What’s In Wine That Causes Headaches

Have you ever suffered from a throbbing headache after savoring a glass or two of wine? If yes, you’re definitely not alone. Numerous individuals resort to taking ibuprofen the following morning after indulging in their …

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Have you ever suffered from a throbbing headache after savoring a glass or two of wine? If yes, you’re definitely not alone. Numerous individuals resort to taking ibuprofen the following morning after indulging in their preferred red or white. But what exactly is the element in wine that can trigger these troublesome headaches?

As a wine enthusiast, I’ve had my fair share of wine-induced headaches and have done some digging to uncover the culprits. While there isn’t one specific component that can be solely blamed for these headaches, several factors come into play.

The Role of Histamines

Histamines are naturally occurring compounds found in various foods and beverages, including wine. These compounds are released by our immune system in response to allergens. Histamines are responsible for dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow, which can lead to headaches. Red wines, in particular, tend to have higher levels of histamines due to the grape skins‘ contact during the fermentation process. If you’re prone to allergies or have a histamine intolerance, your body may react more strongly to these compounds.

Sulfites and Sensitivity

Sulfites are a common addition to wine, acting as a preservative to prevent spoilage. While sulfites are generally safe for most people, some individuals can be sensitive to them. Sulfite sensitivity can cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and even breathing difficulties. However, it’s important to note that sulfite-induced headaches are relatively rare, and the concentration of sulfites in wine is typically much lower than in other foods, such as dried fruits or processed meats. If you suspect sulfites may be the culprit, opt for wines labeled as “low sulfite” or “sulfite-free.”

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Tannins and Dehydration

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems. They give red wines their characteristic astringency and can contribute to headaches, especially when consumed in excess. Tannins have been shown to inhibit the release of serotonin in the brain, which can lead to vasoconstriction and subsequent headaches. Additionally, tannins can have a drying effect on the mouth, potentially leading to dehydration if not accompanied by adequate hydration. Ensure you’re drinking plenty of water alongside your wine to stay hydrated.

Alcohol and Blood Vessels

Alcohol itself can also contribute to headaches, even in the absence of other compounds. When consumed, alcohol causes blood vessels in the brain to expand, which can trigger headaches. This effect is more pronounced in individuals who are prone to migraines or have a lower tolerance to alcohol. If you’re sensitive to alcohol, opting for lower-alcohol wines or diluting your wine with sparkling water can help mitigate the headache-inducing effects.


While the exact cause of wine headaches may vary from person to person, it’s likely a combination of factors at play. Histamines, sulfites, tannins, and alcohol all have the potential to contribute to that throbbing head the morning after indulging in your favorite bottle. It’s worth noting that not everyone reacts the same way, and some individuals may be more sensitive to these compounds than others.

If you find yourself succumbing to wine headaches frequently, it may be helpful to keep a journal tracking the types of wine you consume and any accompanying symptoms. This can help you identify patterns and pinpoint specific triggers to avoid in the future. Additionally, practicing moderation, staying hydrated, and opting for wines lower in histamines and sulfites may help reduce the likelihood of experiencing wine-induced headaches.

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Remember, enjoying a glass of wine should be a pleasure, not a pain. So raise your glass, savor the flavors, and drink responsibly!

John has been a hobbyist winemaker for several years, with a few friends who are winery owners. He writes mostly about winemaking topics for newer home vintners.
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