Some people get headaches from wine, red in particular, and it has become a generally accepted theory that sulfites are the cause. But scientific research says differently. The headaches are real, but sulfites may not be to blame.
It just doesn’t seem right that wine should cause suffering. But it is a fact that some people do experience an unpleasant reaction to red wine. The most common complaint has even earned its own acronym – RWH – Red Wine Headaches. Most RWHers will say they are allergic to sulfites. However, research does not entirely support this. According to the medical community, sulfites can cause many other reactions, but usually not headaches. And the fact that some white wines (and a lot of our food products) contain more sulfites than red wines, indicates there may be something else at work.
Sulfites are used as a preservative in wine and many food products. (See Sulfites Purify and Preserve Wine…) They are also a natural derivative of the fermentation process. People who are allergic will most likely experience sneezing, tightness in the throat, and difficulty breathing but a direct correlation to headaches has not been found.
So what else could cause RWH? There are several theories, some are based in the physical properties of red wine and some are lifestyle issues.
- Bio-amines are formed when wine goes through malolactic fermentation, a process that converts tart-tasting malic acid into soft-tasting lactic acid. This process is mostly used in red wines and just a few whites. And it is not used when making wine from wine kits. Bio – amines such as histamine are known to cause headaches. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malolactic_fermentation).
– Tannins are a chemical substance that comes from the grape seeds, skins and stems that red wine is fermented on. They also can be present in oak and other types of wood used in barrels that store wine. Tannins help prevent oxidation and facilitate the aging of a red wine. Experiments show that tannins also release serotonin, which, at a high enough level, can cause headaches.
- Tyramine is produced during the aging or fermenting of food. Research indicates that it may cause dilation and contraction of blood vessels resulting in a headache.
– Too much or too little – The last theory has to do with how we drink wine. Regardless of wine color, amount of sulfites, tannins, etc., and potential allergies, drinking too much wine will give you a headache. In line with this, some claim that the reason Europeans or Americans traveling in Europe don’t get RWH is that they drink their wine slowly over the course of a hearty delicious meal, minimizing or eliminating the adverse affects of drinking red wine too fast and with too little food in your stomach.
There is a wealth of information regarding sulfites and wine headaches on the Internet. You also can do some experimenting yourself with different wines. If you do have reactions, it may not be to all wine and there are plenty of different varieties and options. Find the ones that work for you and stick with them or take your cue from the Europeans and linger over a great glass of red wine and a good healthy meal. Who, knows? You may be able to say arrivederci, au revoir and good riddance to your RWH.
Check out these sites to learn more:
November 15th, 2011 by David in wine facts
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