It’s not the alcohol in the wine that’s causing the problem, but the sulphites.
These additives are used in food and drink as preservatives and to prevent bacteria growth.
It’s estimated that up to 10 per cent of people are sulphite sensitive, with reactions ranging from flushed skin and urticaria (nettle rash), to raised blood pressure, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhoea. More serious reactions include asthma and, in rare cases, anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.
But many people may not realise sulphites are behind their symptoms.
The highest levels of sulphites are found in dried fruit, wine, beer, cordial, convenience foods such as pizzas and oven chips, jam, some seafood products and processed meat.
How sulphites cause a reaction is not quite clear, though it’s thought they form a gas in the mouth when they come into contact with saliva in some people, which causes the airways to tighten.
Another theory is that some people can’t convert sulphites in the liver, due to a failure of or lack of the enzyme sulphite oxidase, which results in excessive levels of sulphite in the body.
Up to one in ten of us may be sensitive or allergic to sulphites, according to research by Professor Hassan Vally from the School of Public Health and Human Biosciences in Melbourne.
And asthmatics may be particularly prone, said Professor Vally.
“We know that if you expose individuals to sulphur dioxide gas (a type of sulphite additive), there is a point where all of us will react and experience bronchoconstriction, but the concentrations that trigger this response in asthmatics are much reduced,” the Daily Mail quoted Professor Vally as explaining.
For 90 per cent of people, sulphites are not a problem, stated Dr Adrian Morris, a specialist allergy consultant at the London Medical Centre and the Royal Brompton Hospital.
“In those who do have a sulphite sensitivity, it will make them a bit wheezy and maybe they’ll get a bit of a rash. Some will have an anaphylactic reaction. It’s very difficult to diagnose — and there’s little you can really do about it,” Dr Morris added.