The Dangers of Sulfites
In this post, we will look at the dangers of sulfites to our health. We will explain the differences between allergies and intolerance. We will list all the diseases associated with sulfites, whether medically recognized, or simple testimonies by sensitive people.
Intolerance and Allergies
Before reviewing the possible effects of sulfites on our health, it is essential to clarify what are allergies and intolerances. They are fundamentally different in their mechanisms, even though their symptoms are comparable. Doctors also address them with very different attitudes.
Allergies are an immune system reaction. They are triggered when a foreign protein called an “allergen” arrives in our body. The immune system reacts by releasing antibodies which bind to allergens to deactivate them.
These antibodies trigger the release of other molecules, such as histamines, leukotrienes and prostaglandins. It is these that cause the side effects we are familiar with, such as:
- Hot flashes in the face, hives or a rash–red and itchy skin.
- Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, throat and tongue.
- Nasal congestion.
- Difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing.
- Anxiety, distress, faintness, paleness, feelings of suffocation and weakness.
- Cramps, diarrhea or vomiting.
- Falling blood pressure, rapid heartbeat or fainting.
These allergy symptoms occur very rapidly, within minutes. In most cases, these allergic reactions are moderate. In some people, they can be violent and cause the shutdown of several body systems, including the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. This reaction is called anaphylaxis and can be fatal.
The symptoms of intolerance are similar to the allergy symptoms we have just seen.
However, unlike allergies, intolerances do not involve the immune system. They are often due to the deficiency of an enzyme, such as lactase for lactose intolerance, or increased sensitivity to a particular component, such as a food additive.
In the case of intolerance to sulfites, response times vary widely–from several minutes to several tens of hours. This delayed effect, with symptoms that appear, for example, the next day, makes it extremely difficult to identify the problem.
Although sulfites are involved in some cases of true allergies, and even anaphylactic shock leading to death, like in the USA in the 80s, the vast majority of us suffer from intolerance to varying degrees.
Doctors are almost glad to tell us that we have an intolerance problem, not an allergy. The excellent news, according to them, is that we are not in danger of death from anaphylactic shock like after eating the slightest peanut, and we do not need to keep a syringe of self-injectable adrenaline on ourselves.
Okay, that is good news, for sure, and we can rejoice. However, we also know how much this problem spoils our quality of daily life.
I sincerely believe that doctors are still missing the point completely. They ignore many of the problems of intolerance to sulfites, such as their very insidious character and the proliferation of symptoms. They also ignore the reality of the presence of undeclared sulfites in our diet. They are not even aware of sulfites in drugs; however, they are known excipients with well-known effects. In the end, there is a lot they do not know, but they find it difficult to tell us so clearly.
Such Different Effects
One would think that taking sulfites would always provoke the same reaction in the same person. My personal experience and reading numerous testimonies make me think otherwise. Sulfites absorbed in white wine gave me a headache within an hour, while sulfites in seafood trigger diarrhea within ten minutes. We will see that there are, in fact, multiple reactions to sulfites. The reasons are probably the following:
There is not one but several sulfites: sulfites; bisulfites; and sodium, potassium or calcium metabisulfites. These molecules are therefore slightly different from each other and the mechanisms for interaction with the body are likely to be slightly different also. Bisulfite may, for example, take longer to degrade than a sulfite, and therefore causes reactions after a longer period.
The dosage: unlike true allergies, where the smallest dose can trigger a cascade of severe reactions, the dose has a major role in the speed and nature of the symptoms. The threshold effect is important. It is a dose below which we do not have any visible reactions, and above which the reactions occur. This is the limit at which our ability to metabolize sulfites is exceeded. This is the limit from which additional sulfites start attacking our bodies. This threshold must be discovered by experience and managed daily. If health authorities have set a maximum of 45 mg of sulfites a day for a 60 kg person, we must learn to manage our tolerance level of 1 to 10 mg per day. We will come back to this in detail.
pH: This is the measure of acidity. It seems that the chemical activity of sulfites is dependent on the pH of foods with which they are mixed.
All this does not simplify our search for identifying and understanding the links between our symptoms and sulfites, especially since many sulfites are hidden and we do not even know when and how much of them we consume.
We will now look at all the effects attributed to sulfites. If you recognize yourself in these different manifestations, you there are tangible elements for suspecting them. You may even discover explanations for symptoms that you could not explain before.
High Frequency Effects
Let’s start with the most common effects. These are the ones that generally put us on the track of sulfites.
We are all familiar with it, the bad white wine with the unfortunate reputation of giving headaches, even when it is not abused and thus there is no excessive intake of alcohol. Rather, it is the sulfites in very large quantities in white wine that give us headaches.
Headaches are one of the most common effects of sulfites. They can be triggered very quickly, within fifteen minutes after intake, or after several hours. Mechanisms are likely to be different in these situations.
Note that those who wish to confuse the issue will accuse the tannins and alcohol rather than sulfites. Of course, if you drink eight glasses, you will have an even worse headache from the dehydrating effect of alcohol. However, let us be clear and simple–the correlation between the doses of sulfites in the different types of wines and headache is obvious enough for us to avoid being talked out of it.
The effects on breathing go from a little tightness or heaviness in the chest, to breathing that becomes noisy, that is, the bronchi start to whistle. Over time, our respiratory mucous membranes are irritated daily, and research establishes a clear link between the amount of sulfites in food and the development of asthma. This daily poisoning becomes a reason for the installation of asthma. An excessive dose of sulfites can then trigger attacks.
Always after our small glass of bad white wine, many of us have had a runny nose and swelling nasal mucosa. Sometimes, our noses get even blocked completely. We also have sneezing and runoff. Over time, our mucosa irritated daily deteriorates and becomes inflammatory. This is probably a major cause of the development of nasal polyposis in my case, but also a major cause of other chronic rhinitis and nasal congestion. Some of us also have watery eyes.
Here are other quite common effects that we, however, attribute with greater difficulty to sulfites. If you have already recognized yourself in the high frequency effects and the following sounds familiar, you have made good progress in your investigation and sulfites are about to be your number one suspect!
I’m quite a fan of seafood, as is normal when leaving on the ocean. So I regularly ate seafood like oysters, crabs, clams, winkles, whelks and prawns.
Sometimes, I could eat large quantities without any problems, while other times it did not go over at all. I had sudden diarrhea within fifteen minutes of eating.
It could not be poisoning caused by spoiled seafood. Most of the seafood is eaten alive, and the time between the consumption and the effect does not even allow the bolus, the content of the stomach during a meal, to empty into the intestine. For me it was a reaction of the lining of the intestine, which reacts rapidly with the ingestion of sulfites.
It is an experience I repeated dozens of times before discovering that seafood contains sulfites, and often at higher doses than the authorized limits.
At lower doses, we might suppose that sulfites provoke in us lesser digestive problems, and we find it hard to make the connection. But, maybe they are also the cause of bloating and digestive problems. A digestive system that is irritated daily is also the source of chronic health problems. The walls of the intestines become porous and large-sized molecules pass into our body to irritate it from the inside. Probiotics can help us in this case.
In the manifestations we have seen, sulfites act on mucous membranes. They are also implicated in skin problems such as redness, irritation, and even eczema.
We will talk about it later, but sulfites are also found in cosmetics, sometimes in very large doses as in self-tanner or hair-smoothing products.
Cramps and Fatigue
Sulfites are evoked in cases of unexplained chronic fatigue, muscle cramps, and even fibromyalgia.
I personally find that I have lots of aches. They are probably related to my age, because when one is sporty at more than 45 years, it takes a lot of stretching. But maybe my sensitivity to sulfites is also one of the causes.
Beyond the problems commonly associated with sulfites that we have just looked at, there are testimonies of rarer problems that are often more exceptional in their manifestations. I have found in these testimonies people who suffer from multiple health problems, and it would be necessary to have the advice of doctors. I will relate these stories in order to be as complete as possible; but I also invite you to be cautious in the conclusions you draw.
I was able to read testimonials in which sulfites caused heart rhythm disorders. Some of these people even talk about near heart attack. Sulfites have caused deaths documented in the US in the 80s.
I was able to find testimonials about skin problems on a very large scale with reactions over large parts of the body. I have also found a medical study from 1993 in which it was demonstrated that sodium sulfite and sodium disulfite cause hemolysis upon exposure to ultraviolet rays. The authors indicate that these sulfites may contribute to sensitivity to UVB and request other studies on the subject.
Finally, I have also read several highly documented testimonies of people living an ordeal with fibromyalgia. It is a disease characterized by a chronic muscle pain condition and persistent fatigue. There are many other symptoms.
Attention! Fibromyalgia has so many symptoms that it is hard not to feel concerned. If this is your case, I invite you to talk to your doctor, who can make an accurate diagnosis.
These testimonies are poignant to the degree that doctors seem to have ignored these people and their suffering. I can believe that doctors are condescending with sick patients who reveal their ignorance to them. Doctors do not usually like to be ignorant and prefer to question the sincerity of a patient, telling him that what is happening to him is happening mostly in his head.
In all these stories, people talk about multiple problems. Though they have exceptional reactions, they generally have virtually all of the problems that we have mentioned.
If these accounts lack medical rigor and statistical value, because of which doctors do not fail to point the finger, they all have something in common–these people are quite categorical on the responsibility of sulfites, because their problems have greatly decreased or disappeared when they managed to largely reduce their exposure to sulfites.
What is your reactions to sulfites? When did it happen?