Scientists reveal why drinking red wine can give you a headache | Science & Tech News

The “millennia-old mystery” of why drinking red wine can cause almost immediate headaches has been solved, according to scientists.  

While drinking sessions commonly cause hangovers the next day, “red wine headaches” can strike in under 30 minutes, or up to three hours after just one small glass.

Researchers at the University of California have now discovered a naturally occurring compound might be to blame.

The substance, called quercetin, is an otherwise-healthy antioxidant and a type of flavanol, a plant pigment which gives fruit and vegetables their colour.

When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol – which can prompt migraines, flushes and nausea, as well as headaches.

Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse, from the university’s viticulture and enology department, said: “When it gets in your bloodstream, your body converts it to a different form called quercetin glucuronide.

“In that form, it blocks the metabolism of alcohol.”

Quercetin glucuronide can also prompt acetaldehyde, a toxin, to accumulate in the body.

Fellow researcher Dr Apramita Devi said: “Acetaldehyde is a well-known toxin, irritant and inflammatory substance.

“Researchers know that high levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headache and nausea.”

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Not all red wines have the same effect, the research suggests, with sunlight, age and the wine-making process all influencing whether a glass will trigger a headache.

Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin, making them more likely to trigger a near-immediate headache.

Professor Morris Levin, the study’s co-author, also 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,” he stated.

“The next step is to test it scientifically on people who develop these headaches, so stay tuned.”

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