Red wine headaches have been a mystery for centuries, but a new study published in ‘Science Advances’ may finally provide an answer. A team from the University of California at Davis (USA) has found that a flavanol, a compound found naturally in red wines, is the culprit behind these headaches.
Specifically, this flavanol is called quercetin and is 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.
When quercetin reaches the bloodstream, the body converts it into a different form called quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. The buildup of acetaldehyde toxin causes redness, headache, and nausea. This toxin is also known to be an irritant and inflammatory substance that can cause high levels of acetaldehyde to accumulate in the body.
The study suggests that people who are susceptible to red wine headaches may consume wine with even modest amounts of quercetin, particularly if they have a preexisting migraine or other primary headache condition. Researchers believe that this compound interferes with the proper metabolism of alcohol and causes these symptoms.
However, there are still many unknowns about why some people seem more susceptible than others. It is not clear if the enzymes in people who get red wine headaches are more easily inhibited by quercetin or if this population is simply more easily affected by the buildup of the acetaldehyde toxin.