It's official. Drinking a moderate amount of wine can be a healthy choice. Not only does a good wine pair nicely with beef and fish, but wine is chock full of heart-healthy antioxidants. But it's still not for everybody. Researchers in Germany have discovered that there is a large population of people that have a sub-clinical intolerance to red wine. And there is a smaller population that exhibits full-blown allergic symptoms.
Allergy vs. intolerance
Out of 950 participants in the study, 25% were determined to have a full-blown allergy to red wine. Reported symptoms were along the lines of hot, flushed skin, moderate to severe diarrhea, and abnormally runny nose. About 75 people in the allergic group reported more serious symptoms like intestinal cramps, shortness of breath, and vomiting.
Those who were deemed intolerant had much milder symptoms such as headache, mild muscle pain, and slight sinus inflammation.
What causes an allergic reaction to red wine?
Scientists don't know for sure what causes a person to be allergic to red wine, but they suspect a certain protein called lipid transfer protein - a recognized allergen present in the skin of grapes. Another theory involves a protein that is produced by grapes as a defense mechanism against fungal infections. Still other researchers suspect that the proteins that are produced by the fermentation process itself could be the culprits.
Interestingly, most people who exhibited allergic symptoms or did not tolerate red wine well did not have any problem when they ate any variety of whole grapes.
The study did have some good news for wine lovers though. It seems that many people in the study who were intolerant began to develop a tolerance the more they drank red wine. The other bit of good news is that even most of those who were severely allergic to red wine were able to tolerate white wine well.
Wigand, P., Blettner, M., Saloga, J., and Decker, H. 2012. Prevalence of wine intolerance: results of a survey from Mainz, Germany. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 109 (25): 437-444.