Food & Drink

Why Does Champagne Give You a Headache? It's Pretty Simple, Actually.

Published On 12/30/2016 Published On 12/30/2016
Hung over man
Elnur/Shutterstock

It's New Year's Day. Your head feels like a soft-boiled egg, cracked open and spilling across your mattress -- or the carpet of your friend's friend's sister who you regrettably crashed with after throwing up in her closet and blaming it on the cat. You are not alone. Well, maybe with the "throwing up in the closet" part. 

Overindulging in prosecco, Champagne, cava, and all other types of bubbly on NYE (or any other time) definitely seems to cause more intense hangovers than anything else this side of antifreeze and prison moonshine. And for many people, even a sip of this stuff causes headaches right away. Like an instant hangover, without all those fun bad decisions and a few hours of sleep in between. 

It's not our collective imagination. There is actually some science that explains why Champagne brings a 25oz bottle of headaches along with holiday cheer. And no, I don't know where your keys are. Sorry.

It has nothing to do with grapes, sugar, or sulfites... probably

One thing you might hear people pegging as the culprit of "Champagne headaches" is sulfites. Basically, they're just trace amounts of sulfur. But people think they must be bad because most American wines have labels that say "Contains Sulfites," and no one seems to know what the hell they are.

Sulfites are not the enemy. They essentially protect your precious alcohol from the outside influences of bacteria and oxygen. Without them, your wine would probably turn to straight vinegar. They are a naturally occurring byproduct of the fermentation process (meaning all wine will definitely have some level of sulfites, even if it doesn't say so on the label), and many winemakers will also add additional sulfite molecules to their products to help aid preservation. That's a good thing for people who hate skunked wine. And they definitely don't cause headaches. 

"Sulfites can cause allergy and asthma symptoms, but they don't cause headaches," Frederick Freitag, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and a board member of the National Headache Foundation, told the Wall Street Journal

In Champagne's case specifically, some attribute the headache symptoms to the higher-than-normal sugar content of bubbly. Others will claim some grape strains can trigger headaches by themselves.

But the science here is murky at best. There is no way to know what specific grape strains may cause a certain body to react negatively. And while sugar does dehydrate you -- which can lead to a headache -- the sugar content present in Champagne is probably not what is making your noggin pound. Especially if you don't usually get headaches when you eat a chocolate bar, for instance.

Actually, the real answer here is kind of obvious...

krodere/Shutterstock

It's just the alcohol, dummy

Yes. Unsurprisingly, the alcohol content in Champagne is what delivers the skull-shattering headaches. When you drink Champagne -- or any other type of alcohol -- the hormone that balances your internal hydration is suppressed. So, you end up peeing a lot more. This leads to dehydration. Which leads to headaches in the morning. That's some Bill Nye-level simplicity. 

Also, the crushing guilt of what you did the night before probably doesn't help how you feel, either.

And the bubbles are to blame, too

The reason the alcohol in Champagne -- as opposed to beer or other wine -- seems to hit harder is primarily due to its high levels of carbonation. Damn it! I love those little bubbles.

Those sweet little orbs contain carbon dioxide, which  "increases the pressure in your stomach, forcing alcohol out through the lining of your stomach into the bloodstream," according to an (actually pretty handy) Princeton University resource on alcohol consumption. The carbon dioxide also ends up competing with the oxygen in your bloodstream, which can cause some dizziness and feelings of nausea.  

Basically, despite not being as strong as other drinks, Champagne will get you intoxicated quicker because of its bubbles, and it strangles off some oxygen flowing to your brain -- so the after-effects are exacerbated when compared to other alcohol. And it explains why you might be so eager to down multiple glasses of the stuff in a short amount of time.

I mean, it's pretty tasty, too. That probably doesn't help.

Good news! Cheap Champagne doesn't make it worse.

One silver lining here: Because the achy effects of the Champagne are probably due to bubbles and overall alcohol levels, it doesn't really matter if you're popping bottles on a budget -- as "cheap" ingredients probably aren't the culprit here.

So feel free to drink Andre like you are actually Andre from here on out. You might get judged, but you won't get a (worse) hangover than someone sipping Dom Perignon.

And no, I don't know where your car is, either. 

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He actually blames Gwyneth Paltrow for most of the world's problems. Follow him @wilfulton.

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