Do You Get Headaches Drinking WINE?

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Nov 6, 2006
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Here is the answer from Daniel Pambianchi of WineMakers;

Dec 23
2009 Do sulfites in (red) wine really cause headaches?
Posted by: Daniel Pambianchi on Dec 23, 2009

Tagged in: Untagged

Ah! Those bad sulfites; they’re such an easy target. What else can people blame for headaches after drinking red wine? After all, there is even a regulation that requires the mandatory mention contains sulfites on all wine sold in the U.S. So there must be some health concerns with sulfites. But why is that not indicated on other sulfite-containing food and beverages? Why is wine singled out? All are valid, interesting questions.

Recent research has shed some light on this controversy as only a very small segment of the population, approximately one percent, is actually allergic, exhibiting asthmatic reactions, not headaches. In fact, very few people, if any, actually complain of headaches after drinking white wines, which typically contain higher levels of sulfite as these are more prone to spoilage effects and therefore need added protection.

So why are people getting a headache when drinking (in moderation) red wine?

The answer lies in biogenic amines, namely, histamine and tyramine, both of which are known to have physiological effects. Those individuals that have the digestive enzymes to inactivate the biogenic amines will not suffer any ill effects; but for others, the amines can spell a head-splitting ache or migraine.

Histamine is derived from the amino acid histidine and is believed to cause headaches with some doctors recommending taking antihistamine tablets before drinking red wine if someone is susceptible. Tyramine is derived from tyrosine and is believed to trigger migraines. Both amines are produced in only very tiny amounts in wine, but their effects are exacerbated in the presence of alcohol.

Where do histamine and tyramine come from? Both are by-products of malolactic fermentation—a winemaking technique mostly used in red wine production—where lactic acid bacteria convert malic acid into lactic acid. But only some types of bacteria produce the amines, and therefore, only those red wines affected by histamine- or tyramine-producing bacteria will contain the effecting amines. How can we, the consumers, tell? We can’t.

As for asthmatic attacks, sulfur dioxide causes inflammation of mastocytes, or mast cells, that reside in tissues including those in the lungs. The mast cells contain many granules rich in histamine and which are released during the inflammation, triggering the attack. For non-asthmatics, sulfur dioxide is considered safe when within prescribed legal limits. And in fact, our bodies manufacture a small amount of sulfur dioxide during the metabolism of amino acids, and which it converts into harmless sulfate.

Are there sulfite-free wines? No. Sulfite, or more precisely, sulfur dioxide, is a natural by-product of fermentation, albeit in small quantities, and therefore, wine can never be totally free of sulfite, unless DNA and genetic engineering research and development find a way to alter or remove the gene that codes for sulfite production.

And what about switching to organic wines? Sure, they have much less sulfite, but recent studies have shown a higher level of biogenic amines in organic wines than their non-organic counterparts.

Are you getting a headache yet?
I usually get headachs by drinking to much :dg = :d !
Teenagers give me headaches..

wine relieves the symptoms caused by teenagers..

Allie :p
Me too :D
Actually I was always told the headaches from drinking red wine was from the tannins in the red wine .Thats why I switched to white wine years ago. Especially if they were oaked .
Close enough Darlene, its mainly in the reds due to the MLF like stated (if thats even true) but some whites do go through MLF also like a Chardonnay. Rieslings and Traminer usually doesnt.
Tom, i appreciate your sharing that..i read the story about the amines years ago..but to be truthful had forgotten all about it....that was a great read!:gn
Okay so what type of bacteria used in malo will cause this? I'm using White Labs WLP675. Did I just make 5 gallons of migraine maker?
So... does this mean that a red that doesn't undergo malolactic fermentation would be ok for someone to drink who usually gets headaches from red wine?
"As for asthmatic attacks," Man, I accidently breathed in some fresh sterlizer concentrated KMeta and had to run for my inhaler. Whew!
Other than that, it doesn't really bother me much.
good question 'The Tooth"...the implication is that you could intervene w k meta before mlf had a chance to get going...of course the drawback is all the benefits you lose
it could certainly be a good marketing tool.. There must be plenty of people that can't drink those reds due to migraines and also being unaware of why they get the migraines too.. a whole untapped market for it.

Or you could stop it with Lyzozyme. I dont think personally that anyone as the true answer.
I don't get headaches, but wine has a tendency to bring on some serious heartburn, red, white, sweet, or not. Always wondered the "why" about that. I drink plenty of beer, and sometimes hard stuff with no problem. I eat spicy foods that would make a Mexican mother proud, but no heartburn.

Anyone know why wine would cause this?

ok, well then we can rule out lactic it possible it is just all that acid in your wine?

another thing i noted as i got older was at certain times i may eat a lot...drink a fair amount and maybe not really be as active some days as i was in the past...resulting in a back up of food in the tummy....when i cut portions during inactivity it solved any agita that i was having
So... does this mean that a red that doesn't undergo malolactic fermentation would be ok for someone to drink who usually gets headaches from red wine?

Since kit wines don't undergo MLF it would indicate these reds wouldn't be a problem. I don't know anyone who gets headaches from red wine, kit or otherwise, so can't say if this is the case or not.

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