It is well known that drinking wine has positive effects on health when taken in moderation. Wine contains antioxidants that protect cells against damage. But who knows about wine allergy and the effect that it can have on health? Whereas a true wine allergy is rare, it is not uncommon to experience intolerance-like symptoms such as rashes, diarrhea and vomiting (aside from drinking too much...). Different chemicals and ingredients in wine can cause a reaction. What are these reactions and what are the symptoms caused by?
Common wine allergy symptoms
Allergy symptoms occur when the immune system overreacts to an allergen. If there is an allergy, the immune system acts as if the allergen were dangerous, releasing a chemical called histamine that causes allergy symptoms. A reaction can be mild but may be life threatening in some cases. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that occurs suddenly and can worsen quickly. However it rarely happens with wine consumption.
The most common symptoms of a wine intolerance or allergy are: skin rashes, flushed skin, diarrhea, vomiting, shortness of breath, stomach cramps, runny nose and swollen eyes. There are also long-term symptoms of wine intolerance, such as: eczema, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue and low mood.
What are the symptoms of a wine intolerance caused by?
The symptoms are caused by an intolerance or immune reaction to some food ingredients or chemicals in wine. These issues have long been attributed to sulfites, but research now shows that other components such as glycoproteins may be to blame for this reaction to wine.
Sulfites occur naturally in the process of making wine. They are often added to wine as preservatives. Sulfites are not only found in wine and beer, but also in a large variety of foods like dried fruit. The FDA estimates that one out of 100 people is sensitive to sulfites. Since there are sulfites in other foods, why would people have a reaction to sulfites in wine only? Sulfites may not be the problem in wine sensitivity.
Glycoproteins are proteins that also occur in other fruits such as bananas and kiwis. While some glycoproteins get formed during the fermentation process, others just live in the grape itself. When consumed, they may trigger allergy symptoms. Once again, more research is needed to confirm this.
Also, it is not uncommon to be allergic to a specific grape variety. For instance, red wine seems to trigger more symptoms than white wine. The Red Wine Headache (RWH) is a headache often accompanied by nausea and flushing that occurs after drinking even a single glass of red wine.
Sulfites are not the cause of RWH as almost all wine contains sulfites, including white wine. As for histamines (a chemical which occurs naturally in certain foods and which is also released in the body as part of an allergic reaction), studies found no difference in reactions to low and high histamine wine. What about tannins that give a red wine pigment and bitterness? There are other foods that contain tannin, such as tea or chocolate. If people do not react to a cup of tea, why would they react to tannin in red wine?
As a conclusion, there are a few theories for wine allergy. On the list of most possible causes are: prostaglandins, tyramine, yeast and bacteria, substances in the cork, and even the alcohol itself... This is not to say that more research is not needed to find the causes. For people who experience allergy symptoms, abstinence is likely to be the best option so far.