We’ve all been there before: we’re at the end of a long evening, having consumed a lot of wine, and an intense headache begins to form. For most of us, the cause of a wine headache is simply drinking too much wine and not enough water. The simple solution here is to always be conscious of how much alcohol you consume and always stay hydrated.

However for a small section of our population, headaches from wine can occur even when we don’t drink a lot. So what causes these kinds of headaches and how can we avoid them?

There are three main culprits and solutions, but before we explain them, we want to clear up one myth – sulfites do not cause headaches. While sulfites can cause asthma symptoms, they do not cause headaches.

On to the three major headache-inducing culprits:

  1. Culprit One – Tannins: 
    As we discussed in our tannins post, tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds and stems. You experience the effect of tannins any time you drink a wine that creates a drying sensation in your mouth, and for the majority of us, tannins create no headache at all. In fact, tannins are a great antioxidant source.But, if you seem to get headaches from wine more often when you drink red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec, you can do a quick test to see if tannins are the source of your headache trouble. Brew a cup of black tea and let the tea steep for five or ten minutes longer than the package suggests. Black tea is strong in tannins and over-steeping the tea will ensure they are all released into the water. Drink the tea and see if you get a headache. If so, you are susceptible to tannins and avoiding red wines will solve your headache issue.
  2. Culprit Two – 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.To prevent this problem, avoid sweet dessert wines and white wines such as Riesling that are labeled semi-dry or sweet (if you enjoy Riesling but don’t want the sugar headache, make sure the wine is labeled as dry). Also to be avoided are cheaper wines, which tend to have more sugar due to the fact that mass producers add sugar during fermentation in order to boost the alcohol.
  3. Culprit Three – Histamines:
    Histamines are chemicals that are released when we have an allergic reaction and can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, dry eyes and a headache. Recent research has found that food and drinks that have been aged, such as dry aged meats and red wines, can cause our body to release histamines and create these allergy-type symptoms. To prevent a histamine headache, simply take a histamine blocker such as Claritin prior to having a glass of red wine.

Let’s repeat: for most of us, the cause of a wine headache is simply drinking too much wine and not enough water. The mythical wine headache cure? It’s simple: the cure for a wine headache is to stop one it before it ever starts. In other words, don’t overdo it…especially at an office party!