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Does Red Wine Cause Headaches?

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Red wine is a popular happy hour or dinner party drink option. Some studies have suggested a glass a day (or two for men) can be heart-healthy, and calorie-wise, you get more bang for your buck with a glass of cab or pinot noir than other spirits. Most red varieties pair well with pasta and meats, so they’re a great complement to nice meals. But there’s one negative notion about red vino, specifically, that has persisted: it may cause headaches.

For years it has been believed that wine is a headache trigger, and while there’s general literature that supports this theory, additional studies in the general population are lacking. For those who suffer from migraines, however, there is an abundance of literature linking wine, in particular red wine, to migraine triggers. So if you have frequent migraines, you might want to go easy on the red stuff, and here’s why.

New research from Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain has suggested that while the reasons for red wine’s triggering potential are unknown, exposure to flavonoid radicals found in red wines and the potential for that interfering with the serotonin levels are likely at the root of the relationship between wine and migraine. This group of chemical compounds is linked to the taste, color, and mouthfeel of wine and includes tannins, which are responsible for that slightly sour sensation you experience after a sip. Problem is, once tannins are ingested, they spur the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can cause headaches in some people at high levels.

So what can you do, as a migraine sufferer who enjoys a good glass of red? Obviously, cutting back on your intake will help, but the good news is all red wines aren’t created equally. You may find yourself triggered by a heavy merlot but okay with a light, fresh pinot noir.

One potential strategy may be to test your tolerance to a bunch of red wines over time, starting small, say with a half glass, to see if you get a headache shortly after drinking a certain brand or varietal. Or when you want to treat yourself to a fine red, be proactive by always having a bottle of Excedrin Migraine, which brings fast, effective migraine relief that starts working in 30 minutes for some people. That way, you don’t have to miss out completely on those red grapes.