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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

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Some Kinds of Red Wine May Not Trigger Migraines

Researchers Say More Tannins May Mean More Headache Pain

Is the Red Wine Dilemma Solved?

Does that mean people who love red wine but fear it may bring on a headache should just stick to a cabernet or merlot? Alas, the answer is not so clear cut.

Krymchantowski says cabernet sauvignon wines from France, for example, have much higher tannin levels than any of the wines he tested from South America, making it tough for consumers to compare wines grape-to-grape if they come from different countries.

Headache experts who reviewed the study for WebMD praised the research for looking into something that's a common problem for patients, but one that's had very little attention from science.

"We hear quite often that wine, specifically red wine, is a trigger for people," says Brian Grosberg, MD, director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City.

But Grosberg says the study also leaves many important questions unanswered.

"Usually it's a combination of two or more triggers that precipitates a [migraine] attack. Many women will notice that their menstrual period is a very strong trigger. Or it may be that, 'Oh, I didn't get enough sleep, and I had that glass of wine the night before,'" he says. "I'd like to know if they were looking at any of these other variables."

Grosberg says there are other substances in wine that may cause problems for people, such as sulfites, and he wonders if the researchers looked at sulfite levels in the wines.

Other experts agree that the study is interesting but offers limited information.

"My feeling, if I had to put money on it, is that it has something to do with the sulfite level," not just the tannins, says Gayatri Devi, MD, an attending neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Sulfites are chemicals that are added to wine to increase its shelf life. Some people find that when they drink wine without sulfites, Devi says, they don't get headaches.

"It's certainly possible that different types of wine are more or less likely to trigger headaches. It's something I think is worth exploring down the road."

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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