Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: What causes red wine headaches?

Q. I get headaches after drinking red wine. Why? I'm 56 years old and in excellent health.

A. Getting a headache after drinking red wine seems to be common, but no single explanation has been found. Several theories have been proposed, but none has much evidence behind it.

One theory holds that the culprit is histamine, a compound found in grape skins. Red wine contains more histamine than white wine because it's made from the whole grape (including the skin), not just the juice. Some people have a shortage of an enzyme that breaks down histamine in the small intestine. Alcohol also inhibits the enzyme, so the combination may boost histamine levels in the blood, which can dilate blood vessels and cause a headache.

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