“I experience a headache when I drink wine with sulfites, but when I drink wine from Europe, I don’t get a headache because European wines don’t contain sulfites,” some say. Not so. A lot of misinformation about sulfites (all forms of sulfur) in wine has been propagated out there. Sulfites are usually added to wine and foods to prevent microbial contamination, premature aging, and oxidation. Even though European wineries don’t include sulfite warning on their wines, save for when they are exporting the wine to the United States, they use sulfites. Yes, exposure to sulfites can worsen the symptoms of asthma, but it has nothing to do with headaches.
American wineries put “Contains Sulfites” on their wine labels. This is perhaps what adds fuel to the myth as many people tend to think that “Contains Sulfites” is a warning for headaches; this is a mere misconception. According to experts, tannins, the flavonoids in the wine, are the culprits. Tannins in the wine come from the stems, seeds, and skins of grapes. They can also come from oak barrels, which need to be sulfured to prevent contamination when they are not being used. Other potential causes of headaches include the following:
- Tyramine: This is a naturally occurring amino acid in the body, and it is also contained in certain foods. It helps in the regulation of blood pressure. Although helpful, your body should contain the right amount of tyramine for you to stay healthy. Eating high-tyramine foods may raise the levels of this amino acid in your body, leading to high blood pressure, migraines, and other complications. So, if you’re consuming wine in excess amounts, chances are that you’re getting your body’s tyramine to excess levels.
- Histamine: It is an organic compound of nitrogen that acts as your body’s natural defense against allergens. Red wines contain the highest levels of histamines. Too much histamine in the body may cause dilation in your brain vessels, leading to headaches.
- Prostaglandins: These are naturally occurring lipid compounds in the body, and they are released when your arteries undergo dilation. Prostaglandins can also cause migraine headaches, experts say.
- Congeners: These refer to organic compounds contained in the by-products of wine fermentation process. Once they enter your body, your immune system treats them as poisons, and it releases cytokines to fight them. Congeners are more prevalent in red wine than in any other type of wine.
As you can see, some people experience a headache after wine consumption, but to say that this kind of headache results from sulfites in the wine is completely misleading. It is a baseless claim that lacks any scientific backing. So, if you’re a wine lover, this myth should not deter you from reaping the benefits of your drink. As long as you moderate your habit, keep drinking.