Numerous articles concerning the connection between red wine and migraines have been written. While there are disagreements regarding the specific ingredients that cause the episodes,
all agree that red wine is particularly harmful in triggering migraines.
Before I even knew that I had migraines, I drank a good deal of red wine, usually together with meals. My wine cellar, arguably a relatively small collection, is filled with almost one hundred bottles. Approximately one fifth of them are older than twenty-five years. I tend to prefer Italian red wines, and overall, I am partial to Tuscan wines. I, like many people, love the deep, dark red, sweet yet slightly bitter taste of a beautiful red wine. It goes so well with a variety of different dishes. I completely understand why it has been dubbed “the drink of the Gods”. Yet, my love affair with red wine has been bittersweet.
If I drink more than one glass of red wine, I will develop a migraine within a few hours of the meal. I might still develop a migraine with just one glass of wine, to the extent that I have also consumed other offending foods. For a migraine sufferer, having a meal can often times be a tactical battle with uncertain outcomes. One thing is certain. If I introduce red wine to my meal, the likelihood of a migraine attack goes up by at least 75%. While I shall never surrender and give up red wine, my battle with the beverage so far has been lost. What is it about red wine that is so problematic for migraine sufferers? Some have suggested that it is the alcohol that is the cause. Yet, when I drink white wine with the same alcohol content, I do not get a migraine episode.
In my estimation, it is a combination of tyramine and a large concentration of chemicals, called phenolic flavonoids. That is a mouthful, isn’t it? Red wines tend to have double or triple the concentration of phenolic flavonoids than do white wines. Where do these chemicals come from? During the fermentation stage of red wines, the skin and seed of the actual grape are strained out of the wine. This is how the wine gets its color and this is how the chemical enters the wine. By contrast, white wines have the seed and skin strained out before the fermentation process. In other words, straining the skin and seed while fermenting the wine, causes the concentration of phenolic flavonoids to jump considerably. Tyramine, on the other hand, forms as foods and beverages age. Many red wines tend to have a rather large concentration of tyramine. There is however, an interesting aspect of the aging process. As red wine ages, both phenolic flavonoids and tyramine tend to become part of the sediment in the bottle. By simply decanting the wine properly before consuming it, you can remove the sediment, and potentially a large portion of tyramine and phenolic flavonoids, making it safe for your consumption.
It is held that migraine sufferers are sensitive to phenols in general and some believe that an enzyme or herbal supplement can be added to your diet to inactivate phenols. However, you need to do your own research to determine which one of these you should take. I am always skeptical towards approaches such as these but, nonetheless, they might work for you. Do not take anything where you cannot determine what effects it will have on your body. If you are like me, and you want to continue drinking red wine, you might have to start buying more expensive and more aged bottles of red wine. Just make sure that you are properly decanting your wine before consuming it.