I’m getting a headache!

~A researcher at Berkeley named Richard Mathies published a report Thursday in a journal called Analytical Chemistry. Once again, this is a report concerning the red wine headache.
~Mathies is quoted in an AP story as having said the following:
“The food you eat is so unbelievably coupled with your body’s chemistry…”
~Can anyone dispute that claim? Not much news there.
~The AP story goes on to say that several culprits have been identified as potential triggers for the red wine headache, not the least of which are called amines (or biogenic amines). These are substances like histamine and tyramine.

Histamine is the result of a complicated chemical reaction to the amino acid histidine.

Histamine is implicated in sleep control, white blood cell immune system response, allergic responses, and food poisoning.

Certain production methods, such as malolactic fermentation, may increase the level of histamine already established in a wine by the breakdown and interaction of proteins and acetaldehyde.

Tyramine is one of the many results of fermentation or decay; it is found in aged, smoked, marinated, cured, pickled, or spoiled, fish and meats. The chemical is also found in most cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, tofu, miso soup, soy products, chocolate, pickled vegetables, many plant foods, and of course, alcoholic beverages.

Tyramine has been identified in connection with blood pressure rises—and drops—plus it has been connected to—yet denied by some—migraine headaches.
Tyramine is also connected to malolactic fermentation in wine.

~The above is a truly cursory look at the two amines that are being implicated as the cause of the red wine headache. While scientists may have identified these amines as potential culprits, scientists have not, as far as I know, issued a definitive answer to the red wine headache.
~Almost every red wine undergoes malolactic fermentation—not many whites do. Therefore, the wine headache that is mostly connected to red wine seems also likely to be mostly connected to malolactic fermentation.
~Mathies has the answer. He has co-founded a company to create a smaller version of a device already created at Berkeley as the result of a NASA research program.
~Matheis’ device would be small enough to be a so-called “personal digital assistant.” It could go along with you to your favorite restaurant so that you can test the wine before drinking it. The device measures the amine level in wine—does it in five minutes.
~Matheis says that he is hot on this device mainly because red wine gives him a racing heart and high blood pressure.
~I don’t deny, discount, nor think crazy this kind of story and these kinds of devices—well, maybe I think them crazy. But once again, here’s my problem with this kind of stuff:

If tyramine, histamine and other amines are the problem, why doesn’t Matheis get a racing heart or high blood pressure from one or more of the foods in that list above?

~Like those crummy magnets that are supposed to make your wine better, wine seems to attract gadgets that will make both the wine and your life better. Why not a cheese magnet or device? Or something we can stick into our smoked meat dish at the restaurant to find out its amine level?
~About fifteen years ago someone told me that the best way to ward off a wine headache is to drink a glass of water for each glass of wine. For fifteen years, I have been following that advice—I have had no wine headaches for the past fifteen years.
~There is one problem that I have yet to solve: sneezing. Many, many first sips of red wine make me sneeze. I attribute that reaction to the histamines, and it just dies down after a while.
~The other day, about fifteen minutes after eating a good chunk of a moldy cheese I had a sneezing fit. Hmmm. Must be something to this amine thing—but it isn’t just wine!

Histamine      Tyramine

Histamine and Malolactic   Tyramine and Malolactic

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

2 Responses to “I’m getting a headache!”

  1. winophite says:

    I just read this article about an hour ago. While I know there is a lot of interest in finding the answer to headaches, seems like a lot of expensive reseach for very little gain in this case. My wife used to get headaches after just a couple of sips of wine. After a hysterectomy and some hormonal changes, bottabing… headaches are mostly a thing of the past- migraines too.

    I think research such as this should be privately funded, (or from industry sources). I hope Berkely is not footing the bill on this “gadget”. WP

  2. Thomas says:

    Good point, I mean about Berkeley funding the research. In fact, I think the university did fund it, but it was under a NASA grant to establish the viability of certain organisms to survive on Mars. Really. I am not kidding.

    So this researcher has an entrepreneurial brain–or partner–and applies the thing to what is fast becoming the domain for obsessive compulsives: wine!