Red wine has long been a popular choice for many people, but for some, even small quantities can cause a headache. Now, a new study published in ‘Science Advances’ sheds light on why this happens.
A team from the University of California at Davis (USA) has found that quercetin, a compound found naturally in red wines, is responsible for interfering with the proper metabolism of alcohol and causing headaches. Quercetin is also present in all types of fruits and vegetables, including grapes, and is considered a healthy antioxidant. However, when metabolized with alcohol, it can be problematic.
When quercetin reaches the bloodstream, it converts into a different form called quercetin glucuronide. This blocks the metabolism of alcohol and causes the buildup of acetaldehyde toxin, which leads to redness, headache and nausea. The study’s lead author Apramita Devi explains that acetaldehyde is a toxin that can cause facial redness, headache and nausea when levels are high. In fact, medicine disulfiram prescribed to alcoholics to prevent them from drinking works by causing the same symptoms because it also causes acetaldehyde to build up in the body when normally an enzyme would break it down. About 40% of East Asian population also have an enzyme that doesn’t work very well allowing acetaldehyde to build up in your system.
The study suggests that susceptible individuals who consume wine with even moderate amounts of quercetin may develop headaches, especially if they already have a preexisting migraine or other primary headache condition. Co-author Morris Levin says “We believe that we are finally on the right path towards explaining this ancient mystery.” The next step is to test their theory scientifically in people who develop these headaches by using red wines with high levels of quercetin and low levels as well. The levels of this flavanol can vary dramatically in red wine due to factors such as skin contact during fermentation and aging processes used by winemakers. While researchers now have more answers about why some people experience red wine headaches than ever before