Red wine affects people differently. If you’re prone to red wine headaches, we’ve got some tips
We’ve all been there. You’re visiting friends, and you’ve just arrived. They’ve stocked up with enough wine for a whole weekend. Cheers!
But after a long travel day, you purvey the bottles and can almost feel the headache gathering behind your eyeballs before it even starts.
Wine, and mostly red wine, can trigger headaches, in some more than others, for a number of reasons. White wine can cause headaches, too, but those usually don’t show up until the morning after drinking too much. In fact there’s another word for those kinds of headaches. Most people call them hangovers.
That’s not what we’re talking about here. Red wine headaches, abbreviated RWH by the medical community, happen to some people who, for no fault of their own, become stricken after just a bit of wine.
Like a brain freeze, there’s a scientific answer.
We’ll go through a few of the reasons red wine causes headaches here and give you some ideas to test what’s bothering you, as well as offer tips on how to prevent them (that’s really why you’re here, right?).
What causes red wine headaches?
As we said earlier, there are many reasons. But the big three are tannins, alcohol and sugar, and histamines.
You probably know that wine has tannins. Understanding what they are (and also describing them) requires at least a high-school level biology lesson, which we won’t make you sit through here.
Basically, you just need to know that nature produces tannins. They’re a chemical found often in tree bark and—you guessed it—grape skins. It’s the same stuff used in tanning leather. It’s an astringent (remember the face cleanser you used as a teenager?), and gives wine it’s dry feeling when it hits your mouth.
Scientists are mixed on tannins’ health benefits. In large quantities, they can be harmful. But in moderation, they protect human cells with their antioxidant properties.
Some people, however, have a low tolerance for them. If red wine gives you headaches, you can test your tannin sensitivity by brewing a pot of very strong black tea. If you drink a cup and get a headache, there’s a good chance you are sensitive to tannins.
Switching to white wine might be your best course of action.
Sugar and alcohol, a dynamic duo
Red wine has more sugar and alcohol content than other adult beverages. Combined, those things can trigger a headache. To help your body process this dynamic duo, we recommend drinking water.
If a high-ABV white also gives you a headache, you can safely pin it on the alcohol/sugar content.
Allergy sufferers should recognize that word. Red wine has a higher histamine content, which can cause headaches in those who have a low tolerance. Like tea for tannins, there’s a way to test your occasional cranial discomfort, though your doctor might call it medically dubious.
A nonsedative antihistamine for allergies like Claritin, taken about an hour before drinking a red wine, will tell you whether you have a histamine sensitivity. Now, you shouldn’t exactly mix allergy medicine with alcohol, so instead of disobeying the warning labels, there’s perhaps a more appropriate method.
Over time, test various reds in small quantities and make note of the ones that don’t bother you. Stick to those varieties from those wineries.
It’s not foolproof, but with enough effort, you’ll start to understand which wines you can enjoy and which ones to steer away from.