Sulfites in Wine
Myth: Sulfites cause headaches
Sulfite (sulfur dioxide or SO2) is a chemical that occurs naturally during wine fermentation. It is also added by winemakers to protect and preserve the wine's character, flavor, and color. It impedes the oxidation of the wine and prevents it from fermenting its way to vinegar.
Natural wines, thought by many to be sulfite-free, actually contain these naturally produced sulfites. (2)
Are they the cause of wine headaches? Probably not.
“I get headaches when I drink red wine. But not white wine.”
Well, this does not sound like sulfites - they are present in both, and usually in greater amounts in white wines. In reality, the amount of sulfites in 4 glasses of wine is small - less than in a small serving of dried fruit. The condiments you just slathered on your hamburger contain more sulfites than a bottle of wine.
Do you get a headache from a Big Mac?
The multitude of compounds created during fermentation plus commercial additives meant to colorize, sweeten, and balance wines are a cocktail of chemicals that defy a simple correlation to wine headaches.
Sulfite allergies are fairly uncommon, but do NOT include headaches. Common sulfite allergy symptoms include:
- runny nose
- sinus congestion
- trouble breathing
- asthma attacks
- redness of the skin
The more likely culprits for your headaches include histamines, tannins, dehydration, and of course alcohol. (3)
In a new development, a recent study in "Scientific Reports" suggests phenolic flavonoids, compounds that derive from grape seeds and skin and which contribute to red wine’s color, taste and mouthfeel are prime candidates for causing immediate headaches. (4)
So ... hydrate well, watch the amount you drink, but embrace your wines.
(1) Waterhouse, A.L. (2016) Sulfites. Waterhouse Labs. https://waterhouse.ucdavis.edu/whats-in-wine/sulfites
(2) Do sulfites in wine cause headaches?(n.d.) Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sulfites-in-wine-headache
(3) Slinkard, S. (2021) Understanding Wine Sulfites. The Spruce Eats. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-are-wine-sulfites-3511277)
(4) Sample, I. (11/2023). The Guardian. Scientists say mystery ... https://apple.news/AVGhWUQUbRb6sHM3vLt6PMA
(Nite: this is a link to the News feed and may not be persistent.)