Do you get a headache from a single glass of Red Wine? New study offers a possible explanation

Written by Henrik Rothen

Nov.24 - 2023 9:59 PM CET

New study offers a possible explanation to the red wine mystery.

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Researchers believe they have demonstrated a link between a type of plant compound in red wine and the body's ability to break down alcohol. Although most people are aware that large amounts of alcohol can cause headaches, some individuals experience problems with just a single glass of red wine.

In a study published Monday in the academic journal Scientific Reports Journal, the authors report that they may have solved the mystery of why some people are particularly affected by headaches when they drink red wine.

Red wine headache – not to be confused with a hangover headache, which occurs the day after drinking – does not require the consumption of large amounts of red wine. Quercetin, a so-called flavonoid, which is a type of plant compound, can, according to the new study, disrupt the body's ability to break down alcohol.

This can cause an accumulation of toxins that can lead to headaches. Quercetin is found in many different vegetables and fruits – including grapes. And the amount of quercetin is much higher in red wine than it is in white wine.

But this does not explain why some people get headaches from a single glass of red wine. Therefore, the researchers set out to investigate the relationship between quercetin and ALDH2, a genetic variant of an enzyme that helps the body break down alcohol.

About eight percent of the world's population has a dysfunctional variant of ALDH2. Therefore, they have more difficulty breaking down alcohol and thus experience worse side effects of alcohol than others.

The researchers behind the study believe they have demonstrated that quercetin inhibits ALDH2, and that it can affect – especially some people – to such an extent that they become very susceptible to headaches when they drink red wine.

However, the hypothesis has not yet been tested on humans, and therefore the researchers behind the project emphasize that further research is necessary to prove the thesis.

CNN spoke with Jonas Spaak, an associate professor of cardiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who also believes that the hypothesis needs further testing.

"The study was only conducted in a laboratory, and the substances were tested outside the human body in concentrations several times higher than in the blood after a couple of glasses of wine," he tells CNN.

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