Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sulfites, do they cause wine headaches?


This was one of the things that I used to hear time and time again “I like wine, but many of them cause headaches, which ones don’t?”  There has been a lot of research done on this and there are many assumptions, but no scientific explanations or solutions.  

The #1 cause of these headaches for many wine drinkers are believed to be the sulfites in wine.  Sulfites occur naturally in all wines due to the effects from fermentation, but some winemakers add sulfites to help preserve the wine and stop the yeasts from continuing to transform the wine.  Some think that organic wines don’t have sulfites, but this isn’t true.  Even organic wines have sulfites, it’s just that some of those producers choose not to add any more than what naturally takes place.  If a wine didn’t have sulfites it wouldn’t last.  The same goes for food.  If some food didn’t have sulfites it would spoil.  All my wine by now would be have gone bad in my wine cellar so I appreciate whatever it takes to build a solid wine that is age worthy.

Some people have sensitivity to sulfites due to allergies, but its causes more problems in the form of asthma and difficulty breathing than creating headaches.  Per Wikipedia, dried fruits and processed foods have way more sulfites than red wine and only less than 1% of the population is sensitive to sulfites.  Since we as Americans eat a lot of processed foods we are frequently consuming sulfites daily and if you are not getting headaches frequently from that, chances are that sulfites are not the answer.  

Wine also contains amines and in wine those amines are histamines and tyramines.  Red wines contain a higher amount of histamines than white wines so most folks seem to experience more headaches with red wines.  Some suggestions are to try taking allergy medication like a Claritin or Benadryl prior to consuming wine to avoid some of these effects.  I personally can’t see people popping allergy medication to try and put off future headaches from wine drinking.

My suggestion is to either speak with your doctor about your concerns, but even more so I would experiment with wines of all different countries, Old World and New World wines, and all different varietals in both reds and whites.  Not only to figure out what causes headaches for you and what doesn’t, but also because it’s fun and you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you step outside your comfort zone and explore.