My Red “Whine”


I get headaches from drinking red wine. Apparently, I am not alone in this conundrum. It seems every time I talk about this, people can relate, or at least know of someone with the affliction. It is a sad thing to deny oneself a drink that may boost heart health, improve cholesterol, fight weight gain and improve memory. They should add this to Canada’s Food Guide; it’s a bona fide superfood… in moderation of course.

Even though “leftover wine” seems to be an oxymoron in our house, it is not from over indulgence, well, not usually. A headache can occur after drinking only one glass. I have to say, however, that it is not all red wines that give me this unpleasant experience, so I keep trying.

Often things usually start quite innocently with an offer of red wine to which I respond, “Sorry, I can’t drink red wine. I get headaches.”

Hosts usually look at me with a mix of puzzled amazement or sadness as if I had just drowned their puppy.

“Oh come on, have just one,” the host pleads, “It can’t be that bad,” thrusting a glass of the red elixir my way.

Or, it might go something like, “Oh, I don’t have anything else to give you. Are you sure?”

Not wanting to offend anyone, I usually cave with a “Well okay, but just one.” Then, I must live with the consequences.

There are a few theories milling about on what causes red wine headaches. The most popular of which is said to be Sulphites (SO2). SO2 is a key ingredient that occurs naturally in all wines giving them antioxidant and antibacterial powers used to preserve its freshness. While it is true that people can be allergic sulphites, I would say that it is probably not the cause of your headache. If it were the culprit, people would react much more violently to a number of foods, including baked goods, deli meats and bacon, because these types of foods contain sulphites at a much higher rate then that of wine. In fact, many wines end up having 0 ppm because sulphates deteriorate over time. Suffice it to say that I am incredibly grateful I don’t get bacon headaches.

Many also blame the release histamines that create allergy-type symptoms. Problem is most allergy-type symptoms like itching, sneezing, hives, runny nose and watery eyes are never present. If your nose runs after drinking red wine, I would suggest you have a different issue.

There is another theory that many people cannot metabolise prostaglandin, which may cause headaches. The definition of prostaglandin is way too long to discuss in this article. Suffice it to say that the solution may be as easy as taking prostaglandin inhibitors like Asprin or Ibuprophin less than an hour before drinking red wine. (This is probably not the wisest advice as extended use can lead to unwanted adverse reactions. I am not a doctor, so please consult yours first.)

Researchers say that the problem could originate with the yeast or other bacteria found in red wine. Researchers also admit that they don’t really know the cause. But, one thing’s for sure: odds are if you indulge in a night of excess and wake up with a headache you have a hangover — Another self-induced alcohol-driven malady that people have been trying to cure for centuries.

Red wine headaches are not a very popular research cause. Understandably, the wine industry is not interested in throwing money at something that could throw shade on their livelihood. There is no Run for the Cure race or ice-bucket challenge to raise awareness and funding. True, it is not as popular as… let’s say… research for Viagra, but rest assured, even though they are a small group and they may not yet have the answers, there are people out there dedicated to finding a solution.

Although the verdict seems to be still out on what officially is the root cause of red wine headaches, I am sure that denying myself the drink of the Gods is not the only answer. Hopefully, someday I won’t have to say those dreaded words, “Sorry, I don’t drink red wine.” Until that day, I will stick to mostly white wines and keep on trying the occasional red — you never know, maybe one day, I’ll grow out of it — just a theory I have.

To your health!

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