Wednesday, January 25, 2012
You are not allergic to sulfites
No, you're not.
Some people are allergic to sulfites; it can be a life-threatening condition. They can go into anaphylactic shock and die. Sulfite allergy can cause "labored breathing, wheezing, gas, diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, skin hives and a severe drop in blood pressure." (Here's a link.)
But sulfites do not cause red wine headaches. And you know what? On average, white wines have more sulfites than red wines. So does dried fruit.
If you can eat raisins, you are not allergic to sulfites. If you can drink white wine, you are not allergic to sulfites.
So what causes your red wine headaches?
I'm sorry, but I don't know. Even if you do weeks of expensive allergy testing, you might not find out. Red wine is a fermented product of grapes and grape skins that's a soup of (mostly) naturally occurring chemicals. You might be intolerant -- not truly allergic -- of any of them. Headaches are not caused by true food allergies. Your symptoms are real; I don't doubt that for a moment, because I'm intolerant of tomatoes, and I get pissed off at the occasional person who suggests it's all in my head. Tomatoes give me gastrointestinal symptoms and, in high doses I'm smart enough to not eat anymore, hives -- but not headaches.
You might be intolerant of sulfites; that's possible. But let's get back to that white wine/red wine comparison. White wines on average contain more sulfites than red wines.
So you are not allergic to sulfites.
I've heard this story dozens of times: "But I was in Europe and I could drink red wines there without a problem. And they don't say 'Contains sulfites' on the label."
That's true, but the reason is that US law requires the sulfite disclosure on wine, and EU law doesn't. More than 99% of European wines contain added sulfites, just like US wines, and the levels aren't different on average.
I'm sorry, I don't know why you can drink wine in Europe and not here. Maybe you're not stressed over there. Don't ignore the alcohol percentage, which is generally lower over there. If you can drink some wines but others make you feel ill, then don't drink the wines that make you feel ill.
But you are not allergic to sulfites.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 7:30 AM