Do Tannins in Wine Cause Headaches?

Do Tannins in Wine Cause Headaches

We have all experienced headaches the morning after drinking. While many of those headaches can be attributed to a hangover, sometimes just a glass or two of wine can result in annoying pains. You might wonder what causes headaches after drinking wine. 

Do tannins in wine cause headaches?

Tannins in wine can cause headaches for some people, but other components in wine can as well. Alcohol, sugar, and histamines all add to the resulting headaches.  

We’ll explain what tannins are and why they cause headaches, as well as other factors that can cause headaches, and how you can avoid getting headaches from drinking wine. 

How Do Tannins Cause Headaches? 

Tannins are a class of polyphenolic compounds that are present in plants to help make them unpalatable, which deter animals from eating them before the fruit or seeds are ripe. Polyphenols are a macromolecule that are comprised of phenols, which are complex bonds of oxygen and hydrogen. Tannins are also an antioxidents.  

Tannins cause a bitter or astringent mouthfeel when drinking wines that are high in tannins. Often, this mouthfeel is described as one that dries out the mouth. Tannins are found in many other plant products, such as coffee and tea. 

In wine, tannins come from the seeds, skins, and stems of the grapes that are used to make the wine. Some grape varieties have more tannins than others, such as thick-skinned, red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. These tannins give the wines a mouth-puckering punch, resulting in bold, powerful wines. 

To see if tannins are what cause your headaches, try brewing a very strong cup of black tea. A strong cup of black tea should have high levels of tannins. If you get a headache after drinking the tea, it’s likely that they are the cause. However, if you are sensitive to tannins, you will likely get headaches after drinking coffee and tea or eating chocolate, pomegranates, almonds, cinnamon, and cloves, as well as many other fruits, nuts, and spices. 

The reason that tannins might cause you to have a headache after drinking wine is that tannins can cause a release of high levels of the hormone serotonin. Serotonin is sometimes referred to as the “happy” chemical, as it’s produced when people feel happy. However, high doses can cause some people to get headaches. Seratonin can cause the blood vessels in the body to constrict, causing a headache. 

Since tannins are a type of phenolic compound, other types may also cause you to get a headache. Other phenolic compounds are phenolic acids, flavonoids, coumarins, lignans, quinones, stilbenes, and curcuminoids. Wines that are high in tannins may also be high in other phenolic compounds, which might add to the headache after drinking wine. Red wines tend to be high in phenolic compounds that are found in the skin, while white wines are higher in phenolic compounds that are found in the pulp. 

If you think tannins might be causing your headaches, here are some wines to avoid: 

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Syrah or Shiraz
  3. Sangiovese
  4. Malbec

While white whites are typically low in tannins, here are some red wines that are also low in tannins: 

  1. Blaufranchish
  2. Pinot Noir
  3. Tempranillo

What Other Reasons Wine Cause Headaches

Aside from tannins there are several other reasons that wine might give you headaches. 

Alcohol: Alcohol can dilate blood vessels in the body, an effect called vasodilation. Some people are less sensitive to vasodilation than others. Generally, this is also why people with high blood pressure are advised to avoid any alcoholic drink, including wine. The alcohol in wine can also cause dehydration, due to ethanol being a diuretic. Diuretics cause the body to excrete salt, vitamins, and minerals in the urine. These types of headaches might be sharp, stabbing pains that occur throughout the head. 

Sugar: Sugar can also cause a dehydrating effect. Coupled with alcohol, the body can be quickly depleted. Sugar is processed in the liver and so is alcohol which means that the liver has to work double-time. These types of headaches are similar to alcohol headaches. 

Histamines: Surprisingly, wine contains histamines. Histamines are what cause people with allergies to exhibit allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and watery eyes. If you’ve ever woken up with congestion after a night of wine drinking, histamines may be the culprit. Sinus pressure can cause headaches in the front of the face or at the roof of the mouth. Red wines tend to have more histamines than white wines, but red wines such as Pinot Noirs may have lower levels of histamines. 

Sulfites: Studies have shown that about 1% of the population has a sulfite sensitivity. Sulfites are added to wines to help stabilize them. They also keep red wines vibrant and prevent white wines from browning. However, research suggests that sulfite sensitivities do not actually cause headaches. They may, however, cause an allergic reaction. People with a sulfite sensitivity may have breathing problems, such as coughing and shortness of breath, or hives. 

How to Avoid Headaches from Drinking Wine

Here are a few tips to avoid getting a headache from drinking wine: 

  1. If you think you have a tannin sensitivity, avoid wines that are high in tannins and stick to low tannin wines. Most white wines are low in tannins, as well as light-bodied and light-colored reds such as Pinot Noirs. 
  2. Drink water while drinking alcohol of any kind. A general rule of thumb states that you should drink one glass of water with every glass of wine. 
  3. Avoid additional sugar while drinking wine. Some wines are fairly dry, meaning that they are low in residual sugar, such that you might be safe with low sugar desserts like dark chocolate. However, sugar paired with alcohol typically will cause a headache. 
  4. Take a pain reliever before or while you are drinking your glass of wine to stave off any pain before it starts. 
  5. Take an antihistamine to counteract possible histamines in your wine.