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If you drink more than three glasses of wine and wake up with a headache, then what you’re experiencing is probably a hangover. We can’t help you with that, other than to suggest going for a run and drinking a lot of water. But if you’ve only had one glass and you get a headache afterwards, then something else is going on. A reader wrote in wondering why this happens, so we took it upon ourselves to get to the cause of the pain.
The culprits, it turns out, are either sulfites or amines. Grape skins not only host the yeast that ferments grapes into wine, but also contain vinegar bacteria that can spoil new wine. Some vintners add sulfites (sulfur dioxide and its salts) to help stop their goods from spoiling. Many foods have sulfites added as a preservative because they inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria, stop oxidation (browning), and also preserve wine’s natural flavor.
But if you’re allergic to sulfites, you’d also be allergic to a number of other foods, like crackers, pizza crust, canned tuna, pickles, olives, shrimp, and dried fruit. So if you get headaches when you drink wine but not when you eat the foods above, you can rule out sulfites as the reason. For those of you who are allergic to sulfites, try drinking organic wines. They are, by definition, sulfite-free.
If it’s not a hangover, and you’re not allergic to sulfites, that leaves amines, a naturally occurring compound in fermented foods and beverages. Wine contains two kinds of amines, histamines and tyramines; histamines dilate blood vessels in the brain, while tyramines constrict them. Both of these actions can cause headaches in people who are sensitive to one or both of the chemicals. Other foods with higher amine counts are cheese, sauerkraut, salami, flour tortillas, sourdough breads, horseradish, and maraschino cherries. If you also get a headache after eating any of those foods, amines may be the cause.
MAKE IT NOW: Our recipe for Red Wine-Braised Pork Chops is free through February 5, 2013.