Researchers at the University of California have finally solved a “millennia-old mystery” of why red wine can cause near-immediate headaches, according to Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department. Red wine headaches can strike within 30 minutes to three hours after consuming just one small glass, and these researchers have discovered that it is a naturally occurring compound called quercetin that may be to blame. Quercetin is an otherwise-healthy antioxidant and a type of flavanol, a plant pigment which gives fruit and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol, inducing migraines, flushes, nausea, as well as headaches.
Quercetin glucuronide is formed when it gets in your bloodstream and blocks the metabolism of alcohol. Acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that accumulates in the body when alcohol is metabolized at an accelerated rate due to quercetin glucuronide blocking the metabolism of alcohol also contributes to these symptoms. Dr Apramita Devi explained that high levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headache, and nausea.
Furthermore, research suggests that not all red wines have the same effect on the body. The region where the grapes are grown also influences whether a glass will trigger a headache. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin and therefore more likely to trigger a near-immediate headache. Professor Morris Levin also noted that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches.
Levin stated “We think we are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery,” adding that the next step is to test this scientifically on people who develop these headaches in order to confirm their findings.