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Wine : Sulfites & Histamines

When I lived in Europe, I had no issues with wine.  Despite not liking certain varieties (German vinos for example… although I appreciated Glühwein during a snowy Christmas market!…)… healthwise, I found my quality of living heightened and damn-joyful with a routine glass of Rioja or Chianti with dinner.

Upon moving back to the U.S., I continued the practice of buying nice bottles locally to pair with meals and… (*record scratch*)… suddenly I started experiencing massive headaches, rosacea (or the “face flush”), and the immediate need for naps despite the time of day.   In some cases, I felt the room spinning after not-even a full glass with  a meal.  This came as a surprise as I had never experienced these side effects in Europe.

I already drank in moderation, but now – one awful experience after another with a variety of name brand American reds and whites led me to give up wine culture all together…. until a friend recently shared that she had the same experience when moving back across the Atlantic!  She attributed the side effects (and raised my awareness) to the amount of sulfites and histamines in wines made in the USA.

A quick search on Google does not seem to clarify the sulfite vs. less-sulfite (or even – “are European wines better than American wines?”) saga.  It is very hard to find supporting websites, and yet so many people claim to have no headaches in Europe with their vinos.  After much digging, I found that :

** 75% of wine drinkers have experienced adverse reactions to sulfite preservatives and histamines. ( )

Again, I am not a doctor – all I can do is share that if I am going to have a glass of wine, I  feel better  when it is an imported European bottle that contains lower levels of sulfites and histamines.

What we know :
Sulfites are chemicals used as preservatives to prevent browning and discoloration, and have been used for centuries.
– The amount of sulfites in wine is measured in “ppm” (parts per million).
– In the United States, conventionally made wines are permitted to contain up to 350 ppm of sulfites.
– Most organic wine levels are generally around 40 to 80 ppm, and cannot exceed 100 ppm.
– More sulfites can be found in white wines, particularly sweet ones.
(Source:  amongst others)

Histamines are chemicals released by our own immune systems to protect the body from foreign or invading particles.
– When the body releases histamines, it can cause unpleasant symptoms such as inflammation, runny nose, watery eyes, etc.
– Traditional wines may contain around 10 to 20 mg of histamine per liter.
– Some countries set histamine limits:
…..Germany recommends 2 mg/L
…..Netherlands recommends 3 mg/L
…..Belgium recommends 5 mg/L
…..France recommends 8 mg/L
…..Switzerland and Austria recommend 10 mg/L
…..Spain’s wines average 4 mg/L (reds) and 0.8 mg/L (whites)
…..Some Italian wines contain 0.5 mg of histamine per liter (Veglio Michelino & Figlio Winery).
– There are groups, like the Low Histamine Association founded in Italy, that by reducing histamines in wine to less than 1 mg per liter – their test subjects (who were highly sensitive and prone to migraines) experienced essentially no headaches.
(sources : , , and like pages)

FWIW … Some other wine tips not covered here:
– Tannins may also affect people with allergies and sensitivities (
– Food pairings with the wine can also amplify or alter side effects
– Unlike most whites, Chardonnays made in California can have very high histamine levels (

Drink responsibly, carefully, and the safest option is always – if you don’t feel well, just don’t drink it!  😉

Viva la vita!

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