quercetin and are more likely to cause near-immediate headaches. Other factors such as age and the wine-making process also play a role in determining whether a glass will trigger a headache. Finally, Professor Morris Levin noted that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches.
“We think we are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery,” said Professor Levin. “The next step is to test this scientifically on people who develop these headaches.” The discovery could help researchers develop new treatments for red wine headaches or even prevent them altogether in those susceptible individuals.
Overall, this study provides valuable insights into why red wine causes near-immediate headaches and offers potential solutions for those who experience them regularly.