Researchers at the University of California have finally uncovered the reason behind why drinking red wine can cause almost immediate headaches. The naturally occurring compound, quercetin, is to blame. Quercetin is an antioxidant and a type of flavanol, which gives fruit and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol, causing migraines, flushes, nausea and headaches.
Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department explained that when quercetin gets in your bloodstream, your body converts it to a different form called quercetin glucuronide. In that form, it blocks the metabolism of alcohol. Quercetin glucuronide can also prompt acetaldehyde, a toxin, to accumulate in the body. Dr Apramita Devi added that acetaldehyde is a well-known toxin, irritant and inflammatory substance. High levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headache and nausea.
It’s important to note that not all red wines have the same effect on headaches. Sunlight exposure, age and the wine-making process can all influence whether a glass will trigger a headache. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin and therefore more likely to cause near-immediate headaches. People with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are also more likely to suffer from red wine headaches