Wine Allergy


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wine-allergyFor some people, a glass of red wine is an invitation to a roaring headache. After a few episodes of headache and queasiness, those who suffer them may banish wine from their tables for life. The symptoms are part of a syndrome known as Red Wine Headache, or RWH.

Red Wine Headache

“The red wine headache is a real if poorly understood phenomenon,” says an article in the June issue of the Harvard Health Letter. That is a masterpiece of understatement. There are many theories about what causes the syndrome, but few facts. Dr. Fred Freitag, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, said no one really knows what leads a patient to develop this type of headache.

It may be caused by “compounds found in grape skins. They are either naturally occurring or produced through fermentation,” Dr. Freitag said. He would postulate no further. “It’s not as if there are hundreds of thousands of dollars for funding” studies to determine the cause, Dr. Freitag said. There is actually a stigma to studying the subject. “I’ve entertained the idea of looking for grants to study this and I’ve been told, ‘Don’t go there, it’s bad P.R.,’” Dr. Freitag said. Bad publicity comes to those who would study drinking? Carry Nation is with us yet.

A sulfite allergy used to take the blame for RWH. About 20 years ago the Food and Drug Administration determined that about 1 percent of the population is allergic to sulfites and required that wines containing certain levels of the compound be labeled “contains sulfites.” Many people have assumed, incorrectly, that the labeling is designed to warn people who get a red wine headache. [In fact, sulfite sensitivity is a true allergy. Sufferers experience an allergic reaction, but not a headache. RWH is something else.]

Scientists have pointed out, however, that many sweet white wines contain more sulfites than red wines — yet do not cause headaches in those who suffer from RWH Additionally, dried fruits usually contain sulfites but you never hear of dried fruit headaches. Sulfites can cause an allergic reaction [breathing problems], Dr. Freitag said, but they give headaches only to asthmatics.

Other experts think tannins are at the root of the headaches. Tannins are the flavonoids in wine that set one’s mouth to puckering. The Harvard Health Letter notes several well-controlled experiments showing that tannins cause the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. High levels of serotonin can cause headaches and that may happen in people who also suffer from migraine headaches. But that does not explain why people who do not get migraines get RWH. Dr. Marion Nestle, chairwoman of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU, added that no one complains about tea, soy, or chocolate headaches — though all contain tannins.

A third school of thought blames histamines. Histamines are 20 – 200% higher in red wine than in white, and those who are allergic to them are deficient in a certain enzyme. Some experts believe that the combination of alcohol and that deficiency can cause the headaches. But a study of 16 people with an intolerance to wine, reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Feb 2001) found no difference in reactions to low- and high-histamine wines.

A fourth suggestion is that prostaglandins — substances that contribute to pain and swelling — may cause RWH. [More on this next month!] Yet for most people who suffer from RWH, the hypotheses are irrelevant. They want to know what to do about the problem. Some Web sites suggest prevention: for histamine sensitivity, pop a non-sedating antihistamine like Claritin or take an aspirin to stop production of prostaglandins.

In 1981 Herbert Kaufman, M.D., reported that the prophylactic ingestion of aspirin prevented the red wine headache syndrome, RWH, (Lancet 1981; 1: 1263). He also noted that once RWH begins, aspirin has little or no effect in altering the headache.

Related Posts: Sulphur Allergy and Beer Allergies

By Marian Burros of Beekmans Wines & Liquors of Glen Rock, NJ. Their web site is: www.beekmanwine.com

Allergies to Wine

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Alcohol Allergy


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alcohol-allergyIf you are really allergic to alcohol, it suggests that more often than not, the other ingredients that cause allergic reaction such as yeast and sulfur dioxide are the culprits.

We do not know how people can suffer from allergies to alcohol products because many of the usual symptoms associated with alcohol consumption also associated with an allergic reaction. Reddening of the skin of the face and neck, itchy eyes and nose, hives, loss of motor functions, vomiting, and eczema are the typical reactions of the contents of wine and beer and also symptoms of allergic reactions to alcohol.

Some people in Asia experience descent unusual flushing reaction after ingestion of alcohol. This is believed to be caused by a genetic disorder. The body can not metabolize alcohol correctly. It has been suggested that anyone who experiences a flushing reaction after drinking alcohol may be at risk for esophageal cancer, disease liver, alcohol and related conditions.

Sulfur dioxide is added to wine since Roman times. It inhibits yeast growth, preventing the wine becomes wine vinegar thus giving a longer life. Sulfur dioxide also helps to give the old wine of its many different flavors. There is limits on the quantity of sulfur dioxide winemakers are permitted to add. Wines with more than 25 parts per million of sulfur dioxide should be included in the wine label.

Allergies to yeast found in wine and beer, although rare, can cause an allergic reaction and usually manifests as hives.

Red wine contains more histamine from white wines. Taking antihistamines before drinking wine can help reduce the allergic effects of histamines. Fruit wines contain low levels of histamine in wine grapes.

Always consult your physician before using this information.

About the Author: Dr Vincent Crump, of the Allergy Clinic Auckland, UK

Rose Wine Reaction