Mythbuster: Do Sulfites in Wine Cause Headaches?

By Lauryn Shabanowitz; Executive Sommelier and Owner of A Crushed Grape- Denver
Posted

One of the things I hear all time is "I can't drink wine because the sulfites give me a headache." When someone tells me this I just have to chuckle, and then I add this... "Do you drink orange juice? Yes? Well did you know orange juice has twice as many sulfites in it than wine?"

Let's start from the beginning.... what are sulfites?

1. Sulfites are basically sulfur dioxide. It is naturally occurring in ALL wines, red or white. It acts a natural cleaning agent and preservative in wine. However, many winemakers also add additional sulfites to their wine as an extra preservation method. It helps the wine make a smooth trip during transporting and distribution. However, many "sustainable" wineries are now making their wines with "less" sulfites. In addition, many organic wines are also generally lower in sulfites.

2. There are more sulfites in white wine than red wine! Many people are surprised to hear this fact, but it still makes them question why red wine gives them more headaches than white wine. Well, the answer to that question is below.

3. Do sulfites give you a headache? There has been no scientific correlation between sulfites and headaches... So yes... THIS IS AN URBAN MYTH! People who are allergic to sulfites will not get headaches, but more of an "allergic" reaction, (i.e. stuffy nose, itchy skin, etc).

So, What's causing those headaches?

Well, for one, it is probably thanks to the histamines in wines. Yes, histamines are also naturally occurring in wine, (and yes, more in red than white), and those histamines can give you a bit of a headache. Also, the higher the alcohol, the more likely you are to get a headache.

But, don't blame the poor sulfites. It's not their fault. Now-a-days there are wines that are low in histamines as well. However, be mindful of your body and what you can handle. Just because something is lower in alcohol and histamines doesn't necessarily mean you can drink more of it. And finally, if you wake up in the morning with a massive headache, don't blame the histamines either.... it's not their fault. Knowing how much you can drink and what your body can handle will help you to not wake up the next morning with those headaches!

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