Suffolk: What’s causing your ‘wine headache’? We ask the experts from the East Anglian Wine School

Why does wine give you a headache?

Why does wine give you a headache? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Neil Bull of The East Anglian Wine School, reveals the elements in plonk that could be the root of your Sunday morning hangover.

The most obvious cause of a headache after drinking wine is that too much wine leads to a state of drunkenness and dehydration.

When alcohol and sugar are consumed lots of water is needed to help process these substances. A poorly hydrated body will pull the necessary water from wherever it can, including the head. As the liquid in the head is depleted, a headache forms.

However, some people complain that just a sip of wine can cause an instant headache. Why? Many people blame sulphites. These chemical compounds occur naturally at low levels during the process of fermentation. Sulphites are added by winemakers to protect the wine from oxidation and it also prevents the wine from fermenting to vinegar. T

hey are used by wineries to clean fermentation tanks, pipes, hoses, valves and other parts of the equipment used in winemaking. It is suggested that they cause asthma symptoms but it is highly unlikely that they cause headaches - if eating dried fruit (which also contain high levels of sulphites) doesn’t cause a headache, neither will drinking wine.


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Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside in the grape skins and may well be another culprit. In the case of red wine the juice is kept in contact with the skins in order to extract colour, flavour and tannins, so if red wine causes a headache perhaps tannins are responsible.

To test this, make a cup of strong tea, do not add milk, and let it brew for five or ten minutes. Black tea is strong in tannins and longer brewing will extract the tannins. If drinking the tea produces a headache then tannins are to blame so stay away from red wine.

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Another possible cause of headache is reaction to naturally occurring compounds, called amines, found in fermented drinks and aged food. Wine contains two types of amines – histamine and tyramines.

Where histamine dilates the blood vessels in the brain, tyramines constrict them, both of which can create headaches. Amines are present in certain cheeses and almost all processed food, so if these types of foods cause adverse reactions then the same result is likely with wine.

At this time there is no proof of the exact culprit, there are only well-researched theories. There are so many wines, and so many people, that finding a matching cause is proving difficult, but hopefully this has provided some useful background

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