Researchers at the University of California have solved the “millenia-old mystery” of why red wine can cause almost instant headaches, according to a recent study. While a hangover the next day is common for drinking sessions, “red wine headaches” can occur within 30 minutes to three hours after consuming just one small glass. These researchers discovered a natural compound called quercetin that may be to blame. It is otherwise a healthy antioxidant and a type of flavanol, a plant pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol, causing migraines, flushing, nausea, as well as headaches.
Emeritus Professor Andrew Waterhouse, from the university’s Department of Viticulture and Enology, explained that once it enters your bloodstream, your body converts quercetin into a different form called quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. Quercetin glucuronide can also cause acetaldehyde, a toxin, to accumulate in the body. Fellow researcher Dr. Apramita Devi noted that high levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headaches and nausea.
The study also suggests that not all red wines have the same effect on headaches. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to contain large amounts of quercetin and therefore more likely to trigger an almost immediate headache. Finally, Professor Maurice Levin co-author of the study pointed out that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions were more likely to suffer from red wine headaches.
Levin stated: “We think we’re finally on the right track to explaining this millennia-old mystery,” indicating that the next step is to scientifically test this in people who have these headaches