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Wine, Allergies and Headaches

Katherine Donnelly writing for the Irish Independent wrote a piece recently: “Wine Without the Headache” which reported that a team at the University of Southern Denmark have found that compounds known as glycoproteins, formed during the fermentation process, are the likely cause of allergic reactions to wine. Roughly about 8% of the world’s population are allergic to wine and for those sufferers wine can can trigger a runny nose, stuffy sinuses, a headache and even difficulty breathing.

Sulphites are regularly blamed for inducing headaches but they are not to blame unless you are one of the unlucky few who has an allergy to them. If you think sulphites are causing your headache, try eating some dried apricots, and see if that induces a headache. These dried fruits are rich in them and I have never heard of anyone getting a headache from eating an apricot! If you are interested in finding our more concerning wine and headaches check out my Blogs How to Avoid the Red Wine Headache, Why Do Some Wines Give Us Headaches? and What’s In Your Wine?There has been quite a bit of debate generated by wine headaches and whether New World wines generate more headaches than Old World wines – which judging from the comments on my blogs does seem to be the case. I had wondered whether wine yeasts were the culprit and a lot of people think that fungicides and pesticides are to blame. Drinking water after your red wine does seem to help.

Glycoproteins are proteins coated with sugars and some are part of the grape’s defensive mechanism designed to fight off diseases. Dr. Palmisano (the son of a winemaker in southern Italy) chose a Chardonnay from his native region of Puglia for the study. The Chardonnay was treated with ice-cold trichloroacetic acid and ethanol to precipitate any glycoproteins, then digested those glycoproteins into smaller molecules called peptides that can be analysed by mass spectroscopy. After isolating 28 glycoproteins in the white wine, he compared them against a database of known allergens. Three stood out. One is similar to allergenic proteins found in latex and pears. Another looks like a second latex protein and an olive protein, both known allergens. The third resembles a ragweed protein that causes hay fever.While the study also identifies glycoproteins produced by the yeast during fermentation, the team focused on those from the grape itself and Dr Palmisano believes that he is the first to identify potentially allergenic glycoproteins specific to wine. However, he stressed that that clinical trials, which are beyond his current scope, could be a long way off.

Further study is needed as there are likely to be big differences in glycoprotein sequences among wines. This research was performed on only one wine – a very young one (the analyses were performed within a month of the wine’s production to avoid any protein loss). However it is hoped that their work will lead to a glycoprotein-free wine. Dr Palmisano has begun working with a producer in his home town of Turi to determine in principle whether his suspected glycoproteins can be removed from wine without significantly altering its aroma or taste. “If we know the culprit, we should be able to treat it or remove it,” he said. “We want to improve the quality of wine and the quality of life of allergic people.”

The study paves the way for future research and you never know we might see an allergy free wine produced one day – which is good news for allergy sufferers.

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4 Responses to Wine, Allergies and Headaches

  1. Régis Chaigne says:

    Nick, very interesting post, thanks.

    One should also consider the quantity of wine + other drinks absorbed at a time :-)

    More seriously, many consumers reported me that our white Bordeaux wine is the first white wine they are able to drink -even in small quantity- without getting troubles (headaches, knees joints, bladder, …). In the great majority, they compared with other white regions.

    Of course we try to be cautious about sulphites, but I am not an exception now, a majority of winemakers are aware about it.

    Maybe there is something special in Bordeaux terroir and grapes, and/or in our winemaking process (skin contact, ageing on total lees…) which may explain this interesting characteristic ?

    Your track is very interesting, you should talk about it to Denis Dubourdieu.

    If you have some bottles of our Bordeaux white left and some clients suffering of allergy to white wine but willing to drink them, you may test…

    Best regards,

  2. Nick says:

    You make some good points Regis! As well as making excellent wines!

    I have had quite a number of customers comment that they don't get headaches or heartburn once switching to wines from Bordeaux.

    I will see if I can try out your idea of testing the white wine!



  3. Beauty and Health Editor says:

    Hmmmm, the headaches brought on by the "new world" wines could be as a result of the chemicals in the fruit maybe?

    Also, organic dried fruit does not seem to contain sulphites, from what I have seen on the packaging.

  4. Nick says:

    You need to check the labelling on the packet to make sure that dried fruits do not contain sulphites. Organic ones do seem to be the best choice if you want to avoid them.