For many, a glass of wine can be a relaxing way to take the edge off the day, or a way to celebrate a toast-worthy occasion. But the panging headache that hits you like a ton of bricks a few hours later or the morning after? Not so enjoyable.
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A wine headache is often associated with a throbbing type of pain in the front and sides of the head. It can also be accompanied by a slew of other unpleasant symptoms that can throw a wrench in whatever plans you had going on that day, including fatigue, nausea, vomiting and irritability to name a few.
Why Does Wine Give You a Headache?
Some research, including one April-June 2016 study in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, has determined that most people who get headaches from wine likely have an underlying headache disorder, meaning that they also experience headaches not associated with wine.
But anyone can get a wine headache. Here's why:
Red wine is the biggest culprit when it comes to headaches because these vinos tend to contain more tannins, naturally occurring compounds found in the skin, seeds and stems of the grape, says Nicole M. Avena, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University.
"Tannins tend to bind to starches in our bodies when they are digested, which can cause serotonin levels to be lower in some individuals," she explains.
2. Chemicals in Wine
Another major reason why red wine causes headaches has to do with chemicals called histamines, which are found in the skins of red and white grapes, although significantly more in red grapes, Avena says. They can cause the blood vessels in your brain to dilate, leading to head pain.
"Some people are sensitive to the histamines found in wine, particularly those who report a sensation of facial flushing when drinking wine," says David Perlmutter, MD, neurologist, fellow of the American College of Nutrition and author of Drop Acid. "These people may also get headaches from other foods high in histamines like aged cheeses, fermented foods like sauerkraut and processed or smoked meats."
Some people may also be sensitive to another chemical found in wine — sulfites — although these are more associated with allergy and asthma symptoms. "Sulfites are compounds that act as preservatives in both red and white wines," Dr. Perlmutter says. "Like histamine sensitivity, sulfite sensitivity can be associated with a sense of flushing in addition to hives, upset stomach and even rapid heartbeat."
Wine, being a form of alcohol, is also a diuretic, meaning it dehydrates you. And dehydration sets the stage for headaches. "These dehydrating headaches may follow wine consumption within hours, or they may manifest the next day as part of the morning hangover experience," Dr. Perlmutter explains.
With all that in mind, here are some of the best wines that are least likely to cause a headache.
1. Wines Low in Histamines: FitVine Wine Red Blend 2019
While this wine touts the fact that it's low in sugar, it's worth pointing out that most red wines contain less than 1 gram of sugar per glass. What's most impressive about FitVine, however, is that their proprietary fermentation process also takes out more histamines, which means that you are less likely to get a headache after drinking responsibly, Avena says.
FitVine carries a wide selection of varietals, including pinot noir, zinfandel, rosé, chardonnay and pinot grigio, to name a few, and all are low in sulfites, too.
Those following a keto diet will also be glad to know that FitVine wines are all keto-friendly thanks to their low carb (and sugar) count. Each glass clocks in at just 4 carbs per serving — a great way to enjoy a robust wine flavor without sabotaging your diet, or causing a headache.
Buy it: Wine.com; Price: $18
2. Wines Low in Sugar: Lifevine 2020 Pinot Noir
Here's a certified organic wine that's actually low in sugar. In fact, it contains zero grams of sugar per serving! Even so, it remains full-bodied in flavor, with notes of blueberries and plum.
Because it is low in sugar, it is also naturally lower in calories as well as carbohydrates, so it fits the bill for most people following a keto diet.
Lifevine was also the first winery in America to be certified as pesticide-free from the Clean Label Project, and the brand continues to have their wines lab-tested for optimal purity.
Buy it: LiveVineWines.com; Price: $21.99
3. Organic Wines: Dry Farm Wines
Dr. Perlmutter's go-to source for pure, natural wines is Dry Farm Wines, which only houses varieties that are free of additives, lower in alcohol content, have a sugar content of less than 1 gram per liter, are much lower in sulfites and are organically grown on family farms. They're even tested for purity standards in a lab.
They offer all varieties, all made without the 76 or so FDA-approved additives found in wines, and they sell them by the box — in a set of six or 12 on a subscription basis. All you have to do is choose your color, amount and how often you'd like them delivered to your door.
Buy it: DryFarmWines.com; Price: $183 for a case of 6
4. Wines Low in Tannins: Free Range Flower Winery 'L' Lavender Wine
Tannins are naturally occurring in wine, especially red wine, but they tend not to be kind to our heads the following day. Luckily, this wine is free of tannins and that's because it is not made out of grapes at all, but rather lavender flowers. It's a soft rosé wine with a crisp and dry taste and notes of citrus and juniper.
In addition to being tannin-free, it's also low-carb and low-sugar without being low in alcohol, if that's something that's important to you. It contains even more ABV (alcohol by volume) than most others, at 13.5 percent. The flowers themselves are organic, which makes the wine naturally the same.
Buy it: TotalWine.com; Price: $21.49
5. Wines Low in Sulfites: Usual Mixed Pack
Despite its name, this wine is anything but usual. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Aside from its unique appearance, Usual Wines are all low in sulfites, thanks to the fact that they are formulated without any addition — only what's naturally occurring remains in their wines.
Usual Wines are also made with zero sugar in single-serve bottles that make it easy to limit the amount you drink. In other words, you don't have to worry about the wine going bad the way you would if you had opened up a standard wine bottle that contains several glasses worth.
This fun pack includes a mix of their varieties, from a dry, sparkling Brut to a bright, fruity red. It's a great way to enjoy a Sonoma-caliber wine without the pesky additives and chemicals.
Buy it: UsualWines.com; Price: $48 for a box of 6
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- Nicole M. Avena, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University
- David Perlmutter, MD, neurologist a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and author of Drop Acid
- Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice: Alcohol-induced headaches: Evidence for a central mechanism?