Why Do I Get Wine Headaches?

Question from Jill: Why do I get wine headaches?

Reply: Hi, Jill. I’m sorry to hear about that. I’m no physician and very little is understood about this, but it seems the last thing any of us choose to blame is the most likely culprit – the alcohol!

However, there are other possible causes:

Red Wine Headache Syndrome: If you only react to red wine, you may be a member of this not-so-small group of wine lovers. For some people, it takes only a small amount of red wine to set off a nasty headache that may last a very long time. It’s common enough that a great number of studies have been done. Medical researchers have tested their subjects on cheap and expensive wine, domestic and imported wine and it doesn’t make any difference.

Bottom line: They don’t know. But, what they’ve learned is that taking NSAIDS, like aspirin or ibuprofen, before drinking red wine blocks the reaction for many people. If you take it after, it’s too late.

Some doctors theorize that it has to do with prostaglandins, which some people can’t metabolize. Others blame histamines, but there are many foods that are higher in histamines than wine. Still others point to other amines, like tyramines.

If you have other allergy-like symptoms with your headache, even as they deny that it’s histamines, they suggest you try an antihistamine.

Don’t blame sulfites! Lots of people swear up and down that sulfites are the cause. Science says otherwise. If you’re convinced that sulfites are to blame, try eating some brightly colored, dried fruit (the bright color indicates a high level of sulfites). If you can eat them without any effect, then sulfites aren’t the issue. 

How about that alcohol? Hmmm… Aside from the volume issue it could be you have sensitive sinuses. Alcohol opens blood vessels and increases the blood flow to the skin.  If the vessels in your nose and sinus areas swell, you may feel some pressure and get a headache. Shoot for lower alcohol wine, drink less or try a pain reliever if you think this might be what’s happening to you. 

Great headache preventative:  Drink a glass of water for each glass of wine; alcohol causes dehydration.

I hope that helps!

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