Researchers at the University of California have finally solved the “millennia-old mystery” of why red wine can cause near-immediate headaches, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. While it is common for next-day hangovers to occur with drinking sessions, red wine headaches can strike within 30 minutes to three hours after consuming just one small glass. The study reveals that a naturally occurring compound called quercetin, found in fruit and vegetables, may be responsible for these headaches.
Quercetin is an antioxidant and a type of flavanol, which gives fruits and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol, causing migraines, flushes, nausea, as well as headaches. Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department explains that when quercetin gets into your bloodstream, your body converts it to a different form called quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. Quercetin glucuronide can also prompt acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism, to accumulate in the body.
Fellow researcher Dr Apramita Devi notes that high levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headache, and nausea. Additionally, the study suggests that not all red wines have the same effect on headaches. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin and trigger near-immediate headaches due to this compound’s presence in them. Finally, Professor Morris Levin co-author of the study indicates that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches.
Levin concludes that “We think we are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery,” indicating that further research needs to be conducted scientifically on people who develop these headaches.
The team conducted experiments using human cells and animal models to determine how quercetin affects alcohol metabolism in the liver and intestines.
In addition to revealing how quercetin disrupts alcohol metabolism leading to red wine headaches, researchers also discovered new potential treatments for these types of migraines.
Dr Devi said: “Our findings suggest that certain compounds found in some herbs could potentially be used as natural remedies for red wine headaches.”