Allergies and alcohol intolerance.


If drinking alcohol, even in small amounts, is giving you food allergy symptoms like hot flashes, itching, or strange digestive problems, instead of hangover symptoms, you may be allergic or intolerant to alcohol .

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Although true allergies to ethanol (the scientific name for alcohol) are rare, alcoholic beverages can include several different ingredients that can cause allergy or intolerance symptoms. This can be a problem if all you want to do is drink. with friends.

These ingredients in alcoholic beverages can cause symptoms in people who are sensitive to them:

  • Gluten free in wheat, barley and rye
  • Histamine
  • Sulphites
  • Yeast
  • Grape
  • Corn

However, there is good news. While some of these allergies may require you to give up alcohol entirely, there are solutions for others. Here is information on the potentially problematic ingredients found in various alcoholic beverages and how to substitute for these beverages.

Gluten sensitivity

Gluten, a protein that triggers a reaction in celiac disease , is found in three grains: wheat, barley, and rye. Malted barley is used to make beer and some other bottled beverages. Some beers also contain wheat (in addition to or instead of barley).

Therefore, if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you should avoid regular beer. If you are allergic to wheat, you can drink barley beer, but not wheat .

The situation is more complicated with alcoholic beverages that are made from gluten grains, but distilled. Common distilled beverages sometimes made from wheat, rye, and barley include gin, vodka, and whiskey (including bourbon) .

If you are concerned about gluten-based alcohol consumption, you can try gluten-free potato or grape vodka or sorghum whiskey (gluten-free cereals).

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) considers distilled alcohol to be safe for people with celiac disease. According to the Celiac Disease Dietary Guidelines, if no flavors are added after the distillation process, distilled alcoholic beverages are gluten-free .

However, this is a controversial topic, as many people with gluten or gluten sensitivities report reactions to alcoholic beverages made from gluten grains. Meanwhile, little research has been done on the effects of distilled wheat alcohols on people with wheat allergies, but the European Food Safety Authority considers them safe .

Since the commercial market for gluten-free products has grown so much, many manufacturers are launching alcoholic beverages labeled gluten-free. For example, there are a number of beers made entirely with gluten-free ingredients.

Common gluten-free alcoholic beverages include wine and most brandy. Read brandy labels carefully , as some flavored brandies contain sweeteners and additives that may contain gluten.

Most spirits and some wine coolers are also gluten-free. For any of these, it is advisable to check the manufacturers' labels or websites, as there are exceptions and some do contain potential gluten-containing additives.

Histamine intolerance

Many foods, including aged cheese and red wine, are high in histamine. It is the same chemical that participates in a series of allergic reactions in the body .

An allergic reaction to foods high in histamine may indicate a possible histamine intolerance. There are two enzymes in your body that are supposed to break down histamine, but sometimes these enzymes don't work as well as they should .

When this happens, it can cause various symptoms of histamine intolerance, including a so-called "red wine headache." There is also some evidence that histamine is associated with migraines .

Antihistamines such as Allegra (Fexofenadine) and Zyrtec (Cetirizine) can help relieve symptoms of histamine intolerance. However, the best treatment is to avoid histamine in the foods we eat, including alcohol.

Although red wine is especially rich in histamine, all alcoholic beverages contain high levels of histamine. Other histamine-rich foods to avoid include hot dogs, spinach, tomatoes, and fermented foods like kefir.

Sulfite allergy

A group of sulfur-containing compounds known as sulfites are found naturally in wine and beer and help suppress the growth of harmful bacteria in these beverages. Also , winemakers sometimes add more sulfites to wines, as they act as preservatives.

However, in susceptible people, sulfites can cause asthma attacks or a severe allergic reaction throughout the body known as anaphylaxis . For most people who are sensitive to sulfite, very low amounts of sulfite do not trigger an asthma attack, but rather as they increase. as well as the chances of experiencing a reaction.

If your allergist has told you that you are at risk for anaphylaxis due to a sulfite allergy, you should avoid wine. You will also need to have an EpiPen with you to self-administer adrenaline (adrenaline) in case of an emergency.

US labeling laws require that any food with a sulfite concentration greater than 10 parts per million (ppm) be labeled with the term "contains sulfites."

There is no truly sulfite-free wine. While it is not legal to include additional sulfites in organic wines, some contain enough natural sulfites, which can be problematic for some people with asthma .

Yeast allergy

The type of yeast that is used to ferment many alcoholic beverages is a single-celled fungus commonly known as brewer's yeast . The scientific name is Saccharomyces cerevisiae and it is the same yeast that is used to grow bread .

The allergy to Saccharomyces cerevisiae is well documented in the medical literature . They are more common in people allergic to mold .

Brewer's yeast is used in all fermented alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, strong cider, sake, kvass, and other similar beverages), so people with yeast allergies should avoid them. The same may not apply to distilled spirits.

To date, very little research has been done on yeast and liquor allergy. If you are allergic to yeast and would like to include these drinks in your diet, you should discuss further allergy testing with your allergist.

It's important to note that brewer's yeast is not the same organism as Candida albicans , which some alternative practitioners have suggested can cause everything from chronic fatigue to depression .

While mainstream physicians agree that Candida albicans can cause acute infections like yeast infection, most reject the theory that chronic yeast infection is the cause of widespread health problems.

Allergy to grapes

Grape allergies are rare but have been reported in the medical literature. In addition to wine, people with a grape allergy should avoid Armagnac, Cognac, Ouzo, Vermouth, Port Wine, Champagne, most wine coolers, and packaged martini mixes .

Possible alternatives to grape-based wine and spirits include Japanese plum wine, which has a sweet taste reminiscent of moscato, and calvados, which is an apple brandy.

Allergies and intolerances to corn.

To date, the question of whether distilled corn alcohol is safe for people with corn allergies (as other distilled grain alcohols appear to be safe for people with different grain allergies) has received very little attention in the reviewed medical literature. in pairs .

In 1999, a study of a patient with a corn allergy and beer-induced anaphylaxis showed that corn-derived distilled alcohol was safe for people with a corn allergy .

This case study was cited by the European Food Safety Authority in its position paper, which states that corn-derived distilled alcohol is likely safe for corn-allergic patients, especially since scientists have not been able to demonstrate the presence of proteins. . causing allergic reactions.) after the distillation process .

However, since the clinical data on corn and distilled alcohol is so sparse, you may want to speak with your allergist before adding corn-derived distilled alcohol to your diet.

People with a corn allergy should avoid consuming alcohol derived from corn, especially bourbon. Other spirits, such as gin, whiskey, and some vodkas, can also be distilled from corn, so be sure to check the label.

Some beers are safe, using no corn kernels, water, yeast, or hops, but many are not. Currently, American manufacturers are not required to list ingredients in malt beverages (although some do). Wine is safe for corn allergies and intolerances, but Spanish chicha is another fermented corn-based drink that should be avoided.

Another potential problem could be flavorings that are added to spirits or brandies, as they may contain corn. If a complete list of ingredients is not available on the label, check the manufacturer's websites or call customer service before consuming.

Get the word of drug information

Alcohol intolerance comes in many forms. If you have any food allergies, it is important to be very careful about the alcoholic beverages you consume. Labeling standards make it difficult to understand what is used in the production of beer, wine and spirits .

If you have questions, be sure to ask your allergist about your specific reactions and how you can continue to drink alcohol.

Frequently asked questions

  • Alcohol intolerance is a genetic metabolic disorder that prevents the body from metabolizing alcohol properly, while an alcohol allergy is an immune response to an ingredient in alcohol.

  • No, medications for allergies or alcohol intolerances are not possible, but symptoms can be controlled.

  • Along with a physical exam and a detailed medical history, your doctor can perform an ethanol test. To do this, place ethanol on gauze and place the gauze on the person's hand to check for reactions such as itching, redness, and swelling.

  • Not recommended. If someone with an alcohol intolerance drinks alcohol, they are at increased risk for head and neck cancer, liver disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

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