red wine allergy?

Certain red wines give me a flushed feeling and mild heart palpitations, followed by a mild headache and just feeling run down (like a hangover). Also, I had the same reaction from Woodchuck hard cider (which is not something I often drink because it is so sugary). When I drink beer or white wine, I don’t notice this reaction. I don’t drink very much at all, certainly not enough to qualify as anything but light amounts (no more than 5-6 ounces a day). I am wondering if it is some kind of allergy? I have used grape extract pills and I don’t notice this reaction at all, though I have experienced milder symptoms similar to this drinking de-alcoholed red wine.

The worst offender seems to be cabernet sauvignon, followed by merlot, but a Dominican Moscatel sweet wine I tried weeks ago seemed to make me the sickest I have ever been. Pinot Noir seems to be relatively benign.

The only relevant health detail I can think of is that I have mild exercise-induced asthma reaction sometimes. I get them exercising in cold air or very strenuous exercise (like playing airsoft), so I carry an inhaler.

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I read some of the history on this forum and it seems like my problem could be due to histamine intolerance and the biogenic amines in some wines. Alcohol lowers the body’s ability to metabolize histamine, and if your ability to metabolize histamine is already compromised, or you have a condition that creates a lot of circulating histamine (like inflammation), you can get things like headaches, nausea, palpitations, etc. from wine. It seems to happen more often in cheaper wines, but more expensive wines are not exempt just for being expensive.

Hi Aaron
Glad you found that - I vaguely recall it being discussed, but mostly recall that many people say they are ‘allergic to sulfites’ because that is something now on wine labelling, but that allergy is much rarer than claimed - it being other allergies that affect most people who suffer.


The reason sulphites are declared is because people who suffer from asthma can be affected badly, so that could be what you are seeing Aaron. But white wines typically (not always) contain more sulphite than reds.

I believe its the amines. It could also be due to too much inflammation, which increases the amount of histamine. So I am going to take quercetin to try to counteract that. H2 blockers (like zantac) can also help, but I prefer something that’s going to attack the problem at the source.

Another thing I did not mention was that alcohol, when it is broken down to acetaldehyde, can also produce a histamine response. This produces a sick response in the body by releasing cytokines. It could be why I get a stuffy nose and feel like I’m sick.

I suspect in my own case it’s due to having IBS-C that hasn’t really been helped by conventional medicine. I am trying an elemental diet (gross) and doing fecal transplant (even grosser), and temporarily cutting way back on my alcohol consumption for a few weeks (only 1/2 a glass a day) and see if I don’t get better.

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This is a long piece but very instructive. It’s by a woman who is active in the Napa area and used to post about wine and wine science on a foodie site that has pretty much self-destructed of late. I miss her knowledge.

" maria lorraine
01/15/10 8:25PM
warning…long post…

Could be lots of reasons for the headaches.

**Carbon Dioxide Factors
The bubbles, or rather the carbon dioxide inside the bubbles, launches the alcohol into your body, giving you a higher BAC alcohol level than the same ABV wine that didn’t have bubbles. You’ve noticed, gourmet wife, the immediate buzz that comes from bubbles in comparison to still wine, right?

The carbon dioxide also does a number on your Krebs cycle – it takes more energy and water to process, hence greater dehydration, fatigue and headaches.

Maximillien makes a good point. If you’re drinking bubbly, you’re often drinking it as the first wine of the evening and usually before you’ve had something substantial to eat, or more than just a nibble. And if you’re like me, and drinking bubbles for some fun occasion, you may have skipped the last meal or eaten very lightly so you can splurge on calories for dinner.

So, the effect of the bubbles keeps multiplying.

There’s a rule in drinking bubbly that the bigger the bubble, the badder the headache.
It’s true. Methode champenoise bubbly has a fine bead and small bubbles.

But charmat method bubbly (like most Prosecco and cheap stuff like Totts is essentially carbonated wine. Its harsh, the bubbles are harsh, and the effect on the body is even greater than that of premium bubbly.

**Fermentations, especially fast fermentations:
Then, let’s consider the still wine before it’s made into bubbly. How is it made? Cheaply, with a fast fermentation? Box wines, bulk wines, and other low-priced wines are subjected to ultra-fast and hot fermentations. While those ferms convert sugar into alcohol, the speed and high heat also mean toxic alcohols are formed (other than ethyl alcohol) and those will do a number on your head like a sledgehammer. Have you ever noticed the wicked hangover you get from cheap wine? Yet another reason not to drink it. Notice I didn’t say inexpensive wine, but cheap wine.

**Biogenic Amines
These are a group of substances in wine that cause problems in a lot of people, and cause problems in nearly all people when consumed in a high-enough volume. Biogenic amines are made most often during malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation after the first that converts sugar to alcohol).

Nearly all red wines undergo ML, and white wines do in varying percentages (or not at all). If you’ve ever tasted a buttery quality in a chardonnay, that’s malolactic. If the wine actually tastes buttery, then that’s a lot of ML, which means a lot of biogenic amines and a greater tendency towards a headache.

But malolactic fermentations differ around the world. It’s initiated by lactobacilli bacteria, but the strains of lactobacilli used for ML differ. The lactobacilli in Europe used for ML appear to be less harsh (at least in terms of their effect on the body and causing headaches) than the lactobacilli used in the US. So if you’ve ever heard of wine drinkers who can drink European wines without getting a headache, but American wines always give them a headache, this is probably the reason why.

Most people are familiar with the biogenic amines histamine, which was proven not to cause headaches in wine in 2006-7, and phenylethylamine, that mood-boosting chemical in chocolate. But a third type of biogenic amine, tyramine, is a known trigger for headaches and migraines. Tyramines are in every food that’s cured or fermented – soy sauce, aged cheese, salami/salumi, – and red wine is loaded with tyramine.

While a little tyramine may be fine for you, go beyond your individual threshold and you will get a headache and often redness on the face and chest. Let’s say you have a few pieces of salami with your red wine and you’re OK. But add a healthy serving of Italian cured meats, some aged cheese, and 3-4 glasses of Chianti Riserva, and you’re stung with a headache. This is a very common cause of “wine” headaches, but it’s actually not caused by the wine, but by the accumulation of tyramines from both the wine and food.

Just like tyramines, your intake of biogenic amines is cumulative. Stainless-steel white wine produced in Europe may not cause a headache in you, but a tannic, oak-aged, red wine made in the US and affected by Brett might. It’s a matter of degree – how many biogenic amines you’re ingested.

If a wine goes through a third common (and sometimes undesirable) fermentation called Brett, that adds yet more biogenic amines to wine. Wines that have lots of contact with the yeast (sur lie aging) also have more biogenic amines. So that’s yet another factor.

Tannins are another cause of headaches. Tannins come both from the grapes – the skins the seeds, etc – and from oak barrels. They’re yet another component.

**Volume, Body Weight, Hydration, Hormones, Hunger, Medications
I alluded to this before, as did Maximillien. If you’re hungry, the alcohol is going to hit you harder. If you drink a lot of wine, it’s going to hit you harder. If you’re already dehydrated and drink, you’re asking for a headache. If you’re tiny (in weight or stature), the alcohol is going to hit your harder. Fluctuations in hormones can cause alcohol to hit harder. Certain medications potentiate alcohol, and amplify its effect.

So that’s lots of things in wines and foods that cause headaches.

More factors mean a greater likelihood of a headache:
Bubbly, especially cheap bubbly, because of the carbon dioxide
Cheap wine, because of toxic alcohols
Drinking on an empty stomach
Malolactic fermentation
Malolactic fermentation in the US
Red wine more than white wine because of tannin
Certain kinds of red wine more than other kinds of red wine (tannins, polyphenols)
Oak aging – tyramines, tannins
LOTS of wine."

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Possible metabolic issues can cause an allergic like reaction to alohol.

Hypothyroidism. I have hypothyroidism and before treating it, red wines and white wine barrel samples gave me plugged sinuses and a headache. Since treating my hypothyroidism, I can drink any wine with no problems as long as I hydrate. Hyperthyroidsm can also cause allerigc like reactions.

Adrenal issues also can do the same. Both high and low levels can result in allergic like reactions. Iy is not uncommon for people to have highs and lows throughout the day, so a 4 point saliva cortisol test is a the best way to see what is going on. Normal cortisol pattern is highest when you wake, decreasing throughout the day, being lowest at night before bedtime.

Chronic Kidney disease. Doctors do not always alert you to slightly descreased kidney function until you get to stage 3…this was the case for me. I was at stage 3 for over 10 years before a GP finally told me that I had impaired kidney function. Always ask for copies of your kidney panels, even if your doc says they are ‘normal’.

Dehydration. It is easy to have mild dehydration without ‘feeling it’. I keep a litre water bottle with me at home, and at restuarants, make sure I get an extra water carafe.

Look into yeast allergy (IGG and IGE, broad spectrum – and if you can do it – stool for IGA). This would be more likely to present in white than red, but white and red do use different strains. I suspect a lot of gluten intolerance are actually yeast allergies misdiagnosed.

Both my wife and a good friend have had this happen too. My wife less often and my friend only every so often. We haven’t been able to pinpoint one varietal though so…

Histamines from the skin contact in red wine usually is the culprit especially for those who have a histamine intolerance. I know it’s a hassle, but try taking a Claritin, a Zyrtec, or some other allergy medicine before consumption and that might ease the headache.

If you also get repeated sinus infections and polyps, one of the other possibilities is AERD. I had to stop drinking years ago, but finally found a doc who knew what was happening and how to treat it. My life has changed dramatically and now I’m a WB’er.–%20Patients%20who%20suffer%20from,wheezing%2C%20and%20a%20runny%20nose.

I have a friend who takes allegra before any wine consumption. Seems to work.

There are now a few devices that remove both sulfites and histamines from wines (Wine Wand and Ullo.) You could try those–they worked for me dad.

Are you Asian by any chance? Asian flush syndrome can cause the symptoms you mention.

A slight twist on the thread, I am fine with wine, but 4 pints of some beers makes me sneeze uncontrollably, allergic to beer is a pain if you are British.

More drift: Many whites/champagnes/ciders/beers are like fire on my throat and can cause muscle ache. Not red.

My stepfather, from whom I learned winemaking gets some flushing and stomach issues from red wines now. Like yours, his are worse with heavier reds and less with Pinot. Since the more tannic wines bother him more and whites not at all, we presume his reaction is to tannin. Aged wines also bother him less.

The amines idea is possible, but in my view unlikely. Biogenic amines occur in wines depending on the health conditions of the yeast, not how dark the wine is.

My wife is Asian and suffers if she drink red wine. That used not to be an issue for 15 or more years. Now, however, red wine bothers her so much that she only drinks white.

Studying inky cap mushrooms, I came across coprine, a chemical that inhibits this enzyme:

It certainly seems like all the symptoms of alcohol flush, which is genetic. Might see if you can get tested for those genes?

omg ,that must be a pity for a Wine lover.