Why Do I Get a Wine Headache?

Let’s be honest, for most of us, the cause of a wine headache is simply drinking too much wine and not enough water. I wrote about the area of wine hangovers in detail recently, so I’ll try not repeat myself too much here.

However, it must be noted that for a small section of our population, headaches from wine can occur even when we don’t drink a lot. I will outline three main headache culprits below, but (as again alluded to in my previous post) first off, I must stress that sulphites do not cause headaches.

For an extremely small percentage of the global population sulphites can cause asthma symptoms, but rest assured, they do not cause headaches. Important fact: sulphite molecules are too small for the human body to have an allergic reaction to it.

Main Culprits of a Wine Headache.

There are three main potential culprits when it comes to a wine headache. Each can affect people in different ways and far be it from me to suggest that one is worse than the other. As I’ve said on many occasions in these pages, the simple solution to a wine headache is to be conscious of how much alcohol you consume and how hydrated you are.

The simple solution to a wine headache is to be conscious of how much alcohol you consume and always stay hydrated #greenacresirl
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Headache 1 – Histamines.

Histamines are organic, nitrogenous compounds involved in local immune responses. They cause watery eyes, mucus production, dilated blood vessels, and several other reactions.  These are, in fact, the body’s defences against allergens. 

The sneezing, coughing and watery discharges help removes some of the foreign bodies such as pollen, animal hair or dander that are causing the reactions.  Unfortunately, the defence creates other problems such as stuffy noses, wheezing and other discomforts. So, we take antihistamines which counteract the histamines and make us feel better.

Histamines are most present in red wines, but white wines also contain small amounts. The longer the grape juice has contact with the crushed skin before, during and after fermentation, the more histamines the wine will have. So, for a red, you might do alright with a rosé from Provence, France where the skin contact is quite limited. You might also be fine with a white wine.

Check with your doctor to see how much you can experiment. Taking an antihistamine before sipping may also be a recommendation.

Obviously, I am not a medical doctor so I can’t give advice on this except to consult your own physician.

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Headache 2 –Tannins.

Basically, tannins are the bitter, woody flavour you can detect in red wines. They cause that dryness sensation in your mouth. It mostly comes from stalks and seeds that have been included in the pressing of the grapes.

It may not sound like a good thing, but they do give necessary depth to the wine and gives important flavours to wines over time. The ageing process mellows the less pleasant aspect of the tannins.For the majority of us though, tannins create no headache at all. If you want to check if they do give you a headache, here’s a simple test.

Brew a cup of black tea and let it steep for five or ten minutes. Black tea is strong in tannins. When ready, drink the tea and see if you get a headache, afterwards. If so, you are susceptible to tannins and avoiding red wines will solve your headache issue.

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Headache 3 – Sugar.

In the process of fermentation, which all alcoholic drinks undergo, yeasts eat the sugar in the grapes or grain and then both emit carbon dioxide (the bubbles in Champagne or beer) and excrete alcohol. So, one could say that there is very little sugar in alcohol.

However, if the grapes or whatever you’re fermenting have more sugar than the yeasts can digest, you end up with “residual sugar”. Also, a winemaker can add more sugar after the yeasts are finished, which obviously results in a sweeter wine.

Alcohol and sugar are two substances that when combined can create a powerful headache. When your body consumes alcohol or sugar, you require water in order to help process the substances. If you are not well hydrated, your body starts to pull the necessary water it needs from other parts or your body, including your head.

One note of caution – makers of cheap wines usually add things to combat deficiencies in the wine from the beginning and they may also add more sugar for populist reasons.

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Wine Headache Solutions.

So, my friends, it doesn’t matter what beverage you drink, hangovers are the result of mild to moderate alcohol poisoning. The only cure for a hangover is time…the time it takes for the liver to finish detoxifying the alcohol. How about mixing drinks such as wine, then spirits then beers?

The truth is that mixing, in any order, won’t change anything. Only the overall consumption of alcohol over time will change the strength of your hangover. If you down three pints in under an hour then a bottle of wine, chances are that the little hammers in your head will wake you up with a vengeance.

If you have a pint pre-meal, then one or two glasses of wine during the meal, with plenty of water, then you probably will be able to wake up fresh as a daisy. Source: personal experience over the years…

Thank you for reading my thoughts on wine hangovers. Hopefully you will never get one and if we can recommend any particular wine to help you avoid one – just pop in or contact us.

As always – enjoy the wine and friends you’re with (in moderation).

Talk Soon – James.


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