A study published in ‘Science Advances’ has found that some people are unable to drink red wine, even in small quantities, because it can cause them to develop headaches. According to the study, a compound called flavanol found in red wines can interfere with the proper metabolism of alcohol and lead to headaches. This finding was made by a team from the University of California at Davis (USA).
The flavanol that is the cause of headaches is called quercetin, and it is naturally present in all types of fruits and vegetables, including grapes. While it is considered a healthy antioxidant and is even consumed as a supplement, when metabolized with alcohol, it can be problematic. Quercetin is converted into a different form called quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol and leads to the buildup of acetaldehyde toxin. This causes redness, headache, and nausea in susceptible people.
The researchers hypothesize that this buildup of acetaldehyde is likely what causes headaches, particularly in people who have a preexisting migraine or other primary headache condition. The next step is to test this hypothesis scientifically in people who develop these headaches. The levels of quercetin in red wine can vary dramatically based on a number of factors including how the wine is made, and the scientists are planning a clinical trial to test their theory about headaches caused by red wine.
The study also revealed that there are still many unknowns about the causes of red wine headaches. For example, it is not clear why some people seem more susceptible than others, and it is not known if the enzymes in people who develop these headaches are more easily inhibited by quercetin. The researchers also plan to investigate if the population is simply more easily affected by the buildup of the acetaldehyde toxin. Overall, this study sheds light on the previously mysterious phenomenon of red wine headaches.