Food

Red Wine Makes Me Mean

So, I have a weird confession: Red wine makes me mean. If I have even one glass, my head feels like it’s in a vice and I become super irritable. So much so, in fact, that my old boyfriend used to warn, “Ends in tears, J. Ends in tears.”

Do you ever feel the same? I basically avoid it now entirely. (I’m more like this.)

But I’ve long been bewildered by these red wine headaches, and female friends often come out of the woodwork to say they get them, too. Here’s what the research says…

From America’s Test Kitchen:

The culprits, it turns out, are either sulfites or amines… If you’re allergic to sulfites, you’d also be allergic to a number of other foods, like crackers, pizza crust, canned tuna, pickles, olives, shrimp and dried fruit. So if you get headaches when you drink wine but not when you eat the foods above, you can rule out sulfites as the reason. For those of you who are allergic to sulfites, try drinking organic wines.

If it’s not a hangover, and you’re not allergic to sulfites, that leaves amines, a naturally occurring compound in fermented foods and beverages. Wine contains two kinds of amines, histamines and tyramines; histamines dilate blood vessels in the brain, while tyramines constrict them… Other foods with higher amine counts are cheese, sauerkraut, salami, flour tortillas, sourdough breads, horseradish and maraschino cherries.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Dan L. Keiller, president of the newly formed Medical Wine Interest and Education Society in San Diego, says several studies from Europe show that “red wines, in general, contain more histamine than Champagnes or sparkling wines and those usually contain more histamine than [still] white wines.” Indeed, headaches from red wine are so common that the phenomenon has its own name, “RWH syndrome” — that’s “red wine headache.”

“If you’re sensitive in general,” says Dr. Freitag [associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago] says, “most people tend to tolerate the wines from California, Washington and Oregon more than European wines.”

From The New York Times:

“The red wine headache is a real if poorly understood phenomenon,” says an article in the June issue of the Harvard Health Letter… There is actually a stigma to studying the subject. “I’ve entertained the idea of looking for grants to study this and I’ve been told, ‘Don’t go there, it’s bad P.R.,’ ” Dr. Freitag said.

“If you really like red wine,” Dr. Freitag said, “you should try different brands, different grapes, different countries of origin. That’s the only way you are going to find out.”

Here’s how to challenge yourself, if you must. Drink a half a glass of red wine; if it is going to give you a headache, it will do so within 15 minutes…Keep a journal.

And don’t confuse R.W.H. with the headache that comes six hours after a full evening of drinking. That’s called a hangover.

Thoughts? Do you ever get red wine headaches? I’m so curious to hear. It’s fascinating to me because I always get headaches after sandwiches with very spicy mustard (I remember complaining forever to Caroline after lunch one afternoon last fall), so I must have the amine/histamine/horseradish/red wine intolerance. Finally: solved!

P.S. By the way, we’d love to do more wine/cocktails coverage in coming months. Are there any topics or questions that you’d like to chat about?

(Photo: Gemma Arterton from Elle)

  1. Shannon says...

    I googled “red wine makes me angry” this morning and found this page. Wow. My husband says I get mean when I drink red wine. I can drink champagne or prosecco and this doesn’t happen. Frankly, I can drink a good tequila and be very happily buzzed, stay happy and nice and not even get a dang hangover…but red wine makes me irritable and mean. Also, I seem to get drunk on it and that’s only 2 glasses. I’m so curious about this. So much so that I’ve made an appointment with the allergist to find out if I’m allergic to red wine or wine in general. I don’t think this happens to me with white wine and my husband doesn’t either but it’s worth finding out if there’s anything to this.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds just like me! interestingly, if i take a Claritin before a glass of red wine, i don’t get headache-y or mean. i think i might be allergic to the histamines in the wine.

    • Shannon says...

      Wow, that’s cool. Maybe I can still drink red wine and not become mean! As in…maybe if I take a Zyrtec, which is my allergy pill of choice ; ) , maybe it won’t happen to me either. Well, I’m getting allergy tested next month specifically for this but also because I think there are some foods I’m allergic to. Anyway, thanks for the tip. I LOVE a nice cabernet so maybe that’s the trick to still being able to enjoy it!

  2. Jim says...

    Why is it that When my wife drinks just one glass of red wine she goes ape shit! Worse if she driving mid more, she becomes Combative, argumentative, cusses like a damn sailor and breaks shit. Hate it!!

  3. Emily says...

    I only started getting bad reactions to wine when I started taking an atypical antidepressant, i.e. not an SSRI. The thing is, it’s ONLY wine that this happens with and red wine is the worst. It’s part headache and part psychosis. So weird.

  4. Several years ago when we went out for pizza on Friday nights with our son’s sport team I/we would eat pizza with a beer or 1 glass of wine. Since I did not imbibe with beer, I had a glass of red wine. I would always be ill by 3 am the next morning. I couldn’t determine if it was the pizza or the wine. I quit each one individually & eventually had to refrain from both since each one made me feel ill. Recent years I tried red wine again & I would feel flushed & then break out with a bad rash on my facial cheekbones (burning rash). I’ve given up both red/white wine. Perhaps I will now try organic wine with no “sulfites”. I found the same allergic reaction with champagnes. I’ve had other food allergies, particularly from “salsa ingredients”, they truly burn my lips & they swell i.e. puffy ^ my tongue burns.. I can’t use lip balms so,,it takes week to recover, I am going to be extra cautious this holiday season. I’ll give organic 1 try!

    • Laura says...

      Look into salicylate/phenol intolerance- salsa and grapes would be major triggers. Could be histamines as well.

  5. joyce says...

    Where is the green button down from? so cute!

  6. I don’t have a problem with red wine but I have a BIG problem with white wine. I get awful stomach cramps that are horrendous and can end a night with just a sip of white wine. I avoid it at all costs. I do sometimes get congested with red wine but most of the time I stick to a Polish potato vodka (super cold), with a few wedges of fresh lime juice and soda water. It’s super refreshing for the summer. It was very interesting readying about red wines and so fascinating how every body is vastly different in what it can tolerate and not tolerate.

  7. Yes!! Thanks for this! An almost instant headache, for sure. I always say I love the theory of red wine… Now, it seems like my headache can start with any alcohol, unfortunately. I’m pretty much on the mocktail train b/t pregnancy and bfeeding anyway! It’s not too bad ;) Champagne, proseco and ciders pretty much never give me headaches though… At least not right away, ha.

  8. I love red wine, but I discovered while studying abroad in France (and drinking it daily), that it makes me very depressed. One day, I walked into the bakery to buy a baguette and started crying for no identifiable reason. I knew something was wrong if fresh French bread was making me cry! It turns out red wine contains monoamine oxidase. If that sounds familiar, it’s because some antidepressants are known as “MAOIs,” or monoamine oxidase-inhibitors. I can handle a few sips, but any more than that, and I’m pretty bummed out for a couple of days.

  9. that’s a great question about what to order if you’re not drinking. a lot of restaurants have “mocktails” that are so sweet and sugary with lots of juice. i wonder if there is a good refreshing drink with even a bit of spice or a kick….we will look into it! xo

    • Sophie says...

      If I don’t want to drink (rare but on occasion:) I will have a soda water with some bitters, flavored bitters are even better. Also soda water with a splash of orange juice.

  10. @nina, thanks for the link, going to check it out right now…

  11. Ally, that’s awesome that you work for a winery! jules, congratulations!

  12. Yes! I get stuffed up and flushed almost immediately, and get a little headache within 15 minutes. My friends think I’m insane when I tell them…I love red wine but mostly only drink it socially, stick to sweeter whites at home. I had found a few years ago that West Coast reds treated me much better than European reds, so I try to stick to those (taste-wise I actually prefer them as well).

  13. I love red wine but get headaches too. Have you ever tried an Aperol spritz? Aperol, prosecco, little bit of seltzer, and ice. It’s my new go-to. Not too sweet. Really refreshing. Give it a try!

  14. I love this post Joanna and am so excited to hear you plan to blog more on wine/cocktails! Even though I’m (the ripe age of) 25, I still feel like I’m learning! My husband and I have been on a major wine kick the past year trying to fine-tune our tastes and preferences. PS: I love red wine for meal time and white for social gatherings sans food. ;)

  15. I don’t drink alcohol and would love to know something that I could order besides pellegrino.

  16. I stopped drinking red wine, too. I am a huge “Verdejo” wine fan now:)
    It’s really popular here in Barcelona and the best drink for summer nights…

  17. This was so helpful! I get these sometimes but more often I get an itchy throat with red wine but only some. This happens with grapes and some other foods. I like the idea of a wine journal but major commitment. If it’s itchy throat maybe it’s sulfites? Some wine doesn’t bother so region maybe? Thank you for posting

  18. JM says...

    I get both headaches and canker sores almost immediately after drinking red wine. It happens to my mom, too!

  19. Finally! Now I understand why I get reactions with mustard and wasabi… I don’t drink red wine much anymore because apart from the migraine, my throat, cheeks and ears become seriously red, itchy and warm, as well as my hands. :( They started swelling about a year ago, the symptoms were getting worst so I had to quit wine and beer altogether. But since then, I can tolerate a glass of white wine every so often. Yay I guess. I don’t mind drinking water at parties anymore.

  20. Red wine can make me sleepy and groggy, but it’s so good! Especially with food and in the winter!
    I always heard that drinking red wine in a clay cup or goblet reacts better and neutralizes the tannins. It works for me!

  21. You might want to look up an Australian diet called FAILSAFE – here’s a place to start: http://fedup.com.au/ . It rules out various things in addition to amines, but it would at least be a good source of info on what foods are high in amines etc. Good luck!

  22. I love red wine, and don’t really have an issue (unless it’s a hangover headache) BUT I have noticed that I sometimes feel congested the morning after drinking more than a glass of certain types. Weird?
    I am really interested in organic/biodynamic wines and learning more about them – what’s good, what brands to look out for, etc!

  23. Wine is ok, cocktails are fun but take more effort than I usually care for, so I go for a beer! Belgians/wheat beers are my favorite, like someone else mentioned above!

  24. I don’t ever recall feeling that way.. but I know that having something with dairy in it after drinking wine makes me go light headed and extremely sick!

  25. I get a headache after just one sip. Instantly. And the headache grows with each sip – to the point of migraine! I know taking communion with real wine is a guaranteed headache by the time I get back to my pew. I was told it was likely due to the tannins??? never heard these ideas before…I stick to white-thank-you-very-much!
    Fawn

  26. I read a recent report that 26 (!) CA wineries have been using grapes w/ 500x the allowable amount of arsenic in them. Eek.

    Red wine makes me feel puffy and hot faced, so I’ve always kind of avoided it. I also plump right up when I eat cured meats, and breads and pasta tend to make me feel groggy, so I avoid eating complex carbs at work.

    Those were all from different categories in your list though :(

  27. OMG! I get this way with tequila – I can’t drink it! Anytime I’ve ever fought with my boyfriend was because I was drinking tequila. It’s the devil’s water in my book!

  28. Is WWH a thing? Because what you described as RWH definitely happens to me, but with white wine. I haven’t had a glass in years because of it! I feel like one those people whose internal organs are flipped around?

  29. I am the same way! I avoid red wine and drink white.

  30. I would love to see a post on food/wine/cocktail pairings. I’m so bad at it!

  31. This girl is such a babe!

    And I am pregnant right now and red wine is the only thing I crave and miss the most. So thanks for reminding me of it again haha!

  32. always with the RWHs! it’s all new zealand SBs enjoyed over ice for this gal.

  33. I find it’s only wines that have a high tannin content that give me headaches, and California reds generally have a lower tannin content than say French or Italian wine. So that’s what I stick with.

  34. Yep, that’s me. Not a big deal because I prefer white wine. More disappointing, though, are the headaches I get from champagne! Ta ta mimosa!

  35. I don’t get headaches but come to think of it, I do get irritable as in moody and slightly depressed. Instinctively I had been switching to whites and roses lately hmmm…
    Since we are on the topic though, gin has an odd effect on me too. So much so that I have not had any for over two years now.

  36. What a good subject to write about, so often I find blogs that completely avoid alcohol (for one reason or another) and this is why I am a faithful follower of COJ. I work for a winery so drinking red, white and rosé wine is my life. Often certain varietals of red wine gives me headaches but it depends on whether I’ve had anything to eat, weird huh? If you have any wine questions I’d love to help. Keep drinking different types, don’t give up too soon!

  37. I too get the headaches. I definitely do better with organic red wines, so I guess it’s the sulfites. But, I don’t have issues with any of the other foods listed. Strange stuff!

  38. I love drinking wine but can’t finish a bottle before it goes bad. I’d love to read any solutions, other than indulging in a whole bottle all the time (which may not be so bad!)

  39. I have recently stopped drinking red wine, altogether, because it makes me very congested. It must be from the histamine. I also have bad seasonal allergies….Not sure if that is related.

  40. I get migraines from red wine, which I’ve heard is pretty common, but because of the tannins in it.

    I’ve basically stopped drinking red wine because of it, which is disappointing, but I’d rather not get a headache!

    Dana
    http://www.Somethinggoodblog.com

  41. I get the headaches. I saw a naturopath a while back about my headaches in general, and she identified a sensitivity to sulfuric foods, so there you go! I will say, though, that my “red wine tipsy” is my “happiest tipsy”. It’s a double-edged sword.

  42. I would love to see a post on how to build up a home bar – what are the essentials, how do you do it over time, what if you don’t have the money for that cocktail shaker or other bar necessities? What are some alternatives?