A study published in ‘Science Advances’ has shed light on why some people are unable to drink red wine, even in small quantities, without experiencing a headache. The study conducted by a team from the University of California at Davis (USA) found that a flavanol, a compound found naturally in red wines, can interfere with the proper metabolism of alcohol and cause headaches.
Specifically, this flavanol is called quercetin and is naturally present in all types of fruits and vegetables, including grapes. It is considered a healthy antioxidant and is even consumed as a supplement, but when metabolized with alcohol, it can be problematic. When it reaches the bloodstream, the body converts it into a different form called quercetin glucuronide. This blocks the metabolism of alcohol and causes the buildup of acetaldehyde toxin.
The buildup of acetaldehyde toxin causes redness, headache, and nausea. 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 also causes these same symptoms because it causes the toxin to build up in the body when normally an enzyme in the body 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 susceptible people who consume wine with even modest amounts of quercetin may develop headaches, particularly if they have a preexisting migraine or other primary headache condition. Morris Levin, professor of neurology and director of Headache Center at the University of California-San Francisco co-authored the study and explains that they believe this is finally on the right path towards explaining this ancient mystery. However, researchers still don’t know why some people seem more susceptible than others or if there are any other factors involved in causing red wine headaches.