Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Do you think you are allergic to wine? Sulfites and dyes may be to blame!

To continue on with our allergic to alcohol series, this post focuses on allergies that can result from drinking wine.

Like beer, wine too is an ancient beverage, with historic records of wine dating back thousands of years.  Ancient Greeks and Romans had Gods that represented wine; Dionysus and Bacchus, indicating how important wine has been to societies since the earliest of human civilizations.

In it’s simplest form, wine is made from grapes and yeast. Therefore, people who are allergic to either grapes or yeast can have allergic reactions to wine. Wine has the same LTPs as in beer, so this same pollen-cross reactivity (also known as oral allergy syndrome) is common in people who drink wine. However, wine presents a whole different set of allergies than beer. Let’s dive in!

As the saying goes, wine gets better with age, so naturally wine is intended to be kept for a long time. This is particularly true for French red wine. However, in order to keep wines around without having an overgrowth of nasty bacteria or fungi, wine producers may add sulfites to their wines. Sulfates help keep wines fresh, prevent spoilage and oxidization and give them a longer shelf life.  It is not uncommon for people to collect wine or keep a full cellar, and some of this is made possible by sulfates.
While sulfites help preserve wine, sulfates can also cause an allergic like reaction in many people. Sulfites have been known to cause hives, worsen asthma, sneezing and even throat swelling.  Interestingly enough, it is usually not a true allergy, but a negative reaction to sulfites is actually quite common (sulfites are listed among the top nine causes of food allergy by the FDA). Other common foods that contain this preservative are dried fruits and synthetic lemon juice.

Therefore, if you are looking to avoid sulfates, you should try and Italian red wine or an organic wine, which rarely contain sulfates.  Similarly, white wines are also much less likely to have sulfites. However, white wines can contain dyes, which are added to give a richer color (particularly yellow dyes), and these dyes can cause reactions similar to sulfites in susceptible people.  Anybody who has had reactions to foods containing dyes (Jell-o, fruit juices, candies, etc.) should be careful when choosing white wine, or should avoid it all together.

Wine also contains histamine, the chemical compound that begins the allergic reaction in the first place. Histamine is normally sequestered by immune cells in the body, and released when an allergen triggers its release. But histamine is also a normal byproduct of the fermentation process, and any fermented foods (wine, beer, kim chi, kombucha, miso, etc.) contain some level of histamine. These foods usually contain a very small amount of histamine, but It just so happens that red wines can have a lot of histamine, up to 4 mg per serving!

If you have ever felt like you have had a negative reaction to wine, you may be allergic. However don’t fret, this doesn’t necessarily mean your wine drinking days are over. There may be certain properties you just need to avoid and you should figure out what is causing your reaction and not drink wines with those ingredients. 

Talk with one of the doctors at Hudson Allergy about your symptoms and we can set up a time to test if you have allergies to sulfites or dyes. Let us help you figure out how you can continue to enjoy one of the world’s most ancient delicacies.

Contact us: 212.729.1283 or