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Uncovering the Causes of Red Wine Headaches in Specific Individuals


Nov 20, 2023

Red wine is a popular beverage, but some individuals cannot consume it, even in small quantities, due to the headache it causes. A recent study published in ‘Science Advances’ explains why.

A team from the University of California at Davis (USA) has found that quercetin, a compound found naturally in red wines, can interfere with the proper metabolism of alcohol and cause headaches. Quercetin is a flavanol that is present in all types of fruits and vegetables, including grapes. It is considered a healthy antioxidant and consumed as a supplement. However, when metabolized with alcohol, it can be problematic.

When it reaches the bloodstream, quercetin gets converted into a different form called quercetin glucuronide. This conversion blocks the metabolism of alcohol and leads to an accumulation of acetaldehyde toxin in the body. The buildup of acetaldehyde causes redness, headache, and nausea.

Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance known for its irritating and inflammatory properties. Researchers know that high levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial redness, headache, and nausea. The medicine disulfiram prescribed to alcoholics to prevent them from drinking causes these same symptoms because it also causes the toxin to build up in the body when normally an enzyme would break it down. About 40% of the East Asian population also has an enzyme that doesn’t work very well allowing acetaldehyde to build up in your system.

The study suggests that when susceptible people consume wine with even modest amounts of quercetin and have preexisting migraine or other primary headache conditions; they develop headaches due to this interference with alcohol metabolism. Further research is needed to understand more about this ancient mystery fully. For example, researchers do not know why some people seem more susceptible than others or if there are any underlying genetic factors involved in this condition. Additionally, levels of quercetin can vary dramatically in red wine due to factors such as skin contact during fermentation or aging processes used by winemakers.

To test their theory about red wine headaches further

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