Sulphur-based preservatives, or sulfites, are common food additives. Although many foods contain sulfites, wines are the most common source of sulfites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggest that one in 100 people have sulfite sensitivity. Sulfites in wine might cause joint pain if you have sulfite intolerance. Consult your physician if you notice joint pain after drinking wine.
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Identification and Uses
Sulfites, or sulfiting agents, are inorganic salts that prevent browning and control the growth of microorganisms, according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Examples of sulfites include sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfate, sodium and potassium bisulfites and metabisulfites. Food manufacturers use sulfites on fruits and vegetables to prevent browning, on seafood to avoid the black spots that can develop and in dough as a conditioner. Sulfites are often found in wine to discourage bacterial growth. Pharmaceutical companies add sulfites to maintain the stability and potency of some medications.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies sulfites as “generally regarded as safe.” But people can develop sulfite intolerance, which can range from mild to severe. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences states that sulfite sensitivity can arise at any point during a person’s lifespan. Sulfite intolerance often causes dermatological, cardiovascular, pulmonary or gastrointestinal symptoms. Because of reports of adverse affects, the FDA has developed some regulations on sulfites. Food labels must declare the presence of sulfites if the product contains a detectable level, defined as 10 parts per million or more.
Symptoms of sulfite sensitivity usually develop within 15 to 30 minutes of consuming sulfites in wine. Most reactions to sulfites in wine are mild. Headache is a common symptom after drinking wine with sulfites. Other symptoms include a rash, hives, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, cough and difficulty breathing. Some people with sulfite sensitivity might experience joint pain. But more research is needed to definitively link joint pain to sulfites, according to Nicolette Pace, a nutritionist.
If you think you have sulfite sensitivity that is causing joint pain, you may need to choose your wines carefully. Although most wines contain sulfites, some wines such as organic wines are sulfite-free. Other beverages also can contain sulfites. Check the labels of beer and soft drinks if you think you have sulfite intolerance. Foods that might have sulfites include cookies, crackers, canned or dried fruit, canned vegetables, seafood, syrup, salad dressings, peeled potatoes, crusts and other condiments.
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