Several years ago when I had started promoting wine in India as a culture and lifestyle product, some people would tell me they loved red wine but could not drink it as it gave them a headache; the complaints were more from Indian women. Invariably, when I asked them if they were allergic to sulphur they would respond with a wow expression and say, ‘yes, but how did you know that?!’ That’s because I sincerely believed that this was the cause. It was even more intriguing when a few years ago a study had shown that Asians were more prone to such headaches. My advice to them used to be to drink organic wine as it had practically no sulphur, drink better quality wine, drink softer wine (low tannins), drink in moderation (2-3 glasses) and drink as much water as possible.
I am not sure how much my advice helped or if people took me seriously or were just polite; but the headache story continues. Once I wrote an Article about Sulphites being the possible cause of headaches. I was criticised heavily by some people who read the Article and their comments were duly published. It does appear that Sulfites are not the main culprit. In an Article yesterday in Seattle Times, Dr. Frederick G. Freitag, a headache specialist and associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, reportedly says that headache is not a common symptom of allergies.“You never hear about ‘the salad-bar headache, ” said Freitag, who has studied the various causes for headaches for nearly 25 years.
Sulfites are used to keep foods from browning, for instance, at salad bars or in dried fruit. Although a very small percentage of people have a sulphite allergy, the Food and Drug Administration in the USA requires the winemakers to mention on each bottle that it contains sulphite,’ says Prof. Waterhouse, wine chemistry specialist in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California Davis. I have met Andrew a couple of times in Napa during the International Conference on Heart Health; he firmly believes in the heart benefits of the tannins because of the resveratrol in them.
Some people may think sulfites are the problem because of the “contains sulfites” phrase mentioned by law, on wine labels since the 1980s. “They look at the bottle … and they think, ‘Oh my goodness, if it contains sulfites, that must be dangerous, ” he reportedly said. Most winemakers add a small amount of sulfite to keep wine from oxidizing. Besides sulfites also occur naturally during fermentation.
Tyramine and tannins are the suspects
Tyramine is a naturally occurring amino acid often produced by fermentation. It can affect blood pressure and has been known to trigger migraine headaches in people who can’t break down the substance, according to Freitag.
Both Freitag and Waterhouse agree there is growing evidence that tannins cause the headaches. They are found in grape skin and seeds. In white wine production, most of the skin and seeds are removed, but in red wine those are kept as part of the fermentation process. Aged foods such as cheese have high tyramine levels. Consuming wine and cheese together can compound the headache risk. In combination with tannins, stress may also affect whether headaches occur.
Tips for Prevention
Dr. Seymour Diamond, executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation and the director emeritus of the Diamond Headache Clinic, offered a few prevention tips, as quoted by the writer, Debbie Carlson.
1. Drinking two strong cups of coffee before imbibing can help as caffeine constricts the blood vessels and can inhibit vasorelaxation.
2. A little bit of honey in coffee may help, as the fructose in honey can metabolize the alcohol faster.
3. Red-wine drinkers might want to try lighter-coloured and lighter-bodied wines, like pinot noir with lower levels of tannin, says Andrew.
4. Drinking water also helps. Not only does water dilute the effect of the wine overall, but wine itself is dehydrating.
5. Have a glass of water before starting drinking. Or sip water along as you sip the wine slowly.
6. Avoid having mature cheese and wine together, if you are prone to headaches.
For a few of the earlier Articles on the subject, kindly visit:
Wine Headaches through Sulfites and their Removal
Low Histamine Wines for Fewer Headaches
Study to help reduce Wine Headaches
Headache Culprit in Wine Identified
Ozone can help reduce wine headaches