Some Thoughts on Tannins and Headaches 
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  • Posted 1 year ago
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Headaches and wine. I never get them. Then again, I rarely drink too much. But there are some of us who at the whiff of a glass of red wine, have severe headaches. Read on….

Tannins: Why do plants produce them and what do they do for us? 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.

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.

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, though I don’t think I get a buzz from tannins.

However, with anything consumed, some of us react differently than others. For me, I’m lactose intolerant, so no milk or ice cream for me. For some people, the tannins found in “nature” can cause too strong of a ‘buzz’, leading to mild or severe headaches. The reason I quoted “nature” is the wine industry has lots of powdered tannins available to us for addition at different stages of winemaking. I have often heard from folks that they can get sloshed on wine when in Europe and not get a headache but get a zinger of a headache drinking some wines over here. Could it be that maybe at the natural lower levels that are extracted from the skins only are at a low enough threshold to keep the headaches at bay? Possibly. And when tannins are added in the winemaking process, the threshold quantity is now high enough to provide a headache? Possibly. Could the grape variety have a bearing on it? I’d think so. Some will produce more tannins than others. And some regions, due to environmental factors, enable plants to produce more or less tannins. To me, I really think it’s the added tannins that cause the headaches — that’s just my theory. So….

What are tannins useful for?
Tannins are wonderful antioxidants. The tea industry has long promoted this aspect of tea, as well as other food and beverage industries whose products have lots of tannins.

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. The biggie that unites all of this is tannins are anti-inflammatory. And inflammation is one of the pinnacles of many health issues today as inflammation suppresses the immune system.

ADD kicked in. I forgot. 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 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.

Cheers, Jim

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