Researchers at the University of California have solved a “millennia-old mystery” by discovering that the compound quercetin, found in red wine, may be responsible for causing near-immediate headaches. Quercetin is a naturally occurring antioxidant and a type of flavanol, which gives fruit and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol, inducing migraines, flushes, nausea and headaches.
Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department explains that when quercetin gets in your bloodstream, your body converts it to quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. Quercetin glucuronide also prompts acetaldehyde, a toxin, to accumulate in the body. High levels of acetaldehyde can cause facial flushing, headache and nausea.
Additionally research suggests that not all red wines have the same effect. Sunlight exposure, aging process and wine making techniques can influence whether or not a glass will trigger a headache. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin which makes them more likely to induce near-immediate headaches. Dr Apramita Devi noted that people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches.
Levin stated: “We think we are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery,” indicating that the next step is to test this scientifically on people who develop these headaches.