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Why red wine causes headaches

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New research explains why red wine causes headaches, and it’s not just due to the presence of alcohol.

Small amounts of alcohol can cause headaches. The first thing we think is that alcohol is the cause, but according to a new study, there could be other factors as well.

Some people know this feeling: They drink a glass of red wine in the evening and wake up the next morning with a headache. And this doesn’t happen when they drink other drinks that contain a lot of alcohol, so it is concluded that this pain is caused by something else.

Antioxidants in red wine

A scientific team led by researcher Apramita Devi from the University of California, Davis (USA) found the answer, discovering that an antioxidant called quercetin, found in red grapes, can change the way the body processes alcohol metabolized.

According to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, quercetin is a health-promoting substance, but in this case it has a negative effect on people who drink alcohol.

Side effects of resveratrol

When quercetin enters the bloodstream, the body converts it into quercetin glucuronidesaid Andrew Waterhouse, wine chemist and co-author of the study. This secondary substance causes acetaldehyde, an intermediate product in the breakdown of alcohol, to build up in the body and cause symptoms such as headaches. Acetaldehyde is a toxic, irritant, and inflammatory substance that in high concentrations can cause facial flushing, headaches, and nausea.

Until this study, research has largely focused on the numerous phenolic compounds found in red wine, particularly so-called flavonoids like quercetin, which are known to cause headaches because red wine contains large amounts of them. This substance occurs about ten times more frequently in red wine than in white wine. But cherries, plums and berries also contain large amounts of flavonoids and do not cause headaches.

The grape variety determines the flavonoid content

Waterhouse, co-author of the study, notes that flavonoid content can vary significantly between red wines. For example, red wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from California’s Napa Valley contains high levels of quercetin. The amount of flavonoids in red wine depends primarily on the amount of sunlight the grapes are exposed to during ripening.

Growing grapes exposed to sunlight, like Cabernets in Napa Valley, results in much higher levels of quercetin. In some cases it can be four to five times higher than other types of wine.

Paradoxically, winemakers may be interested in having less resveratrol in their wines, a substance that, when not combined with alcohol, has positive health effects.

According to scientists, it is still unclear why some people are more prone to headaches than others due to the quercetin found in wine.

On the other hand, it should be noted that quercetin, although not the subject of the study, is found not only in grapes but also in many other foods that, when combined with alcohol, can cause headaches and affect sensitive people.

Foods that contain quercetin include onions, apples, berries, broccoli, oranges and other citrus fruits, cherries, green tea, coffee, red wine and capers.

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