Picture the following scenario: you’re enjoying the evening with friends and family members, sipping a glass of red wine, exchanging stories, and reminiscing over the past. You find yourself having the perfect night out, until you reach home and find your head spinning from an unforgiving wine headache. Wonder who or what is the culprit behind this horrible throbbing and pounding in your head? It is most likely all the red wine you drank earlier in the evening. Not to worry! You are not alone. Red wine headaches are common and most people who drink red wine will fall prey to them at some point in their life. The best you can do is understand why wine causes a headache and what you can do to get rid of it.
What is a Wine Headache?
Wine headaches are unlike headaches caused by alcohol in all alcoholic beverages. Most of these pains will not start until a few hours after alcohol has entered your system. The main ingredient in alcoholic beverages responsible for the intoxicating effect is ethanol (aka, ethyl alcohol). Ethanol dilates the blood vessels and dehydrates the body, both of which can cause inflammation of vessels in our head and invite a painful headache. Some people begin to feel the first few twinges of a wine headache after only a few sips of a glass of red wine, while others will not notice it until a few hours. There are plenty of contributing factors that determine the intensity of your wine headache and how long it will last. The best you can do is pop a couple of painkillers, drink 2-3 cups of coffee, hydrate and try to get some rest!
What Causes a Wine Headache?
There are several things that can cause a wine headache:
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that drinking wine causes headaches for a large portion of the adult population, but the exact reason has yet to be uncovered. There are several competing theories at work, all of which try to explain why this delicious and fun drink that helps you have a wonderful time in the moment, leaves you with a miserable headache after just a few minutes.
Here are a few explanations that try to bring the culprit ingredient(s) to light:
According to one theory, wine headaches are caused by the histamines that are naturally formed during the fermentation of grape juice. These same histamines are chemicals that are released in the human body when we have an allergic reaction and they can cause several varied effects. Runny nose, contraction of muscle tissue, lower blood pressure, dilation of blood vessels, and stimulation of gastric acid secretion in the stomach are all reactions that can be caused by ingestion of histamines. It is worth noting that grape skins contain considerable quantities of histamines and histamine precursors, which would explain why the high histamine content in certain varieties of red wine may induce a merciless headache. However, some people are more sensitive to histamine than others, so this theory implies that a particular fraction of the population is more susceptible to wine intolerance.
Sulfites are chemical compounds that are widely used as food preservatives, especially in winemaking. They have been used for 100s of years by wineries to extend the shelf-life of wines. White wines and champagnes require higher levels of sulfites to be added than red wines to maintain their freshness, color and flavor - typically 3X to 10X higher for sweet white wines. It is commonly believed that sulfites in wine are responsible for wine headaches.
However, if you are allergic to sulfites, then you are more likely to struggle with breathing and respiratory problems as they are known to cause allergic reactions such as wheezing, coughing, hay fever, and hives. If you do not experience these symptoms while drinking 1 to 2 glasses of a sweet white wine or champagne, then you are probably not sensitive to sulfites. You must then look to other wine components that are causing your side effects.
Grape skins, seeds and stems are the main sources of tannins in wine. They are the plant chemicals responsible for giving wine its characteristic fruity and bittersweet flavors along with the unique mouth feel. Tannins are 100% natural compounds that are packed with antioxidants, so they are normally not harmful to the human body. In fact, only a few wine drinkers might suffer from a wine headache due to their sensitivity to tannins.
Tannins can also be found in tea, coffee, dark chocolate, and berries. Here is one simple way to check your sensitivity to certain types of tannins. Brew yourself a cup of black tea, and let it steep for 5 – 10 minutes longer than what the packet suggests to ensure the complete release of tannins. Next, drink this tea and focus on your body to see if you find yourself fighting a headache or any other “allergy-like” side effects. If yes, then your body is not a huge fan of tannins.
Alcohol and sugar, when combined, can have a big impact on the human body. Breaking down alcohol in the body requires water. However, alcohol reduces the quantity of vasopressin (antidiuretic hormone) that your body produces, so it causes your body to hold less water. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic so it causes your body to remove fluids from your blood through the renal system, leaving you dehydrated. With a loss of water from wine consumption, your body could respond by triggering a splitting headache or hangover.
How to Get Rid of A Wine Headache?
A wine headache can be a horrible experience for some wine drinkers, but there are a few common tips and tricks that can help relieve the suffering:
With every glass of red wine you drink, you should drink a glass of water so your body can more quickly flush the histamines, sulfites, tannins, sugar and alcohol. It is easy to forget about consuming glasses of water when drinking wine, but this can go a long way toward minimizing those nasty side effects.
Antihistamines or Anti-inflammatories for a Wine Headache
Over the counter drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can be useful in keeping your wine headache under control. These medicines address the headache and muscle-pain induced by drinking too much wine. However, do not take them if you experience abdominal pain because they are gastric irritants. Antihistamines such as Claritin or Sudafed can be an effective way to inhibit the common allergy-like effects of wine if they are taken at least 30 minutes before that first glass of red wine.
Does Caffeine Help Wine Hangovers?
Caffeine in coffee and other caffeinated beverages can be helpful in reducing wine hangovers. Caffeine causes blood vessels to get smaller (vasoconstriction) over a short time period which counteracts the allergic effects of histamines and sulfites. This simple approach is a great place to start when you first start feeling a wine headache coming on.
Does Eating Help Prevent Wine Hangovers?
While there is no definitive answer to whether eating before drinking wine can prevent headaches, there is some evidence to suggest that it may help.
As we mentioned above, histamines and sulfites found in wine can cause wine headaches. Eating a meal before drinking wine can help to mitigate this by slowing down the absorption of alcohol and other compounds in the wine. Of course you need to make sure the food you eat isn't high in histamines and sulfites.
Prevent A Wine Headache in the First Place
The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ holds true as ever when it comes to wine headaches.
PureWine has a family of fast, easy to use wine purifiers that remove the histamines and sulfites from all types of wines. By removing the histamines and sulfites from wine just before consuming, you can enjoy your favorite glass of wine without the fear of waking up with a splitting headache and that awful hangover feeling the next day. The Wand™ is terrific when you want to purify just a glass or two. If you want to purify an entire bottle, The Wave® is a very convenient and effective way to go.
The mission of PureWine is to end the problem of wine sensitivities and to enable more people to enjoy the unique pleasures and health benefits of wine. We truly believe that nothing brings people together quite like wine!
Just be careful not to overdo it at the next social gathering and drink responsibly.