Why Does Wine Give Me a Headache?
Why Does Wine Give Me a Headache?
Are Sulfites the Cause?
Though we’ve already covered this a bit in our article about popular wine myths, a very strong misconception still exists regarding the relationship between headaches and sulfites. We’ve found that sulfites still get quite a bad reputation, as many people still blame their hangovers and headaches on sulfites, especially after drinking red wine. Typically, these red wines are from the New World region, Australia, California and others. Before we condemn sulfites any further, let’s take a look at the real facts and sort truth from fiction.
Sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, and as such, occur in small traces in almost every wine on the planet. Some winemakers add Sulfur Dioxide (a sulfite) to their wine to control the fermentation process. This allows winemakers to control microbes and prevent unwanted organisms from thriving in the wine. This method has been used in winemaking for hundreds of years, all over the planet. It was the Europeans who actually invented this process.
Sulfites are also present in many other foods and beverages (in larger quantities than occur in wine) like orange juice, salad bars, dried fruits and even French fries. Still, we don't hear nearly as many complaints about them as we do with wines. So far, in medical literature, there has been no evidence to indicate a reliable link between sulfites and headaches.
Wine is not the only product we consume with sulfites, either. Many other foods contain sulfites (either naturally or added) in much larger quantities, such as garlic, onions, some dried fruits, and even French fries. Yet, none of these foods (and there are many more that contain sulfites) receive the same kind of blame for causing headaches or any other sulfite related issues. On top of that, there is no conclusive evidence in medical literature that establishes a reliable link between sulfites and headaches.
So, if there is no evidence that sulfites in wine result in headaches, what is with that label on most US made wines warning us about the presence of sulfites? The United States FDA mandates this warning label mainly because a small percentage of the population can have severe (as in potentially fatal) allergic reactions to sulfites. People who are allergic to sulfites typically suffer from asthma as well. The warning label has absolutely nothing to do with the many claims that sulfites in wine (or otherwise) cause headaches. Even so, some wines have low enough sulfite levels that they are not required to label their product as containing sulfites.
If sulfites are not to blame, then who is the real headache culprit? Regardless of the cause, many people still experience headaches after consuming wine, especially red wines. There are actually several theories, most of which linking people who suffer headaches after consuming wine to those who suffer from allergies in general. Red wine, for example, contains certain histamines from grape skins, which may trigger allergic reactions in some people. These histamines can also combine with the alcohol to cause a drowsy effect. There are other organic elements in wines, such as yeast, tannins, and traces of proteins that may also be responsible for causing allergic reactions. Let’s not forget about the most common cause of headache associated with alcohol consumption: the hangover. Drinking alcohol in any volume often dehydrates your body and excessive consumption often leads to the dreaded hangover.
At The Tipsy Grape, we feel that more times than not it is excessive consumption of alcohol causing your headaches, and probably not the sulfites (unless you are allergic to sulfites). The next time you fill your personalized wine glasses with your favorite merlot, keep in mind it might be your guests causing your headache and not the sulfites. If you are as sick of this myth as we are, you could even purchase custom wine glasses engraved with something funny like "Don't Blame The Sulfites". Either way, next time you have a headache after drinking wine, please don’t immediately blame the sulfites!