Wine Allergy: What’s the Answer?

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Wine has become very, very popular in the past decade or so, especially in the United States. This popularity might just be growing from the traditional love for wine that people around the world have shown for centuries. Unfortunately, as more and more people discover the joy of drinking wine, they also discover this thing called wine allergy.

Why would anyone be allergic to wine? For most of the people who discover they have problems after drinking wine, the answer lies with the good old grape. (We’re not talking about drinking too much wine and getting a hangover.)

Most of the people who have a wine allergy have problems with red wines. The main symptom seems to be headache that is not related to how much wine is consumed. In addition, some people find they have other strong negative reactions to red wine. Nausea and a general feeling of discomfort are common symptoms.

Is it the Skins?

The true cause of headache from red wine is not completely understood but early research shows that the chemical makeup of the grape skins might be the source. More specifically, research shows that sulfites in the skins might be the culprit. Apparently, thousands of people are allergic to sulfites. (It’s curious that headache isn’t always one of the symptoms.)

In addition to looking at sulfites as a cause of wine allergy, researchers point to tannins. Tannins fall in the category of flavonoids. Tannins give wine their “pucker” factor. Studies connect high levels of tannins with the release of serotonin in the brain.

This can lead to headaches. One of the questions that remains with this theory is that other items contain tannins – tea and chocolate are two of them. People sometimes drink tea without allergic reaction but do respond negatively to wine.

Can it be Histamines?

There are at least two other theories about wine allergy and about negative effects of wine on some people. The first is a thing called histamine. While these are generally at the heart of discussions about allergies, connecting this item to wine drinking is relatively new.

Our bodies produce histamine in larger quantities as part of the normal operation of our immune system. It seems red wines have much more histamine than white wines. Since dark wines get their color from the skins, there may well be something to this theory. Studies have also connected wine allergy to natural substances that are part of the pain/swelling process. The evidence for this is limited.

Reducing the Effects

A doctor in Texas has proposed that black tea can help reduce headaches, redness of the skin and uncomfortable warm feeling that may come with drinking red wine. Apparently, black tea has a bioflavonoid that reduces the inflammation from histamines in red wine. It may also reduce the pain of headache.

This may be important to people who get a general feeling of itchiness or what some describe as an uncomfortable, warm/tingly feeling. This may be followed by an actual skin outbreak known as hives.

But what about the additives and preservatives that are in some commercial wines?

This may be an allergy issue completely separate from allergies caused by grape skins or wine in general. Some research shows that sulphur dioxide used to slow yeast growth might cause problems for some people.

In the interest of reducing the effects of wine on some individuals, we should understand that people may not tolerate wine but this doesn’t mean they are truly allergic to grape skins, histamines, sulfites or whatever the culprit might be.

If medical tests determine that some additive is causing the allergy it may be possible to enjoy organic wine that has none of the offending ingredient.


We have mentioned sulfites, sulphur dioxide, tannins, histamines and bioflavonoids in our discussion of wine allergy. It seems any of these might be the cause of problems for some wine drinkers.

But before we leave the subject we should also give some thought to a final product of the fermentation process – alcohol. The combination of sugar, yeast and fruit generates alcohol, one of the main reasons for drinking wine and other beverages.

When human beings drink alcohol the body transforms this to acetaldehyde. Unfortunately this substance can be very toxic when it is present at high enough levels. At moderate levels, the body is able to eliminate the acetaldehyde.

If this isn’t possible because too much is consumed or if the kidneys and liver aren’t functioning properly, the chemical can cause headaches and other reactions. Learn as much as you can about wine allergy so you can enjoy the wonderful world of wine.

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