Does this sound familiar? Every time you choose to indulge a glass of red wine, a throbbing headache spoils the pleasure. We’re not talking about a hangover headache, but one that occurs within 30 minutes to three hours after drinking even a small glass.
This phenomenon has been the focus of a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis. Published in the scientific journal Nature, they identified a potential culprit for the so-called “red wine headache”.
Its name is quercetin, a flavonoid compound found in much greater quantities in red wine than in white wine.
“Quercetin-3-glucuronide, derived from the various forms of quercetin in red wines, inhibits ALDH2, the enzyme that metabolises the toxin acetaldehyde. This results in elevated acetaldehyde levels, and the subsequent appearance of headaches in susceptible subjects.
“Human-subject testing is needed to test this hypothesis,” the study reads.
This new possibility is all the more interesting since quercetin is listed as a component in various dietary supplements and is generally presented as being beneficial to health. Moreover, quercetin is not only found in red wine but in a whole host of other foods, including apples, onions, citrus fruit, berries, spinach, and even tea.
One of quercetin’s notable characteristics is its strong antioxidant action: it acts to neutralise free radicals in the body, those unstable molecules associated with premature ageing and various chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Researchers suggest that quercetin may help protect the body’s cells against damage caused by these free radicals, offering the potential to prevent diseases linked to oxidative stress. Quercetin might also have anti-inflammatory properties, while some scientists are also exploring the compound’s potential for immune support.
In addition, quercetin could play a role in allergy management, as some individuals report a reduction in histamine reactions when consuming quercetin-rich foods or taking quercetin supplements.