Does Sulfur in Red Wine Give Me a Headache?

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This is a question we get asked a lot at Sunday School. There’s a common belief that added sulfur in wine is the culprit for the red-wine-headache blues.

Thing is, it’s a total myth. There is no evidence that sulfites are to blame. Read on!

Sulfites are used as a preservative but they are also naturally occurring in all wines (even if the label doesn’t say ‘sulfites added’, there’s some in there). White wine, contrary to popular opinion, generally has at least twice as many added sulfites as red (tannins in reds help act as a preservative so they don’t need as many).

However, about one per cent of the population is allergic to sulfites (which is why there are those warnings on wine labels). You’ll probably know if you’re one of them as you’ll be at risk of sulfites in plenty of other food stuffs – dried apricots, for example, contain up to 10 times the amount of sulfites as wine.

So what does cause headaches? There are a few possibilities (Wait! We’re not doctors so don’t take this as medical advice.)

Tannins – the bitter, drying polyphenols found in the skins of the grapes can cause migraines. Tannins are found in lower doses in tea, chocolate, cinnamon and walnuts. To test it out, drink a cup of over-steeped black tea to see the effect it has.

Histamines – red wines typically contain higher histamine levels than white or sparkling. Try this: take an antihistamine, like Claritin, before you start drinking and see if you still get a headache.

Sugar and other crap – all sorts of nasties are added to bulk wines, including sugar. Drink biodynamic or natural wine, which generally has less, if any additives.

Pro tip: drink a glass of water with each glass of wine. It helps, for reals.