A team of researchers from the University of California has finally solved a “millennia-old mystery” about why red wine can cause near-immediate headaches, according to Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse. These researchers discovered that quercetin, a naturally occurring compound and an antioxidant found in fruit and vegetables, may be responsible for this phenomenon. When combined with red wine, it disrupts the body’s ability to break down alcohol, leading to migraines, flushes, nausea and headaches.
Professor Morris Levin explained that when quercetin enters the bloodstream, it gets converted into quercetin glucuronide which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. This conversion also prompts acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism, to accumulate in the body. High levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headache and nausea.
It is noteworthy that not all red wines have the same effect on headaches; factors such as sunlight exposure, aging process and wine-making techniques influence whether a glass will trigger a headache. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high amounts of quercetin and thus more likely to induce an immediate headache. Additionally, people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches according to Dr Apramita Devi.
Levin stated that they are now one step closer to explaining this age-old conundrum and indicated that their next step is to test their findings on people who develop these headaches scientifically.