Histamine is a biochemical that we usually associate with allergic reactions. It is a histidine-derived amine compound that is fairly common. If you or a friend have ever been stung by a bee and needed to go to the hospital then you definitely know what it is. When it enters the body, it dilates blood vessels and makes the vessel walls abnormally permeable, which when circulated throughout the brain can cause pressure in the head, and can eventually give you one nasty headache.
Almost all alcoholic beverages have histidine-derived amine compounds, along with a lot of processed and fermented foods, with red wine high on the chart because it is made from whole grapes (including the grape skin — as opposed to white wine which is not). Some people attribute the “Red Wine Headache” to the sulfites or tannins in red wine, but in most cases the people that suffer red wine headaches are probably dealing with an allergic reaction to histamine instead. In fact, white wines for the most part have more sulfites than red wines do, so if sulfites were the culprit you would actually be getting “White Wine Headaches”. Furthermore, the theory behind tannins causing headaches is based on serotonin overload and has never been prove scientifically. What most experts agree is happening is that people that suffer from red wine headaches are in short supply of an enzyme that breaks down histamine in the small intestine. And as if that wasn’t bad enough for these sufferers, drinking alcohol also hinders this enzyme (in everyone), so it is a one – two punch to the system almost insuring a headache for people that are allergic.
This potential culprit’s amount differs in each bottle of wine and food allergies can be tricky to isolate depending on the consumer’s immune system at the time of digestion. Try different brands of wine to find out which ones your body can tolerate, or better yet get a food allergy test performed to see what you are allergic to.
It is important to note too that drinking any kind of booze can dilate blood vessels in the brain, which will in turn cause a headache. Drink in moderation and remember to stay hydrated. The body is a great communicator. If it doesn’t like what you are doing it will send you signals (ex.a headache) telling you that you should try something else. It is in your best interest to listen to these messages and slow down, stop, or alter course until you feel better. Remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!