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Researchers at the University of California have finally solved the “millennia-old mystery” of why red wine can cause near-immediate headaches. According to a study published in the journal Nature, a naturally occurring compound called quercetin may be responsible for these headaches. Quercetin is an antioxidant and a type of flavanol, a plant pigment that gives fruit and vegetables their color. When combined with red wine, it can disrupt a person’s ability to break down alcohol, leading to migraines, flushes, nausea, and headaches.

Professor emeritus Andrew Waterhouse from the university’s viticulture and enology department explained that when quercetin enters the bloodstream, it is converted into quercetin glucuronide, which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. This can lead to acetaldehyde buildup in the body, which is toxic and can cause facial flushing, headache, and nausea. Dr Apramita Devi added that high levels of acetaldehyde can also trigger migraines.

Research also suggests that not all red wines have the same effect on causing headaches. The sunlight exposure during grape growth, aging process and wine-making methods are all factors that affect whether a glass of wine will trigger a near-immediate headache. Wines from sunnier regions are more likely to have high quantities of quercetin and therefore more likely to cause headaches.

Furthermore, people with pre-existing migraines or other headache conditions are more likely to suffer from red wine headaches. Morris Levin, co-author of the study stated that they believe they are finally on the right track toward explaining this millennia-old mystery and that the next step is to test this scientifically on people who develop these headaches.

Overall, this discovery could help those who struggle with red wine headaches by providing them with information about what triggers them and how to potentially prevent them in the future.

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