March 2, 2024

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Researchers Uncover Reasons Why Drinking Red Wine Can Lead to Headaches

Researchers Uncover Reasons Why Drinking Red Wine Can Lead to Headaches



Researchers Uncover Reasons Why Drinking Red Wine Can Lead to Headaches

The notorious side effects of alcohol consumption have been a constant struggle throughout human history.

The accumulation of acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol, often results in symptoms such as headaches and nausea after a few drinks.

Acetaldehyde, a chemical substance, lingers in the body after the metabolism of ethanol by the liver. Its toxicity is significant, and an inability to effectively eliminate acetaldehyde leads to various common discomforts, including headaches and facial flushing.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, suggest that the combination of resveratrol and alcohol may be the cause of “red wine headaches.” 

Researchers Uncover Reasons Why Drinking Red Wine Can Lead to Headaches

However, one alcoholic beverage has gained a particularly notorious reputation for triggering headaches. For centuries, it has been believed that red wine is more likely to induce headaches than other drinks, but the specific reasons for this have remained unclear. What exactly makes red wine more prone to causing headaches than other alcoholic beverages?

Over the years, various hypotheses have been proposed. Some suggest that sulfites added to red wine may cause allergic reactions, leading to headaches. Others point out that the higher histamine content in red wine might be the culprit. Recently, researchers turned their attention to a group of compounds in red wine known as flavonols.

A scientific team at the University of California, Davis, conducted a new study, magnifying about a dozen specific flavonols found in red wine. The researchers aimed to determine if these compounds had any impact on acetaldehyde metabolism.

In vitro studies quickly highlighted a particular chemical substance – quercetin. Quercetin is considered a rather beneficial flavonol, present in many fruits and vegetables and known for its anti-inflammatory properties. However, the study found that when quercetin combines with alcohol, it inhibits the action of an enzyme responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde in our bodies.

Researchers Uncover Reasons Why Drinking Red Wine Can Lead to Headaches

The lead author of the new study, Andrew Waterhouse, explained, “When quercetin enters your bloodstream, your body converts it into a different form called quercetin glucuronide. In this form, it can inhibit the metabolism of alcohol.”

Fundamentally, the hypothesis suggests that the more quercetin present in wine, the slower our bodies metabolize acetaldehyde, leading to the well-known and disliked side effects of alcohol poisoning. Of course, this may not be the sole reason for red wine headaches, as not everyone experiences these negative effects so intensely. Co-author Morris Levin speculates that those plagued by red wine headaches may likely have other conditions making them more susceptible to the influence of quercetin.

“We speculate that when susceptible individuals consume wine containing a sufficient amount of quercetin, they experience headaches, especially if they have a pre-existing migraine or other primary headache disorder,” Levin said. “We believe we are finally on the right track to unraveling this millennium-old mystery.”

The researchers are now preparing to test their hypothesis in a small-scale human clinical trial, studying the effects of different concentrations of quercetin in wine on human headaches.

This new study has been published in Scientific Reports.

Researchers Uncover Reasons Why Drinking Red Wine Can Lead to Headaches

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