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Does Red Wine Cause Headaches?

A number of you have asked me to dispel the myth about red wine headaches. This is known in the industry as RWH. As much as I would like to dispel this myth, I can’t in good conscience do that because ... it’s not a myth! It’s something that actually occurs to a small segment of the population.

In this post, we’re going to take a brief look at what a red wine headache is. We’ll review six potential culprits and several things you might do to minimize or prevent them. (Although, keep in mind, I'm not a doctor!)

The six potential culprits are:

  1. Histamines
  2. Tannins
  3. Alcohol and sugar
  4. Prostaglandins
  5. Tyramine
  6. Yeast 

While there is a lot to cover, we’re going to move through it pretty quickly. For a more detailed take, check out my video The Truth About Red Wine Headaches (RWH) and How You Can Prevent Them.

Culprit Number One: Histamines

Histamines are chemicals that are released in our bodies when we have an allergic reaction to something. The symptoms of this allergic reaction are similar to hay-fever (runny nose, dry eyes, headache, inflammatory flushing, and wakefulness at night). Recent research has found that fermented or aged items have higher levels of histamines. This includes dry meats, tofu, tempeh, ketchup, champagne, and red wine.

To prevent a histamine headache, simply take a histamine blocker like Claritin an hour before drinking. There’s also an ancient Chinese cure which calls for black or oolong tea.

Culprit Number Two: Tannins

Tannins are plant chemicals that impart flavor to red wine and contain antioxidants. For the majority of us, tannins create no headache at all. For some people, tannins spur the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which at high levels can cause headaches.

Personally, I think there’s a problem with the tannin argument because chocolate, tea, and soy are also all very high in tannins. If you don’t react those, then it’s a safe bet that tannins are not the causes of your headaches. If you want to determine whether tannins are your problem, drink extra strong black tea and see if you get a headache. If you do, avoid big tannin red wines.

Culprit Number Three: Alcohol and Sugar

You need to drink lots of water for your body to process alcohol and sugar. If you’re not well hydrated, your body will pull the water it needs away from other parts or your body, including your head. As the liquid in your head starts to deplete, a headache begins.

To prevent this problem, avoid sweet dessert wines and anything labeled semi-dry or sweet. Also, avoid cheaper wines, which tend to have more sugar (mass producers add sugar during fermentation in order to boost the alcohol levels).

Culprit Number Four: Prostaglandins

These are substances that some people are not able to metabolize, which can contribute to pain and swelling.

When it comes to the preventing or minimizing the effects, ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are prostaglandin inhibitors. Let me just give you a quick word of caution. Tylenol combined with alcohol is not good for the liver, and can be potentially harmful.

Culprit Number Five: Tyramine

As foods age and proteins are broken down, you’ll see tyramine levels increase. It’s an enzyme known for causing tightening of blood vessels and is the suspected cause of migraine headaches in about 40% of migraine sufferers. It’s found in spoiled foods plus everyday foods including aged cheese, dried fruits, sauerkraut, soy, and many processed foods. 

Culprit Number Six: Yeast

If you have allergies to yeast or certain bacteria, I suggest you not consume wine, particularly with hard cheeses and bread.


I'll close with this ... for most of us, the answer is culprit number three. We simply drink too much wine (or any alcoholic beverage) and not enough water. So, stay hydrated!

As I mentioned earlier, make sure you watch my YouTube video for a deeper dive on RWH! Cheers!!

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