What In Wine Causes Headaches

As a wine enthusiast, I am constantly intrigued by the complex flavors and aromas that various wines offer. Yet, like numerous individuals, I’ve also experienced the undesirable effect of headaches following the consumption of a …

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As a wine enthusiast, I am constantly intrigued by the complex flavors and aromas that various wines offer. Yet, like numerous individuals, I’ve also experienced the undesirable effect of headaches following the consumption of a glass or two of my favorite wine. This annoying situation has prompted me to wonder: which particular ingredient in wine causes this reaction?

When it comes to pinpointing the exact cause of wine-induced headaches, it is essential to understand that it can vary from person to person. However, there are a few primary culprits that are commonly associated with this unwelcome side effect.


One of the most frequently blamed components for wine headaches is sulfites. Sulfites are a naturally occurring compound in wine that act as a preservative to maintain freshness and prevent oxidation. While sulfites are found in many foods and beverages, wine tends to have higher levels, particularly in white wines.

It’s important to note that only a small percentage of the population is genuinely sensitive to sulfites, and for those individuals, headaches can be a common symptom. However, it’s essential not to jump to conclusions as sulfite intolerance is relatively uncommon.


Tannins, another frequently cited suspect, are natural compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems that add structure, texture, and astringency to wine. Red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec, are known for their higher tannin content.

Tannins alone are unlikely to cause headaches, but they can contribute to the problem when coupled with other factors. The astringency caused by tannins can lead to dehydration, triggering headaches in some individuals who are more susceptible to dehydration-related headaches.

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Histamines are compounds naturally occurring in many fermented and aged products, including wine. They are released during the fermentation process and can trigger allergic reactions in some people, leading to headaches.

Individuals who are more prone to histamine intolerance or have sensitivities to other histamine-rich foods may experience wine headaches due to the histamine content in certain wines.


Lastly, it’s important not to overlook the role of alcohol itself. Wine, like all alcoholic beverages, can cause dehydration, which can contribute to headaches. Additionally, alcohol can dilate blood vessels, leading to increased blood flow to the brain, potentially triggering headaches in some individuals.

While these are the primary factors often associated with wine-induced headaches, it’s crucial to remember that everyone’s tolerance and sensitivity levels vary. Identifying the specific trigger for your headaches may require some trial and error.


As a wine lover, it’s disheartening to experience headaches after enjoying a glass of my favorite vintage. However, understanding the potential causes behind wine-induced headaches has helped me navigate this issue better.

It’s important to note that many other factors, such as dehydration, drinking on an empty stomach, or even the presence of congeners (by-products of fermentation), can contribute to headaches as well. Experimenting with different wine types, consuming in moderation, and staying hydrated can all help mitigate the likelihood of wine-related headaches.

Ultimately, finding the balance between indulging in the pleasure of wine and avoiding the potential discomfort of headaches is a personal journey. Remember, what matters most is savoring and enjoying the experience responsibly.

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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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