Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Red Wine Headaches? the Whys, and Ways to Prevent Them

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Red Wine Headaches? the Whys, and Ways to Prevent Them

Article excerpt

Love red wine but, alas, it doesn't love you back? After drinking a glass, instead of feeling mellow, you feel a headache. Why? The answer, it turns out, is as complex as wine itself.

"There's a whole debate about the [cause] of it," said Dr. Damon Fellman of the Hackensack Neurology Group and associate director of neurology at Hackensack University Medical Center. The phenomenon is officially known as red wine headaches (RWH).

Sulfites, the sulfuric compounds that are both naturally produced during the fermentation process as well as often added to preserve wine, have long been accused as the perpetrator of RWH. However, white wines contain more sulfites than red wines. And beer, cheese and dried fruits can also contain much more sulfites than wine.

"A whole lot of people are worried about sulfur, and they shouldn't be worried at all," said Gary C. Pavlis, Rutgers professor and Garden State Wine Growers executive director.

For those who remain convinced that sulfites are the culprits or who simply want to consume less of them, there are wine producers that make wines with no added sulfites or low levels of sulfites.

A likelier suspect for red wine headaches is histamines, biological compounds found in grape skins that are 20 to 200 percent more likely to be in red wines than in white wines. In some people, a sensitivity or allergy to histamines may cause a headache. According to Francis Mastrangelo, wine consultant for Bottle King stores, "Red wine is fermented with the skins [whereas white wine is not], and the histamines come with the skins. If you have allergies, you might be more sensitive to red wine."

Both Pavlis and Fellman suggest trying an antihistamine such as Zyrtec or Allegra before drinking a glass of red wine to see if histamines may be a trigger.

Another possible cause for those red wine headaches? Tannin, an element found in the skins, stems and seeds of grapes. Because red wines are made with the skins on, tannin, like histamines, is in most red wines and is scarcely found in white wines. Tannin, which is also present in high levels in tea and dark chocolate, makes wine taste dry and gives it texture. …

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