Say goodbye to your wine headache, thanks to an engineered yeast scientists have created
First, a South African winery created a supercharged healthy wine; now University of Illinois scientists are solving the other downside to a nice class of vino: the dreaded wine headache.
Researchers have engineered a genetically-modified yeast that could greatly increase the health benefits of wine while reducing the toxic byproducts that cause your morning-after headache. "Fermented foods—such as beer, wine, and bread—are made with polyploid strains of yeast, which means they contain multiple copies of genes in the genome,” says lead study author Yong-Su Jin, Ph.D. By genetically altering the yeast, his team has created new, healthier bioactive compounds, like 10 times the amount of wine’s famously healthy antioxidant resveratrol per glass. (What Do You Really Know About Antioxidants?)
It could also fix the pesky problems that come with a great glass of Merlot. The yeast—a technology that has been created, but has yet to actually be paired with a bottle of red—would target amine compounds, high concentrations of which contribute to the allergic reactions that lead to headaches. (Decode What Your Headache is Trying to Tell You.)
It would work by targeting the second fermentation in wine production—the stage that creates a smooth final texture, but it also creates healthy bacterial strains that lead to irritating amine compounds. “We envision that our yeast engineering technology can get rid of the secondary fermentation step—and therefore the headache-contributing allergens—while still making wine taste smooth,” Jin explains.
Unfortunately, this new-and-improved wine is still years away from being sold in a store near you. Plus, there is a chance it won’t actually solve your pounding head, because not all flare-ups are caused from the histamines created by amine compounds.
In fact, in a Brazilian study, 33 people tried the same four varieties of wine and all the bottles caused headaches in at least some of the participants—but no single variety caused pain for everyone. That means while most of us experience a wine hangover, we’re probably all reacting to different compounds.
“There are extracts from the grape skin and even those from the storage vessels during aging that can also cause migraines,” explains headache expert Frederick Freitag, associate professor of neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. And most of these irritating compounds haven’t even been identified yet, making it a lot harder to target or avoid them. Plus, there’s the alcohol itself, which can affect your blood vessels and enhance dehydration, all contributing to a pounding head. (Quiet the pain with these 8 Natural Remedies for Coughs, Headaches, and More.)
But even if the experts don’t know exactly which compounds cause that day-after effect, they do know which varieties are more considerate of your pain. To avoid a wine headache, opt for white over red (the lighter variety doesn’t keep the skin on the grapes during fermentation), varieties aged in stainless steel over oak (for less irritating compounds from the storage vessel), fruity flavors over buttery (the latter of which are traditionally aged in oak), and with lower alcohol content. (Or, maybe even one of these 20 Sublime Summer Wines Under $20.)