Finding low histamine wine could end up only being part of the solution to quelling your own unique histamine reactions, for reasons discussed below. But to answer the title question, yes there are histamines in wine, and the actual amounts vary widely.
While red and white wines both contain some trace nutrients, red wine has much higher levels of antioxidants and a larger portion of the population tends to gravitate towards them. But all of these wines also contain substances such as sulfites, which can cause mild to severe allergy symptoms to appear in some individuals. For many people the holy grail seems to be a low histamine wine, without sulfates and preferably without calories, if you ask me.
But even though this is a much more complicated ask than with other types of alcohol, it might just be within the realm of possibilities (well, not the calories thing). However, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do a deep-dive into the science of why low histamine wines are so hard to find, the issues with supposedly histamine-free wines, sulfate allergies, and some potential solutions.
Histamines In Wine
Since the main issues with wine are actually with histamine and sulfates, it had me wondering how far back we could take the topic of histamine in wine. How much histamine is there in red wine and how much histamine in white wine? What are the processes which create the histamine and sulfates, and how can we alter those to make a low histamine wine that’s accessible to more people? This brings us to how wine develops histamine in the first place.
Why does wine have histamine?
There are generally 4 ways in which histamine levels are affected by drinking wine, some of which are inherent to the wine and others which happen inside your body. These include:
- The grapes. Most wineries prefer to work with grapes closer to ripeness, or even overripe, a state which leaves the fruit in the perfect state for excess histamine production.
- Yeasts. This seems to be somewhat up for debate when it comes to bread, but there’s no denying that the yeasts and histamine-producing bacteria used to ferment wine are a major culprit for the histamine in wine.
- Sulfites. Even if you don’t have a strong sulfite sensitivity, they may still play a small role in your reactions. So if you can avoid most of the sulfites in wine, then it may pay off by lessening the overall histamine burden that drinking wine would add.
- Ethanol. This is the technical name for the alcohol we consume when we drink wine. It’s a by-product of the bacteria which feed on the sugars in the grapes from which the wine was made, and it’s the reason why you can never buy alcohol without histamines. Generally, the higher the alcohol content, the lower the sugar content and vice versa.
Basically, the level of histamine in wines depends upon the processes followed to make each wine, such as the type of barrel the wine is aged in or the grapes used. It’s impossible to find an alcohol without histamines and sulfites completely, but there are techniques a wine maker could employ to lower the histamine formed in their wines, such as careful sanitization of equipment.
There seems to be one larger study that all the articles on wine and histamine point to, which found that white wine has 3 to 120 micrograms of histamine per glass, while red wine contains 60 to 3,800 micrograms of histamine per glass. These higher levels of histamine in red wine can cause headaches, among other side effects, though another potential culprit is sulfites in wine, which are much more well-studied.
Sulfites in Wine
Some people believe that the natural histamines in wine cause negative reactions for them. Indirect irritants and allergens beyond the histamine in wines take the form of the grapes, sulfites, yeasts, and ethanol discussed above. Every person reacts to these things differently, and most people are actually fine with ingesting every single one of them. But for a small proportion of the population, drinking wine may or may induce some of the following side effects, a portion of which may be attributed to the sulfites in wine.
- Skin rash
- Flushing in the face
- Vomiting regardless of alcohol content
- Excessive sneezing
- Tingling sensation in and around the mouth
- Congestion of the sinuses and lungs
Everyone’s level of reaction to allergens is different, from minor to very significant reactions. Allergies may be so severe that the person must visit the emergency room due to the risk for anaphylaxis and death. Others may be able to ingest large amounts of the substance without any side effects, including in other foods. Symptoms can also grow progressively worse over the years, like with my own histamine issues.
Some individuals develop this buildup of and therefore sensitivity to histamine through their regular diet, medications, certain medical conditions, their environment, and even nutritional deficiencies. In sensitive populations, drinking wine adds to this overabundance of histamine, eventually overflowing one’s metaphorical histamine bucket and triggering a reaction. This same intolerance holds for other things naturally made in the body— for example, lactose.
Many people cannot digest milk sugar, so it sits in the intestines causing some painful side effects. Many develop an intolerance to lactose because they lack sufficient amounts of the enzyme needed to break it down, similar to what happens with DAO Deficiency in histamine intolerance. As a result of excessive lactose buildup, the sensitive person experiences side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps until the body clears the excess, much the same as the body naturally clears histamine.
Sulfites in wine end up causing this cascade of histamine issues for some people due to a sensitivity, because sulphur dioxide is a common preservative in the winemaking industry. It’s been estimated that roughly 1% of the population of people with asthma is allergic or sensitive to sulfites. This would mean that they also have issues with alliums and brassica vegetables like garlic, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc.
Sulphur dioxide isn’t the only sulfur-based compound used in winemaking, either, as ammonium sulfate has also been pointed to as problematic.
Finding Low Histamine Wine Brands
There does not currently exist, as far as my research says, any type of legitimized certificate for low histamine wine brands. There are a couple companies advertising that they sell low histamine wines, but very few of them seem to have much information on their websites about the testing they do on their wines. This includes the site of the most widely available winter: Veglio Michelino e Figlio.
The winery is nestled alongside their small family-owned & -operated vineyard in the beautiful Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. They even offer a natural wine, meaning one without added preservatives, that you can try first, to drastically lower the levels of sulfites. If you’re in the US, Bacco Wine & Spirit based in Pennsylvania sells 3 different types of Veglio Michelino e Figlio brand low histamine wines, which seem to be the only 3 still in production.
Much like Veglio Michelino e Figlio, most the the low histamine wine brands appear to be based in Italy. It appears that several years ago there was some sort of awakening in the country as to the histamine and the sulfites in wine causing headaches. This led to lots of experimentation on the part of wine makers, and eventually, to a couple low histamine wine brands, though most of them are unfortunately only available in Europe.
The main direction that this part of the wine industry seem to be going in is towards experimenting with new fermentation starters which contain bacteria that naturally produce less histamine, in order to lower overall histamines in wine. For those still having trouble but craving a glass of red, consider trying a wine wand to remove the histamine and sulfites in wine, or even an alternate non-alcoholic beverage.
FAQ About Histamine In Wine
Wine is high in histamine, but how much histamine is in wine depends upon the types of bacteria used during fermentation and the type of wine.
Sort of. Some wine producers offer what they claim to be histamine free wines. However, these producers are few and far between, and regardless of the histamine content, the presence of alcohol will also contribute to high histamine levels.
No, organic wines can and often do still have histamine, though you may be able to reduce the levels using a wine wand.
You can use a wine wand to reduce histamine in wine, but it’s not guaranteed to remove all of the histamine, and the alcohol level of the wine will still raise histamine levels, so it’s important to drink in moderation.
Yes, alcohol can cause a temporary state of histamine intolerance, both due to the histamine content of the alcohol and the alcohol itself, which is cleared form the body through the same pathway as histamine.
Yes, non-alcoholic wine can still contain histamine, depending on both the ingredients and the specific processes used to make it taste similar to a regular wine.
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