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A new study published in ‘Science Advances’ offers an explanation for why some people cannot drink red wine, even in small quantities, without experiencing a headache. Researchers at the University of California at Davis (USA) have found that the compound quercetin, a flavanol naturally found in red wines, can interfere with the proper metabolism of alcohol and cause headaches.

Quercetin is present in all types of fruits and vegetables, including grapes. It is considered a healthy antioxidant and is even consumed as a supplement. However, when metabolized with alcohol, it can cause problems. When quercetin reaches the bloodstream, it is converted into quercetin glucuronide which blocks the metabolism of alcohol. As a result, acetaldehyde toxin builds up in the body which causes redness, headache and nausea.

Acetaldehyde is a well-known irritant and inflammatory substance that has been linked to high levels of facial redness, headache and nausea. The medicine disulfiram is prescribed to alcoholics to prevent them from drinking because it causes these same symptoms by building up acetaldehyde in the body when normally an enzyme would break it down. About 40% of the East Asian population also has an enzyme that doesn’t work very well allowing acetaldehyde to build up in your system.

The researchers believe that when susceptible people consume wine with even modest amounts of quercetin, they develop headaches, particularly if they have a preexisting migraine or other primary headache condition. Morris Levin

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