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Wine Headaches through Sulfites and their Removal

Posted: Thursday, 02 July 2015 17:00

Wine Headaches through Sulfites and their Removal

July 02: A chance posting by a member of the Facebook closed group of Indian Wine Academy talked about a US company developing a filter pod that looks like a sieve and instantly removed sulfites, that made me sit up and do some research on the Net, writes Subhash Arora who came across an interesting article that re-affirms that sulfites cause no headaches but people extremely sensitive to them can simply use a few drops of Hydrogen Peroxide to neutralize the effect

Sulfites consist of several sulphur compounds, especially sulphur dioxide (SO2) which are the natural by-products of the fermentation process. They work as a preservative against certain yeast and bacteria which would spoil the wine if allowed to multiply. But not enough sulfites are produced to preserve the wine for an extended period in the bottle, so winemakers need to add extra in order to keep microbes at bay.

Sulfites are also found naturally or added in several foods, especially all processed foods are likely to contain at least some level of sulfites.

In 1986, the FDA identified sulfites as an allergen, following a rash of asthma cases reported around that time. They were banned from raw fruits and vegetables and as part of the warning label push in the late 1980s the US government required that sulfites be disclosed on wine labels if they could be detected at a level of 10 mg/L or higher. Less than that and wine can be called sulfite-free. Though many foreign producers include US warning labels, technically the rules only apply to domestic wines, according to the Report.

FDA concedes that the overall prevalence of sulfite sensitivity is unknown, but “probably low” and frequently associated with severe asthmatics. However, many people still believe that sulfites in wine cause a wide range of medical conditions including headaches. Scientists say they have not found any correlation, same as for MSG.

A 2008 study in The Journal of Headache and Pain on alcohol and headaches said that even in individuals with asthmatic sulfite sensitivity, they  have not been shown to cause headaches. On the other hand, there are many foods such as dried fruits, chips, raisins, soy sauce, pickles and fruit juice containing concentration of sulfites even ten times higher than in wine.

According to the Article, the Journal of Head and Face Pain noted in 2014 that “Sulfites were once linked to headache after wine ingestion but this belief is either speculative or in fact wrong, since the food and wine preservative sulphur dioxide (generically sulfite) is much more in common foods like dried fruits that do not trigger headaches. Organic wines contain much lower levels of sulfites but the persistence of the headache triggering potential still remains. Published literature has also not yet established any links between the two. Studies have reportedly found that people complain of headaches just as much after drinking sulfite-free wines.

But it’s also a fact that many people do experience headaches with drinking red wine. The science is as yet unclear but histamine and tyramine are two natural chemicals that are suspected to increase blood pressure and cause headaches. Curiously, red wines have more histamine, but white wines usually have much more sulfite. Some people believe in the simplistic theory that wine contains alcohol and is dehydrating, thus causing headaches.

Simple Solution- H2O2

The Üllo filter pod developed by a Chicago based start-up claims to instantly and selectively capture sulfites when wine is poured through it through pods made from a food grade polymer that selectively sequesters sulfites, and not the other ingredients in wine. It claims to remove sulfites from any beverage, including hard ciders and champagne.

It claims to be unique as it removes sulfites selectively, without affecting other important elements of wine chemistry. Because of this, the Üllo purification may give your wine a rounder, less bitter flavor.


However, the Article in suggests reducing or completely removing Hydrogen Peroxide through a simple and far less high-tech method than you might think. The solution lies in using hydrogen peroxide which oxidizes sulfites, turning them into hydrogen sulfate, which does not cause the types of problems associated with sulfites. It’s long been said that a few drops of H2O2 in your wine will eliminate the sulfites altogether, at least in theory. The article also describes a few products available in the market using the similar principal.

For details on the study, read

Subhash Arora

If you Like this article please click on the Like button   

Tags: FDA, sulfites, The Journal of Headache and Pain, Journal of Head and Face Pain, Üllo, Hydrogen Peroxide, H2O2


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