‘The truth is always laughed at first, then downplayed, and then – with a deep blush of shame – conceded’. (Bouillon Culinary Journalistic Productions).

Should I be afraid of wine?

Hmm, honestly? I don’t know, or perhaps I don’t want to know. The Dutch Health Council advises the Dutch population not to drink at all. Luckily, most foreign authorities take another perspective; in their view, 1 to 3 glasses per day is quite acceptable.

In any event, I’m still of the opinion that wine is made to be enjoyed. Although for me, the sulfite in wine had been taking the fun out of it in recent years. That’s why I thought of a solution: Sulfree (ed.: adding one drop removes the free sulfites from your wine). But today I want to focus on the effects sulfite has on your body.

Watch out! Danger!

At least, that’s the message of the book “What’s in your food?” by Bouillon publishers (see the quote above). In this book, alarm bells go off for almost every type of sulfite. Apparently, these E numbers (E220-228) cause risk of the following:

Sulfites can have various effects on your body. In ‘What’s in your food?” this is explained per E number.

  • allergies
  • digestive disorders
  • lung irritations
  • impedes absorption of vitamin B
  • nausea
  • asthma
  • neurological disorders (read: headaches)

After this rather threatening summary, the book advises ‘definitely to be avoided’.

So what is the Truth…?

Of course, as someone with a sulfite sensitivity, I completely agree. But… These additives have been tested by scientists. Used in moderation, there shouldn’t be too much danger to your health (unless you have an oversensitivity).

But what effect does it have on my body?

When you consume sulfites, your liver transforms these into sulfates. However, for people with a sulfite intolerance or sensitivity, this transformation doesn’t take place properly, or happens too slowly. This can be caused by a shortage of molybdenum, for example. (source)

Sulfite hurts the good guy

When sulfite arrives in your liver, it blocks the function of the glutathione located there. Glutathione aids processes such as the breakdown of alcohol by the liver, which means you may suffer more as a result of alcohol or of its side effects if you are sensitive to the sulfites in wine (source: University of Southampton – department of Human Nutrition “Sulfur dioxide: a potent glutathione-depleting agent”, Isabelle Legeron, Master of Wine.) (PS: this explains the frequently cited notion that you don’t suffer headaches from the much higher levels of sulfites in raisins; it’s because they don’t contain alcohol).

Alcoholics disease…

Sulfite also limits the absorption of vitamin B in your stomach. That’s why alcoholics often have a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, which can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. (source)

The asthma effect

Asthmas sufferers have a lower tolerance for sulfites than people without asthma (Sheppard et al., 1980). This means that asthma sufferers struggle more due to the sulfites added to food – even when they eat exactly the same as someone else.

All in all, it’s an ingredient which has advantages in terms of preserving your wine (a fresh, tasty wine is always a good thing), but also disadvantages for your body.

If you’d prefer to drink wine with no (or much less) sulfites, take a look at Good wine online for low-sulfite wines, or use Sulfree to make every wine sulfite free (especially handy if you’re sitting on someone else’s couch).