Are the Sulfites in Red Wine to Blame for Headaches?

Some people avoid red wine because, they say, it gives them headaches, pointing to the mysterious "Contains Sulfites" label on the bottle. The fact is, white wine usually contains more sulfites than red wine. It's more likely that those red wine headaches are caused by an allergy to tannins, which come from the grape skins used as a natural preservative. Red wine also has more histamines than white wine, and low levels of a certain enzyme that metabolizes histamines may be the cause of some headaches. There are two other components of red wine that could also be headache catalysts: A naturally occurring amino acid called tyramine may be making you miserable, or your body may be reacting to lipid compounds called prostaglandins. Of course, drinking too much alcohol can cause your head to pound, too, regardless of any other compounds that may be lurking in your wine glass.

Sulfites are everywhere:

  • Sulfites refer to sulfur dioxide, a preservative used in winemaking to prevent oxidation and preserve freshness. Sulfites are used in most food industries because of their antioxidant and antibacterial qualities.

  • Sulfites are mostly harmless, unless you suffer from severe asthma or do not have the necessary enzymes to break them down. According to the FDA, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population is sulfite-sensitive.

  • Symptoms of sulfite allergy can include asthma, nasal congestion, skin rash, nausea, and gastrointestinal distress. But wine is not the only cause. In fact, wine contains 10 times fewer sulfites than most dried fruits.

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More Info: The Kitchn

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