Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wine, Headaches, and Legislation

I was reading an article today titled Current Knowledge about the Presence of Amines in Wine† which explores the variability of concentrations of amines such as histamine in wine, and the factors that relate to possible regulatory legislation. Amines are basically the byproduct of the breakdown of amino acids. Amines are present in all living cells (playing an important role in the regulation of body temperature, etc) but also occur in fermentation and can be toxic in high concentrations. There is already legislation in the U.S. and Europe limiting the levels of well-known amine, histamine, in fish and cheese and apparently, some are calling for similar limits in wine.

Illegal Microbiology
I have mixed feelings about the legislation of food in general. My initial reaction to reading that there is a movement to legislate limits on an organic compound in wine was “keep your laws off my wine!” I have to admit though that when I began reading about compounds with names such as cadaverine, putrescine, and spermine (all with aroma profiles in keeping with their monikers) I was less opposed to the idea of someone removing these from my wine or inhibiting their formation altogether.

Stinky Cheese
To put it all in perspective though, the average cheese has 50 to 100 times more putrescine than the average red wine, and up to roughly five times more histamine. I was glad to see that the authors added further perspective by pointing out that there is a wide variation of histamine tolerance among individuals, and that the combination of histamine-rich foods, and/or digestive-tract uptake inhibiting drugs like AMOI blockers make it virtually impossible to guarantee that consumers won’t receive a toxic level of histamine absorption in relation to wine consumption. With histamine poisoning symptoms ranging from mild to severe (severe being migraine--ouch) it’s not exactly life threatening.

The Old Cab vs. Pinot Debate
By the way, anyone with histamine sensitivity would be interested to know that in the studies cited, Pinot Noir had higher levels of histamine than Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course, red wine has generally higher levels than white (the more contact with the lees the higher the concentration). Also, they found that the addition of bentonite clay to wine reduced the histamine by half. Do with that piece of data as you will (over the counter bentonite supplements are available.*)

The Real Cause of Wine Headache
Blog Tablas Creek posted an article earlier this year about wine-related headaches and histamines. As he pointed out, the much-maligned sulfites are not the root cause of most wine allergies and are a necessary component to wine-making for bacteria control which correlates with the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition article which cites research showing that the addition of SO2 restrains the formation of histamine.

So wine legislation bodies; which is it going to be: The “Contains Sulfites” labeling or a histamine limit? How about a happy medium like a “Histamine Content” label similar the percent of alcohol by volume label? This way people with histamine sensitivities can be aware of whether the bottle they are being offered will cause them discomfort. What do you think? Should a histamine limit be imposed on the wine industry?

Addendum: Let me be clear here, I am not proposing wine legislation. I am merely pointing out that certain existing legislation may be somewhat at odds with further legislation on naturally occuring wine compounds.

†Ancín-Azpilicueta, Carmen, Ana González-Marco, and Nerea Jiménez-Moreno. "Current Knowledge about the Presence of Amines in Wine." Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition 48.3 (Mar. 2008): 257-275. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO.

*I am not a health care practitioner and do not promote the use of any remedies or cures FDA-approved or otherwise.


John Witherspoon said...

Great Post

Food regulation is a funny thing. If they are going to put amine amounts on labels they should put tannin levels on them as well. Evidence has been shown that tannins could be the culprit versus histamines and tryamines. Tannins could be the culprit because they can cause a decrease in serotonin release which can lead to constriction of blood vessels in the brain and thus causing headaches.

Again, good article, very thought provoking.


Taster B said...

Thanks for your comment John--I hadn't heard about the tannin studies but that is very interesting. For me the bottom line is this: If I am sensitive to a particular food, that is a matter that should be managed personally not through legislating limits to satisfy the lowest common denominator.

Thanks for reading!

Amandine said...

I'm a french student,and Im working on an amine that we can find in the wine in particulary the "trimethylamine", the recent article,that you've read, seams to be very interesting for my project : "Current Knowledge about the Presence of Amines in Wine". Is it possible to send me a copy of this article please?
thank you