Why Wine Gives You Headaches, and 4 Tips for Avoiding Them

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There’s nothing like sipping a glass of red wine at a gathering of friends on a winter night. It’s truly a lovely feeling. But that headache you get afterward? Not lovely at all.

Why do you always seem to get a red wine headache, especially when the person next to you has no issue at all? And what can you do to keep those headaches at bay? Some answers:

What causes a “wine headache”? There’s disagreement. Some people think the headaches are due to the sulfites either naturally present in wine (yes, “organic” wines have sulfites too) or added to it by some winemakers as a preservative. But experts say sulfites, which can trigger asthma and allergic reactions, probably don’t cause wine headaches.

The real culprit? Likely histamine, which dilates blood vessels, or perhaps tyramine, which constricts and then dilates them — and both are naturally found in wine. “Red wines, in general, contain more histamine than Champagnes or sparkling wines and those usually contain more histamine than [still] white wines,” Dan L. Keiller, MD, told the Wall Street Journal, in an in-depth look at the subject.

Some people lack the enzyme that helps metabolize histamine, which may make them more prone to wine headaches, Keiller noted. Others may experience a boost in blood pressure from tyramine, which is also found in aged cheese, smoked fish and cured meat, and that rise can bring on a headache.

What can you do to prevent it? Let’s break this part down into tips:

Drink water before, or as, you drink wine. Wine can dehydrate you, which can itself lead to headaches.

Consider taking an antihistamine before drinking wine, advises Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, in an article on Health.com. (Other folks recommend over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen or vitamin B6, although you should probably consult your doctor first.)

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Drink two cups of strong coffee before you drink wine. Caffeine constricts blood vessels, mitigating wine’s vascular effects, Dr. Seymour Diamond, executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation and the director emeritus of the Diamond Headache Clinic, recently told the Chicago Tribune. (Dr. Diamond also advocates taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like aspirin, ibuprofen or vitamin B-6, although you should probably consult your doctor first.)

Drink red wine sparingly, or try a varietal that’s less likely to prompt headaches — a Pinot Noir (lower in tannins), perhaps? Or hey, you can always just give up and drink white!

If you want more advice about avoiding hangovers — from wine and everything else — check out these nutritionist-approved suggestions.

Related Links:

Chefs' Picks: Hangover Cures

How to Tell If Your Wine Is Bad

8 Wine Rules You Should Break

Photo: iStock