Skip to main content

What causes those wine headaches? Hope for a solution

It seems like every time I give a talk about wine and health there is at least one person in the audience who asks about headaches. They would like to drink wine, they say, but sometimes it gives them a headache. Or another frequent question relates to why they didn’t get headaches drinking wine in Europe but domestic wines do; is it the sulfites?

The good news is that scientists are developing a good understanding of what triggers headaches for some people, and it doesn’t seem to be sulfites; all wines contain them. It probably isn’t the alcohol, unless you are prone to migraines or to imbibing too much. The culprit for most people is a class of compounds called biogenic amines, the most familiar of which is histamine. These are not products of the wine itself, but of bacterial contaminants. Fortunately there are fairly quick tests that can be done do measure the levels of biogenic amines, though these aren’t routinely done.

But without testing, the inherent variability of amine production during wine fermentation makes it difficult to predict which wines will be a problem for people susceptible to them. There aren’t any sensory clues, since they tend to have little effect on the taste or smell of the wine. Why there should be a difference between European and domestic wines remains a matter of speculation. Perhaps it relates to the long history of winemaking, with traditional methods naturally sorting out the processes that make drinkable wine and environments naturally free of the offending bacteria. Or maybe it’s just that domestic wines have a higher alcohol content.

In any case, a solution should be achievable now that the cause of the problem is known. It is up to the industry to invest in the technology.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Wear red and DRINK red for women’s heart health

This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month (October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health. Drink red wine to live longer Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular p…

Which types of wine are the healthiest?

I am often asked after lecturing on the healthful properties of wine which type is best to drink. Since much of the discussion has to do with the polyphenol antioxidants from the skins and seeds of the grape, red wine is the first criterion since it is fermented with the whole grape rather than the pressed juice. This allows for extraction and concentration of these compounds, familiar ones being resveratrol and tannins. But beyond that, which varietals have the highest concentrations?


According to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, “The best kind of wine is that which is pleasant to him that drinks it” but modern science expects more specifics. (The point of course is that if you have a wine that you enjoy you are more likely to drink regularly and therefore reap the benefits.) But there are several difficulties in singling out certain wines for their healthful properties. Which compounds to measure? Are we talking about heart health or the whole gamut? Is it the varietal of the …

The J-curve is dead. Long live the J-curve!

There is a resurgence of debate about the validity of the J-curve, especially as it relates to alcohol and cancer. A 2014 report determined that “alcohol use was positively associated with overall mortality, alcohol-related cancers, and violent death and injuries, but marginally to CVD/CHD” (cardiovascular disease). In other words, there was little benefit if any in terms of heart disease but a big upside risk for cancer and accidental or violent demise. Gone was the French Paradox! The J curve is dead! Or not. Though that statement may be technically true, I looked at look at the data myself and found something different: a strong confirmation of the J-curve for overall mortality, overall cancer deaths, cardiovascular disease, and all “other causes.” This held for both men and women:
    Used under creative commons license from Ferrari P, Licaj I,Muller DC, et al. Lifetime alcohol use and overall and cause-specific mortality in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nu…