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Histamine in wine

Evidence based

Histamine In Wine: What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Intolerance?

Afterdrink Author Kathy Caldwell
Kathy Caldwell

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Evidence based

If you’ve landed on this article, chances are that drinking wine gives you a bad reaction.

Well, you’re not alone. There any many people who experience headaches, flushing, and bad hangovers when they drink wine.

Could histamine be the cause?

Histamine is known for its association with allergic reactions. It’s what causes swollen lips, hives, and facial flushing when you come into contact with something you’re allergic to.

It’s naturally produced in food and drinks that are fermented. And certain types of wine have a particularly high concentration of histamine.

In this article, we’re going to take a detailed look at the role of histamine and whether it could be one of the reasons why you may react badly to wine.

Table of contents

Why does wine contain histamine?

You may be wondering, why are there histamines in wine?

Food and drink that is made as a result of fermentation will naturally contain histamine. Wine is made by fermenting grapes and the bacteria used to kickstart this process are responsible for producing histamine.

Cheese, sauerkraut, and processed meat can also contain particularly high levels of histamine.(1)

What does histamine do?

Histamine is a chemical messager and produced by certain cell types including mast cells (a type of white blood cell), platelets, and Enterochromaffin cells (in your stomach lining).

When histamine is released, it binds to one of four histamine receptors. It causes smooth muscle contraction, dilation of blood vessels, mucous secretion in your stomach lining, and a drop in blood pressure to mention a few.

In normal circumstances, once histamine has done what it needs to do, your body breaks it down.

However, some people may not be able to break down histamine as efficiently or are particularly sensitive to small amounts. In this case, they may develop symptoms of wine histamine intolerance.(2)

Therefore drinking wine that contains histamine can cause a reaction that can mimic an allergy.

What are the symptoms of wine histamine intolerance?

The symptoms of wine histamine intolerance include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Blocked nose
  • Wheeze
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hives / itchy skin
  • Flushing (going red in the cheeks)

If you’re someone who gets these symptoms after drinking a small amount of wine, it could be a sign of intolerance.

That said, it’s always best to speak to your doctor to make sure because these symptoms are not specific to wine histamine intolerance. There are a number of other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

Can you be allergic to histamines in wine?

Technically, an allergy is an inappropriate immune response to an otherwise innocuous substance. For example pollen or nut protein. These are “foreign” molecules that are not produced by your body. molecules like pollen and nut protein are called “allergens”.

On the other hand, histamine is an essential chemical messenger every human being in the world produces. Therefore, it can’t be an allergen and you can’t be “allergic” to it per se.

Rather, some people are particularly sensitive to the effects of histamine. Small amounts can trigger a big response. And it’s in those individuals, histamine in wine can be a problem. It’s an “intolerance” rather than an “allergy”.

Wine histamine and hangovers

You may have noticed that many of the symptoms of histamine intolerance mentioned above overlap with typical hangover symptoms.

This is because wine hangovers are, in part, exacerbated by histamine. Wine also contains several other compounds such as sulfites, esters, and tannins which give its distinctive aroma and taste.

These compounds are collectively called congeners.

Research has shown that congeners in alcohol are a major contributing factor to hangover symptoms.(2)

In addition, several studies have shown that histamine, in particular, is one of the possible causes of wine headache and migraine.(3)

The theory is that histamine causes blood vessels in your brain to dilate. As a result, it causes increased pressure and triggers a cascade of events that ultimately leads to inflammation and pain.

One thing’s for sure, histamine definitely doesn’t help with hangover symptoms and is likely one of the reasons why some feel that wine hangovers are worse than other drinks.

What wine has the most histamine?

A research group in Australia looked at 100 different types of red wine to test the varying amounts of histamine and find out which drink had the most.(4)

Interestingly, they found that histamine concentrations varied significantly between each wine type. However, they showed that there was no consistent way of showing a particular type had more histamine than another. For example, one bottle of shiraz red wine may have wildly different levels of histamine compared to another shiraz type.

Ultimately, they concluded that factors such as crop health, fermenting yeasts, and bacterial strains involved in the fermentation process have much more influence on the histamine content in the wine, rather than the “type of wine”.

In general, white wine and rose will naturally contain less histamine compared to red wine because they are produced differently and don’t go through the same aging process.

Low histamine wine

You may have noticed that some wine producers test the level of histamine in their wine and showcase it on their labels. But generally speaking, it’s not commonplace.

There is no set definition that makes certain wines “low histamine” and there is no predefined concentration currently.

Red wine, in particular, will naturally contain high levels of histamine compared to other alcoholic beverages and should, therefore, be avoided if you experience adverse reactions from drinking it.

Can you remove histamine from wine?

You may have come across wine filters that are said to remove impurities from wine. These include sulfites and other larger sediments that can be filtered easily.

Histamine, on the other hand, is much smaller and wine filters are not able to remove it.

There are also products that use finer filters that claim to remove histamine. However, at the time of writing, there are no published research studies that show if any of these actually work.

Will anti-histamines help?

Anti-histamines like Zyrtec and Pepcid work by blocking certain types of histamine receptors. Taking anti-histamines if you have an intolerance could potentially help. However, it’s not advisable as it could mask some of your symptoms and make you feel more unwell in the long run.

The best way to avoid symptoms of wine histamine intolerance is to avoid drinking wine in the first place. Trying to medicate it could cause more long-term damage.

Histamine in wine – Final words

That brings us to the end of our look into histamines in wine and how they can be problematic for some people.

We’ve explained why wine contains histamine and the signs and symptoms of histamine intolerance. It’s a well-known reaction to wine and if you’re someone who suffers from adverse symptoms from small amounts of wine, it’s advisable to avoid it.

Red wines, in general, have a much higher concentration of histamine and are more likely to give you symptoms if you’re someone who is sensitive. Therefore, switching to white wine or rose might help.

If you’re interested in ways to reduce a wine hangover, check our article on wine hangover cures.

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