Sulphites are added to wine during the wine making process in order to prevent oxidation and bacteria growth. They are also naturally produced during fermentation. Sulphites can cause various negative side effects in humans, from headaches to severe allergic reactions.
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Romans and Egyptians used sulphur to clean wine receptacles in ancient times. Sulphites have artificially been added to wine and food since the 17th century and have been approved for use in the United States since the 1800s.
Sulphites are added to foods and wine to preserve the substance. They inhibit the growth of bacteria, encourage fast and clean grape fermentation, keep foods such as peeled potatoes from browning and prevent spoilage.
While sulphites do not affect most people, the FDA estimates that 1 in 100 people is to some degree sulphite sensitive. People with asthma are more likely to be sulphite sensitive than non-asthmatics.
The most common signs of a sulphite reaction include a skin rash, hives, itching, tingling, swelling, nausea and stomach cramps. Some people experience life-threatening allergic reactions to sulphites, with symptoms such as difficulty breathing, wheezing and partial airway obstruction.
Headaches and flushed cheeks are often attributed to sulphite allergies, but this is not true, according to Sam's Wine & Spirits. These symptoms are linked to red wine syndrome, which is caused not by sulphites but by other substances within red wine, including histamines, tyramine, phenolic flavanoids and tannins.
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