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)