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Nov 1, 2007 04:30 PM

Wine Headaches Test

In conjunction with several other current threads that discuss wine headaches

just this afternoon the New York Times ran an Associated Press story titled
"Test Created for Wine Headache Chemicals."

"The chemicals, called biogenic amines, occur naturally in a wide variety of aged, pickled and fermented foods prized by gourmet palates, including wine, chocolate, cheese, olives, nuts and cured meats...Still, many specialists warn headache sufferers away from foods rich in amines, which can also trigger sudden episodes of high blood pressure, heart palpitations and elevated adrenaline levels."

This dovetails with my research of late, that tyramines, one of the major biogenic amines produced during malolactic fermentation, regular fermentation and wine aging, are a major wine headache producer. The production of biogenic amines, and specifically tyramines, are also related to volatile acidity, longer fermentation times and greater skin contact. Histamines are another biogenic amine, but they have been ruled out as a cause of wine headaches. Sulfites have been ruled out as well.

Tyramines are found in all aged foods, like wine, cheese, and some meats, and in other foods like eggplant, figs, grapes, oranges, pineapples, plums, prunes and raisins. Migraine sufferers learn to avoid foods with tyramines, but those foods can cause a bad headache in anyone. Another thing to consider is one's individual threshold for tyramines: a few glasses of red wine might be fine, but that red wine coupled with aged cheese, salumi, eggplant (an antipasto platter) may be too much for your body and a wicked, throbbing headache is the result.

More research as I unearth it.

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    1. Read the article today also. All very interesting although far from conclusive.

      1. marria lorraine,

        This is all very important material (as was our previous discussion of sulfite sensitivity, mostly in asthmatics) but I am still at a loss for a scientific or really substantive answer for the people who are absolutely certain that they always get headaches from red wine in the US but not in France or Italy. There has to be more to that than alcohol %, hydration and lack of stress. Have you found any indication that there are different levels of tyramines in wines in different parts of the world?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Midlife

          I don't have an answer for you, midlife, nor do I think science does at this time either.

          I think science is close to an answer, though. With this new quick test for biogenic amines (mainly tyramines, but some others), it will be easy to do a country-by-country comparison, and see if the level of biogenic amines are higher in US wines that in European wines. Biogenic amines are produced (mainly, I believe) with malolactic fermentation, so one of the questions to ask is if ML is more widely used in the US than in Europe, and if the yeast strains used to begin the ML fermentation are different substantively from the ML yeasts used in Europe. (There has been some talk of the effect of different yeast strains in causing biogenic amines.) Lots of skin contact also seems to produce a good number of biogenic amines, so the question is if the ferms or the cold soaks in the US are longer on average than in Europe. I'm sorry I don't have a more definitive answer. My goal is to keep up the studies and report back as I read the updates. Appreciate your interest.