Why red wine gives you a headache and what you can do about it

Expert advice on why red wine is often singled out for its reputation as a common headache culprit. Picture: supplied.

Expert advice on why red wine is often singled out for its reputation as a common headache culprit. Picture: supplied.

Published Feb 16, 2024


Red wine is one of the world’s favourite alcoholic beverages but it has earned a reputation as a common headache culprit.

Healthcare provider Affinity Health explained that a wine headache - which occurs during the first three hours of drinking - is not the same as a hangover, which occurs later.

“Headaches can occur 30 minutes after drinking only one or two tiny glasses, rather than after a long session,” Affinity Health CEO Murray Hewlett explained.

Below, Hewlett explains why red wine can cause headaches:


These are a common preservative in many foods and beverages, including wine, and they help prevent spoilage and maintain the wine's freshness.

And while sulfites are generally recognised as safe for consumption, they can trigger headaches and allergic reactions in some individuals.

“Sulfites are more prevalent in red wine than in white wine,’ Hewlett said.

He added that to reduce the risk of sulfite-induced headaches, consider choosing wines labelled as sulfite-free or low-sulfite.

“Additionally, drinking organic or biodynamic wines may help, as they often contain lower sulfite levels.”

Expert advice on why red wine is often singled out for its reputation as a common headache culprit. Picture: supplied.


These are naturally occurring compounds in various foods and beverages, including wine. Histamines contribute to the body's immunological response and can dilate blood vessels, leading to congestion and headaches, Hewlett warned.

“Some individuals are more sensitive to histamines and may experience headaches after consuming histamine-rich foods or drinks, including red wine.”

Antihistamines may help mitigate the histamine-related headache risk.


Tannins are compounds in grape skins, seeds, and stems contributing to red wine's astringent and dry feeling.

While tannins are necessary for the structure and flavour of wine, they can cause headaches for some people.

“This is because tannins may cause blood vessels to tighten, resulting in decreased blood flow to the brain,” Hewlett said.

If you suspect that tannins cause wine-induced headaches, Hewlett suggested opting for wines with lower tannin levels.

“Lighter red wine varieties tend to have milder tannins compared to full-bodied options,” he said.


These are a naturally occurring compound which is found in red wine, and has been known to be associated with headaches.

“It forms when the amino acid tyrosine breaks down in certain foods and beverages, including aged or fermented products like red wine, cheese, and smoked meats,” Hewlett said.

He added that tyramine can trigger the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, potentially leading to headaches in susceptible individuals.

To reduce the risk of tyramine-induced headaches, Hewlett suggested choosing fresher wine varieties (over-aged wines) and pairing them with low-tyramine foods, such as eggs, certain cheeses, pasta, and cereals.


Consuming alcohol, including red wine, can lead to dehydration because alcohol is a diuretic.

“It causes an increase in urine production and fluid loss,” Hewlett said.

“Dehydration can restrict blood vessels in the brain, resulting in headaches,” he cautioned. “Dehydration can also intensify the effects of alcohol, making you feel more intoxicated.”

To minimise the risk of dehydration when enjoying red wine, Hewlett recommended drinking water, alongside wine, to stay hydrated.

Alcohol sensitivity

Some people may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, and this sensitivity can manifest as headaches, especially after consuming red wine.

Hewlett explained that alcohol sensitivity varies between individuals and may be influenced by heredity, metabolism, and overall health.

To reduce the likelihood of alcohol-induced headaches, he suggested moderating alcohol consumption, alternating alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic options, and eating a balanced meal before drinking.

Migraine triggers

Migraines are complex neurological events triggered by various factors, including specific foods and drinks, Hewlett explained.

“Red wine, with its combination of alcohol, histamines, tannins, and other compounds, can trigger migraines in susceptible individuals,” Hewlett said.

Other measures he recommended to avoid getting a headache from drinking wine includes keeping a migraine diary and identifying triggers, which can help you make more informed choices about your wine consumption.

“If you frequently get migraines after drinking red wine, you should see a doctor,” he said. “They can help determine the underlying causes of your headaches and provide personalised recommendations to reduce their occurrence.”