Tannins, Wine, and Migraine Headaches

What are tannins?

Tannins - plant polyphenols - are an integral part of creating a red wine. The red color and the sharp taste both come from the skins of the grape, which are left on during part of fermentation to seep into the wine itself. That color and taste is the result of tannins. Tannins are not only found in wine - they are found in many foods, such as cheeses and nuts, and even drinks such as tea. Wood aging also adds some tannin to red wines.

Tannins are used by a plant to prevent creatures from eating it. The bitter taste, as well as other effects it causes on the digestion system of the creature, tend to cause the plant to be safe from being eaten.

For humans, tannins are often found to be pleasureable. People who drink tea enjoy its bitter taste, and also the 'buzz' it can give to some. However, as always, various bodies react differently to chemicals. For some people, the tannins found in nature can cause too strong of a 'buzz', leading to mild or severe headaches.

If you think you might be sensitive to tannins, try drinking a strong tea. If you feel your tongue getting "leathery", that is the tannins at work, tanning your tongue. If this gives you a headache or other problem, talk with a doctor.

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

What are tannins useful for?

Tannins are touted as excellent antioxidants. The tea industry is promoting this aspect of tea, as are all other industries whose foods involve tannin.

Polyphenols in general are found to lower total cholesterol, and also improve the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol. They lower blood pressure, lessen risks of cancer, stimulate the immune system, and have anti-bacterial properties.

How might tannins cause headaches?

Tannins tend to bind starches while being digested. These starches are needed by the body to produce serotonin. In some people, who are extremely sensitive to their serotonin levels, it appears the lack of serotonin can lead to a migraine. It sort of "starves" the body for this type of raw material, much as not eating for many hours might lead this person to have the same migraine.

Tannin sensitivity is also now thought to be cumulative - a person who begins life with no tannin sensitivities may yet develop one as he or she ages. People who are sensitive to tannins need to moderate their intake of tannins in all forms, and also be sure to eat a reasonable amount of food while ingesting tannins, so the binding affects of tannins do not cause undue stress.

So in general, tannins are very good for you, as long as you aren't allergic to them. Take the time to determine if you are allergic to them. If you get headaches from wine, it could be the tannins - or it could be something else. If you eliminate tannins as being the culprit, look through the other items below to determine what it could be.

Cogeners and wine - Cheap Wine Headaches
European Wines Cause Fewer Headaches?
Histamines and wine
Sulfites and wine

Caveat: I am not a doctor ... for detailed answers about how wine will affect you personally given your medical condition and lifestyle, contact your family physician

Wine Glossary Main Listing
T Glossary Words

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.