New study reveals clues into mystery of red wine headaches

A recent study has provided new insights into the origin of headaches caused by red wine consumption, potentially solving a long-standing mystery. Scientists believe that a natural grape component might activate a process leading towine headachesin certain individuals who drink red wine.

Researchers, including experts from UC Davis, have made progress in understanding why red wine tends to induce headaches in some people. They've identified a specific phenolic compound naturally occurring in red wines that could trigger a mechanism resulting in headaches.

The study noted that approximately 16% of the global population experiences daily headaches of various types, with alcohol being a known trigger, especially in large amounts. However, for some, even a moderate intake of red wine, as little as one or two glasses, can lead to a headache within 30 minutes to three hours, according to previous research from 2008. Until now, no specific chemical cause or mechanism had been pinpointed, despite several wine components being associated with wine-related headaches.

The researchers highlighted that phenolics and high phenolic foods were not previously linked to headaches. However, they discovered that a flavanol called quercetin, found in varying amounts in red wines, might disrupt the body's alcohol metabolism. Quercetin, known as a beneficial antioxidant found in grapes and various fruits and vegetables, could potentially lead to issues when combined with alcohol.

Andrew Waterhouse, a wine chemist and coauthor of the study from UC Davis, explained that when quercetin enters the bloodstream, the body converts it into a different form called quercetin glucuronide. In this form, it impedes alcohol metabolism, resulting in the accumulation of a toxin called acetaldehyde, which is associated with headaches and nausea, as stated by Apramita Devi, the lead study author and a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis.

Morris Levin, a neurology professor and Headache Center director at the University of California, San Francisco, suggested that individuals with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions might experience exacerbated symptoms due to this mechanism.

The researchers emphasised the need for clinical trials to validate their hypothesis, acknowledging that much remains unknown about the causes of red wine-induced headaches and why they affect certain individuals more than others. Levin expressed optimism, stating they believe they are finally making progress in unraveling this age-old mystery and that the next step is testing the theory on individuals prone to these headaches.

In summary, the study suggests that a compound found in red wine, when combined with alcohol, might interfere with alcohol metabolism, potentially leading to the accumulation of a headache-inducing toxin. Further research and trials are necessary to confirm these findings and better understand why red wine headaches impact specific individuals.

Researched by Raquel Jones

To read full scientific report from UC Davisclick here