Not all wines cause a migraine

By Shayna Brouker • Published: September 28th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Migraine sufferers and wine generally don’t mix. Red wines in particular contain a high level of tannins, and the more tannins a vintage has, the drier it tastes and the worse the headache. But according to new research, some varieties of wine could yield less of a yowzer.

Tannins are a type of compound called flavonoids, and they actually boast healthful antioxidant properties when they’re not busy causing headaches. Past research has shown that tannins might trigger production of the brain chemical serotonin, which could herald headaches in people vulnerable to them.

To test the theory, researchers at the Rio Headache Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, asked patients to test four different kinds of wine from South America: malbec (mal-beck), tannat (tan-nat), cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Almost all of the patients suffered at least one migraine within 12 hours of sampling the stuff, and about half had at least two headaches.

The wines with the highest tannin content, the tannat and the malbec, were the most likely to bring on a migraine. But it’s not so clear-cut, because the same grape from a different region can have higher or lower tannin levels. Another culprit could be a chemical called sulfite (sull-fight), which is sometimes added to wine to increase its shelf life. And it’s usually a combination of two or more triggers, like lack of sleep or a woman’s menstrual period, that activate the aches.

The news that some wines are worse than others is at least a start for wine lovers who hope to one day avoid the aftermath of a migraine. Foods like aged cheeses, chocolate, aspartame and salty, processed foods can make migraines appear. Stress, changes in weather, sleep disruptions, bright lights and unpleasant odors can also trigger them. If and when a migraine does strike, over-the-counter pain relievers and certain drugs called triptans (TRIP-tuns) can soothe throbbing heads.