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Researchers have recently discovered the underlying cause behind the occurrence of headaches after consuming red wine. According to their findings, a naturally occurring compound called flavanol, which is commonly found in red wines, has been identified as the disruptor of the body’s alcohol metabolism, thereby resulting in headaches.

Quercetin in red wine responsible for headaches

The UC Davis team discovered that the flavonol in question is quercetin, a natural compound found in various vegetables and fruits, including grapes. Quercetin is known for its antioxidant properties and is available as a dietary supplement. Nevertheless, its interaction with alcohol can lead to adverse effects.

According to wine chemist Andrew Waterhouse, when red wine enters the bloodstream, it undergoes a conversion process to a substance called quercetin glucuronide. This converted form of red wine inhibits the body’s alcohol metabolism, as explained by the professor emeritus from the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

The study revealed that the level of pain-inducing flavanol in wines varied based on the amount of sunlight the grapes received. Grapes exposed to more sunlight, like those used for Napa Valley cabernets, produced significantly higher levels of quercetin, sometimes up to four to five times more. Waterhouse emphasized the correlation between sunlight exposure and quercetin production in grapes.

Flavanols consumption leads to acetaldehyde accumulation

Consuming wine rich in flavanols leads to the accumulation of acetaldehyde, a toxin that causes unpleasant symptoms. Acetaldehyde is a recognized irritant, inflammatory substance, and toxin. High levels of acetaldehyde can result in facial flushing, headaches, and nausea, according to Apramita Devi, the lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Red wine headaches may occur 30 minutes to three hours after consuming even a small glass. The presence of quercetin is suspected to trigger headaches, especially in individuals with preexisting migraines or other primary headache conditions.

The team intends to initiate human clinical trials to explore unanswered questions regarding the causes of red wine headaches. The factors influencing susceptibility to these headaches remain unclear, and further research aims to shed light on this phenomenon.