3 Reasons Why Wine is Giving You a Headache (And Sulfites Ain’t One of Them!)

Aug 19, 2020

ty morrison

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Getting a headache after a night of drinking is the worst! I mean how can something so good, sometimes leave you feeling like crap?! My first regret is always not drinking enough water. You’d think that after three decades on this earth that I’d know better, but no…that’s one lesson that I continue to learn over and over again.

Headaches caused by wine are a different breed. I know a lot people tend to stay away from red wine for that reason. But, what is the true cause behind wine headaches? Some people get them and others not so much. It’s not rocket science, yet there is a huge myth out there that has a lot of people misinformed. I really wanted to get to the bottom of it and set the record straight once and for all.

Sulfites aren’t your problem!

For years, I’ve read that sulfites were the primary cause of wine headaches. Let’s break this down. Sulfites are a preservative that’s widely used in winemaking (and most food industries) for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Sulfites play an important role in preventing oxidization and maintaining a wine’s freshness. They keep red wines bright and keep white wines from browning. And they’re also a natural byproduct of fermentation, so it’s impossible to make a truly sulfite-free wine. And, here’s a piece of information that people tend to overlook. Sulfites are found in food too!

Again, it’s a preservative, so you’ll most likely find it in foods like:

  • canned/frozen fruits and vegetables,
  • fruit and vegetables juices,
  • fruit fillings and syrups, jams, jellies and other preserves,
  • dried fruits and vegetables, like apricots, coconut, raisins and sweet potato.

Did you know that dried fruits have about 10 times more sulfites than wine? So, if you don’t get a headache from eating dried apricots you probably shouldn’t assume that sulfites are the cause of your wine headache either.

And, that’s something that I didn’t even learn until recently. But, I do want to note that there is a small (I do mean small..less that one percent of the U.S. population) group that are sensitive to sulfites. And, if you do have a sulfite allergy it is more likely to reveal itself through something other than wine. For example, asthma symptoms. So, if sulfites aren’t triggering your wine headaches, then what is? It’s a simple and short list, but let’s do a quick rundown so that you’re in the know!

Reason #1: Dehydration

I told you before, it’s not rocket science. Yes, alcohol can dehydrate you if you’re not drinking enough water. I seriously struggle with drinking water. I drink wine like water, when I should be drinking water the way I drink wine.

It’s an everyday struggle that really gets me into trouble when I’m consuming wine. But, alcohol also has a diuretic effect on the body, meaning it causes you to urinate more frequently. That’s the reason why people have to go pee every 30 seconds when they’re drinking. You’d think that going pee is a good thing to cleanse the alcohol out of the body, but increased urination also depletes the levels of electrolytes in our bodies, including sodium, magnesium and potassium.This can lead to an electrolyte imbalance which has been linked to other hangover symptoms such as headaches, nausea and body aches. Alcohol removes water and important nutrients from your body, making those dreaded hangovers longer and worse. So, you can see the importance of keeping your body hydrated with water while you’re drinking wine or any type of alcohol.

You can avoid headaches caused by dehydration by drinking one full 8-oz (250 ml) glass of water with every serving of wine. I know it’s hard, but you gotta put forth the effort if you don’t want that annoying headache. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to start hydrating before you start drinking and certainly after to start rehydrating your body. You know what?! Let’s just make this easy and make sure that you have water with you the whole time and that you’re constantly drinking it!

Reason #2: Sugar

Alcohol and sugar are two substances that when combined can create a powerful headache. When your body consumes alcohol or sugar, you need lots of water in order to help process the substances. If you are not well hydrated, your body starts to pull the necessary water it needs from other parts or your body, including your head.

As the liquid in your head starts to deplete, a headache forms. Keep this in mind if you’re a fan of sweeter wines. But, where people may be really getting caught up is the quality of wine they’re consuming. I’m not opposed to a cheap bottle of wine. However, cheaper wines tend to have more sugar due to the fact that mass producers add sugar during fermentation in order to boost the alcohol. So, start looking at the amount of sugar in your wine as well.

Reason #3: Biogenic Amines like Tyramine or Histamine

A lot of research suggests that the headache culprits might be histamine and tyramine, other chemical substances that are naturally present in wine. Histamine dilates blood vessels and tyramine first constricts then dilates blood vessels. People who most often have trouble with histamine in wine are those who lack an enzyme in their intestines that can help them metabolize histamine. Tyramine, meantime, can cause your blood pressure to rise, and that triggers headaches in some people too. These same people might get headaches from aged cheeses, smoked or cured meats, and citrus fruits.

So, instead of sulfites you might want to look more into histamines and tyramines. Just saying…

Ultimately, I wanted to talk about the real causes of wine headaches because a lot of people think that drinking certain types of wine that are natural, organic, or clean are the cure. Low sulfites in a wine does not make it a “headache-free wine.” 

Don’t fall for the okie doke! At the end of the day wine is wine AND wine is made with…..ding, ding, ding ALCOHOL and SUGAR. And, you just read the effects that those two agents can have on your body. Drinking water (stay hydrated friends), moderation (if you’re drinking a lot, you’re probably not going to feel so great the next day), and looking at the quality of wine you’re drinking can help save you the headache in the long run. And, there may be people like me who may never learn, but at least you’ll know the REAL reason your body is reacting this way. Hope this will help you make better decisions the next time you pick up a glass of wine. Until next time…glasses up!

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About theBlog

In 2015, I started the YGOM blog as a creative outlet to chronicle my journey to learning about wine. I started off mainly reviewing different wines and wine-related events. As my passion and knowledge grew, I began offering tips and advice to make wine consuming fun and easy for wine lovers, especially those who were novice drinkers. Over the past six years, the YGOM blog has evolved into a valuable resource helping readers better understand their palates.

Today, as the vision for YGOM has expanded, the blog will focus on highlighting fun, out-the-box experiences that put a fresh new spin on wine. Consider this your guide to finding wine activities to add to your “must try” list. We’ll also provide tips and hacks that will teach you how to elevate your own wine experiences whether you’re at home, hanging out with friends, or entertaining a group. YGOM is going to help you feel confident in your wine knowledge no matter the occasion.