Researchers at the University of California have uncovered the cause behind red wine headaches, solving a “millennia-old mystery” that has puzzled scientists for centuries. These researchers discovered that a naturally occurring compound called quercetin may be responsible for inducing migraines, flushes, nausea, and headaches when combined with red wine.
Quercetin is an otherwise-healthy antioxidant and a type of flavanol, a plant pigment which gives fruit and vegetables their color. When it gets in your bloodstream, your body converts quercetin to a different form called quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. This can lead to an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body, which causes facial flushing, headache, and nausea.
The study by Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department also found that not all red wines have the same effect on headaches. Factors such as sunlight exposure, ageing process and wine-making method all play a role in determining whether or not a glass of red wine will trigger an immediate headache. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin and therefore more likely to trigger near-immediate headaches.
Dr Apramita Devi also notes that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches. The next step is now to test this scientifically on people who develop these headaches in order to confirm these findings.
Professor Morris Levin concludes: “We think we are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery.”