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Do Sulfites in Wine Cause Headaches?


Many times, guests will tell us the sulfites in wine gives them a headache. In reply to this comment, I want to break down why sulfites are in wine.

Sulfites make sure your wine does not spoil during the wine making process. After the wine has been made, sulfites help to ensure that your wine will keep for many years and not just weeks or months in the wine bottle. Sulfites also help your wine to be free from the effects of oxidation. This is when the color of the wine darkens and the flavor takes on a little bitterness.


Adding sulfites to wine is important and highly recommended. It’s like buying insurance for making a wine that doesn’t spoil or oxidize. If you do not add sulfites you can make wine successfully but will find it hard for the wine to keep over extended periods of time, usually not more than 6 months.


Also, sulfites are a natural by-product of the fermentation process that work as a preservative against certain yeast and bacteria. But fermentation alone doesn’t produce enough sulfite to preserve a wine for more than a few months in the bottle, so winemakers add extra in order to keep microbes at bay.


Do sulfites cause headaches? Many drinkers say they do. Science says they don’t. There are many foods such as dried fruits, chips, raisins, soy sauce, pickles and juice fruits containing concentration of sulfites even ten times higher than that of wine.


Sulfites were once linked to headache after wine ingestion. However, most of this belief is either speculative or in fact wrong, since the food and wine preservative sulfur dioxide (SO2), - called sulfite, present in wines, is much more existent in common foods that do not trigger headache attacks, such as dried fruit…


Now, having said that, many people do experience headaches when drinking red wine. While the science is as yet unclear, major suspects include histamine and tyramine, two natural chemicals that can mess with blood pressure and lead to headaches.  (Red wines have more histamine, but white wines usually have much more sulfite.) There’s also the inconvenient argument that wine contains alcohol, which can cause significant dehydrating—and thus headache-inducing—effect.


So Why Do I Get a Headache When I Drink Red Wine?


All of these scientific facts, however, do nothing more than say that sulfites are probably not the culprit for the well-known phenomenon of red wine headaches. Other possible reasons include, as I mentioned above, histamines, the alcohol content itself, dehydration, and tannins.

We have found if you drink a glass of water, before or after wine consumption, this will lower the headache effect.



Happy Tippling!


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