Wine and hangovers: what causes them and how to avoid them

Wine and hangovers: what causes them and how to avoid them

Do you love a good glass of wine but hate the headache and nausea that often comes the next day? You're not alone. Hangovers are something many people experience after drinking wine.

But what causes wine hangovers, and is there anything we can do to avoid them?

In this blog post, we'll take a look at wine hangovers, the difference between hangovers and red wine headaches, and the different factors that contribute to them. We'll also explore some steps we can take to avoid them, including some advanced strategies from Mike's partner, nutritionist Melissa Smith, as well as healthier wine choices that may help reduce the risk of getting a hangover.

What are hangovers and what causes them?

A hangover is the unpleasant feeling you experience after drinking too much alcohol, usually the morning after a night out. Symptoms can include nausea, fatigue, headaches, and dehydration.

One main cause of a hangover is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes the body to lose water, but at the same time, we tend not to drink water when we're drinking because we're either too distracted or don't feel thirsty since alcoholic drinks do quench our thirst.

Another main cause of hangover is due to exposure to toxic compound acetaldehyde that may be in the alcohol you drank, or from the liver's detoxification process. More on how to minimise your exposure to acetaldehyde later.

Whether you get a bad hangover or a mild one depends on how much you drink, what you drink, what other substances are in the alcohol you're consuming, your hydration level as well as if you're drinking on an empty stomach or not.

What's the difference between a red wine headache and a wine hangover?

A red wine headache is completely different to a wine hangover.

Wine headache

The wine headaches people sometimes get from red wine in particular can be a histamine response (aka an allergic reaction) to the anthocyanins and tannins found in grape skins and therefore red wine (and to a much lesser extent in white wine since it contains hardly any tannins).

In other cases, people who are histamine sensitive or intolerant might be reacting to the histamines that can be created in wine by the bacterial fermentation process. Either way, symptoms of a wine headache are mostly just varying degrees of headache, but could include sinus inflammation, breathing problems, and skin rashes. If you're someone who regularly experiences these symptoms after drinking wine, you may be experiencing the effects of allergies or sensitivity, or both.

Some wine headaches are also caused by sulphites in wine, but these can be caused by both red wine and white wine. In fact, red wines are the lesser culprit here due to generally being lower in sulphites than white wines.

Both of these types of wine headaches happen either right after or very soon after drinking even a single glass of wine.

Wine hangover

The short answer is that a wine hangover is just a normal hangover, and wine hangover symptoms are the same as those listed earlier. Wine hangovers occur many hours after you start drinking, usually the next morning after you've had a chance to sleep and sober up. They've got nothing to do with the instant headaches some people get when they consume any wine at all.

Does organic wine give you hangovers?

Organic wine can still give you a hangover if consumed in large amounts; however, it's still a great choice of wine. Natural wine, which contains no additives and only minimal sulphites added, is generally a good choice for reducing the risk of getting a hangover. We'll get more into this later, but if you want to enjoy wine and also avoid hangovers at the same time, natural wine is the best option for you.

How to avoid hangovers

If you want to 100% guarantee that you'll avoid a dreaded wine hangover, or any other kind of hangover, the answer is simple: don't drink! But if you do want to indulge in a tipple or two, there are a number of strategies that will help reduce the risk of hangovers.

How to avoid hangovers if you still want to drink alcohol

There are a number of healthier choices we can make in order to enjoy a few drinks and also avoid a hangover, or at least avoid a severe hangover. We'll start with the basics, then move on to more advanced strategies that Mike's partner, nutritionist Melissa Smith, recommends.

Stay hydrated

Of course, one of the best things you can do is to drink plenty of water when you consume alcohol. A good rule to follow is to have a glass of water for every glass of wine (or other alcoholic drink). Not only will you reduce the risk of dehydration that's associated with hangovers, you'll also likely end up drinking less alcohol, thereby reducing levels of acetaldehyde that's responsible for more severe hangovers.

Also, if you're not a huge water fan or want to ensure you're well hydrated, drink coconut water or put some electrolytes in your water can help maximise your level of hydration.

If you still drink too much booze you might not avoid a wine hangover entirely, but being hydrated can definitely help lessen the severity of your hangover.

Have a full stomach

Drink wine with food, as it slows the absorption of alcohol and gives your liver more time to process it. If you're having a night out somewhere where there won't be any food, eat a decent meal beforehand that includes a good source of protein such as meat or eggs, as certain amino acids are needed for the detoxification process in the liver (Melissa will cover this in more detail shortly).

Drink lower alcohol drinks

In order to reduce the severity of your hangover, you don't necessarily need to have fewer glasses of wine. Reducing your alcohol consumption by reducing the alcohol content of the wine you drink might be enough.

Most red, white and rosé table wines are in the 10-15% alcohol range, and looking for wines that are on the lower end of this spectrum is a good idea.

Also, switching to other alcoholic drinks with a lower ABV like beer and cider could be a good idea too. If you choose to drink beer or cider instead of wine, remember that these beverages are typically easier to consume in greater quantities, so it's important not to overdo it. Doing so could mean that you end up drinking more alcohol than if you had chosen wine, and a hangover may still be inevitable.

The biggest thing to avoid is spirits and cocktails. Due to their high ABV (deceptively high in the case of cocktails), not only can they lead to a nasty hangover, but most cases of alcohol poisoning are the result of these two culprits. Self-control is definitely key here.

Avoid sugary drinks

While the idea that alcohol and sugar combine to make hangovers worse in some direct way is an urban myth, sugar plays an indirect role.

Sugar may not necessarily make your headache worse, but what it does do is make alcohol more palatable. This is why cocktails and Champagne are so easy to drink and why they're so easy to get drunk on.

Stick to sugar-free drinks like dry reds and whites and your body will thank you. Browse our sugar free wines here.

Give natural wines a go

If you're trying to avoid a headache after indulging in a bottle of wine with friends, natural wine is easily the best choice.

Since natural winemakers don't add sulphites to the wine (or if they do it's right at the end before bottling and in very small amounts), the wines are naturally lower in acetaldehyde, which is a major contributor to the hangover headache we get the next day.

Also, the health benefits that wine has on cardiovascular health are even more pronounced in natural wines due to them being on average higher in resveratrol and other anthocyanins and antioxidants.

Shop our natural wine range here.

Advanced strategies for preventing hangovers

Eat to support your liver

While the above strategies will go some way to helping you reduce hangovers, it's worth considering giving your body a bit more support to help ease burden of booze on the body and do your best to avoid a wine hangover. Our bodies have a hard time metabolising alcohol, and the toxins that are released in the process - especially acetaldehyde - cause us to feel unwell.

Alcohol is processed by the body mostly through the glutathione conjugation pathway in the liver. Glutathione is the body's major antioxidant that processes many toxins, not just alcohol, and can often get depleted on a big night out of drinking.

To detoxify the body from alcohol, certain nutrients need to be present in order for it to happen quickly and effectively. For example, eating protein, or taking a protein supplement like whey has been shown to increase the body's supply of glutathione.

Other nutrients include B-vitamins, vitamin C, and selenium that either are involved in the detox process, or work as antioxidants to help neutralise the damaging effects of alcohol on the body. So when consuming meals before or during drinking, be mindful of eating foods that are rich sources of these, such as:

  • B-vitamins: animal protein sources, eggs, fish, mushrooms, nuts, seeds
  • Vitamin C: broccoli, capsicum, kiwifruit, brussels sprouts, berries
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, sardines, mussels, fish, egg, chickpea flour

Liposomal glutathione or NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) - a precursor to glutathione - can also be taken supplementally to boost glutathione levels.

By consuming these nutrients before and after consuming alcohol, we can support our bodies in the detoxification process.

Take activated charcoal

Activated charcoal binds with alcohol in the stomach, preventing some of it from being absorbed into the bloodstream, thereby lessening the burden on the liver to process it.

Activated charcoal can be taken in capsule form or as a powder that you can mix into water, although capsules are much easier to consume, so are recommended. Taking a few capsules before drinking, while and after drinking can make a big difference to how you feel the next day. Just be mindful that as it is a binder, it does bind to minerals when consumed with food, so using charcoal sparingly is the best strategy to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Herbs that help with detoxing

There are many fantastic herbs that help support the liver, too many to mention here. These are three of the stars though that are specifically beneficial.

Green tea

Green tea and its active compound, EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate) has been known to support the liver's detox of alcohol. EGCG is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the liver from oxidative damage caused by alcohol consumption. It also promote the first phase of detoxification, before glutathione jumps in to process alcohol. 

Silymarin (Milk Thistle)

Silymarin, a flavonoid found in milk thistle has been used for centuries to support the liver's detoxification process. Studies have shown that silymarin helps reduce alcohol-induced oxidative stress and inflammation in the liver, as well as aiding in the regeneration of hepatocytes (liver cells). Pretty amazing!


Curcumin is another antioxidant found in turmeric that has been found to protect the liver from alcohol-induced damage. It helps to reduce inflammation, protect hepatocytes from damage and also promote the regeneration of healthy liver cells.

You might be able to find these herbs at your local chemist, however the best quality ones are accessible via herbalists or naturopaths.

And for the day after, if all else fails... Magnesium - a hangover's best friend

Magnesium can be a big help in relieving hangover symptoms, such as nausea, headaches and fatigue. Even though the damage has already been done to some degree, taking magnesium can reduce these unpleasant after-effects. Additionally, continuing to consume beneficial nutrients mentioned above will aid your body with effectively removing the remaining alcohol and acetaldehyde.

By combining these strategies together, we can do our best to support our bodies and help prevent hangovers after drinking wine. Not only will this ensure that we're not suffering the next morning, but it may also help to reduce long-term damage to the body caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

The final word on wine and hangovers

There's nothing wrong with having a glass of wine or a martini with friends every now and then, and there is also nothing wrong with wanting to avoid a headache the next day.

The causes of a hangover can mostly be narrowed down to; drinking too much alcohol, not drinking enough water, and not eating enough food before and while drinking.

A hangover is also not the same thing as a wine headache, with the latter being a histamine reaction mostly to tannins in red wine or intolerance to histamines in wine, and to sulphites in wine with high levels of added sulphites, hence why natural wine is a good go-to here.

Luckily, there are ways of minimising the severity of a hangover, or even avoiding one completely, but most of these are things you must do before you go to sleep. 

So, before you resign yourself to hiding in a dark room and resorting to a pain reliever like ibuprofen being your only way of getting rid of the headache after a big night, try some of the solutions in this blog.

Also, if you're on the lookout for some of those sugar-free natural wines we mentioned earlier, Feravina is your perfect one-stop-shop for just that since each and every one of our wines fit that description. So why not grab a bottle or two that look good to you and see if it makes a difference?

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