30 March 2024 / Ercsey Dániel / Photos: Nándor Lang Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

Histamine sensitivity and drinking? Possibly!

Do you think that sulphur dioxide gives you a headache and alcohol a hangover? Forget this! It may be a possibility, but histamine certainly has something to do with it. Bernadett Zsiros, someone from outside the wine world, has been discovering the world of histamine-free wines - quite the opposite. Her histamine intolerance meant that she had been experiencing how difficult it was to drink wine and toast with friends. The good news is that it’s not impossible!

Why did you become interested in histamine-free wines?

I was at university when I found out that I was histamine sensitive. Not only could I not eat anything, but I couldn’t even have a drink with my friends. You can imagine how desperate I was. I started to read up on it, like I suppose everyone who is diagnosed with it does, but as I dug deeper and deeper, I suddenly realised that all was not lost. It was all just a coincidence. In an Instagram post, I saw a winery that was making wines guaranteed to be histamine-free. I looked at their page, saw that their whole winery was based on this and immediately checked if anyone was distributing their wines in Hungary. Until then, I hadn’t even known that it was possible to make wines that were low in histamine. I also had various food allergies, and my doctor told me that I couldn’t have any of those allergens or foods containing histamines anymore – so I couldn’t drink wine, sparkling wine or even beer. Fortunately, I didn’t give up and turned my difficulties to my advantage. As I have a degree in economics and experience in retail, I knew that if there was no such product on the market and if I moved quickly, I could be the first in what I hoped would be a very dynamic market, so I very quickly took the plunge.

 

You mentioned low histamine, not histamine-free.

Yes, you have to be careful what you say, because there is a small amount of histamine in the wines I sell, and I don’t want to mislead consumers. You cannot make a wine that is completely histamine-free.

 

How do you know if you have a histamine intolerance?

Unfortunately, there are no specific symptoms which you can say are only caused by histamine. Moreover, there are many degrees to this problem and the current state of your body influences how you react to histamine. The same thing may not work the same way twice.

 

What makes the symptoms worse?

This is a matter of individual tolerance, but the current histamine levels in your body also play a role. Histamine, which is present in food in the form of so-called biogenic amines, is also a very important component of our body, so you shouldn’t think of it as some kind of poison. In fact, it is involved in many bodily functions, it plays an important role in your immune system and also functions as a tissue hormone and neurotransmitter in your body, so it is everywhere. This may be why complaints of histamine intolerance can occur everywhere, from skin complaints to nervous system or digestive system issues. It also interferes with blood pressure and hormonal systems and can even cause respiratory symptoms. Moreover, high levels of oestrogen can also cause histamine build-up, so women are affected more often and may even have symptoms related to their monthly cycle.

 

How does histamine get into wine?

It is produced during fermentation by bacteria and yeasts.

 

And how is it removed?

Not like the bubbles from the mineral water in the film ‘Glass Tiger’ (Hungarian: Üvegtigris)! (laughs) They use special yeasts that produce little or no histamine. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any, but there will be very little. So, finally, the histamine residues are also extracted from the wine using a chemical-free process.

 

And is it true that red wines have much higher histamine levels?

Yes, because most histamine is typically produced during the conversion of malic acid.

 

How can you measure histamine in wine?

There is a laboratory in Germany and a special measurement where even this minimum level can be detected. Some people have contacted me to say that their wine has a histamine content of less than 1 mg/l, and they have domestic laboratory measurements that prove it. That’s great, but I’m looking for wines with histamine levels even below 0.1 m/g, like with the products I sell. Unfortunately, 1 mg/l can still easily cause symptoms in a sensitive person, depending on individual tolerance.

 

Why is there no dumping of low histamine wines? There are more and more people with histamine sensitivity.

For now, because of the cost and the risk. I don’t know how much the technology to remove the residual histamine from the wine costs, and I’m sure the special yeasts don’t cost much more than any other yeast, but the lab in Germany, for example, doesn’t come cheap, so everyone thinks twice before having their wines measured.

 

How do you know if you have a problem with histamine?

Strangely, before COVID, there was almost no mention of this disease or syndrome, but there has been a huge change in the last two or three years. Many people have no idea what causes their symptoms after drinking wine. They think it is sulphur dioxide or alcohol. However, it’s not only fermented things that contain histamine, but also, for example, aged cheeses. Some people get a stuffy nose, others a runny nose. Some people sneeze, other get red skin. Some people have itches, others get heartburn, as high histamine levels can also increase stomach acid production. An increased heart rate is also one of the symptoms, as is low blood pressure. The suspicion of histamine intolerance often arises when you don’t know what to think anymore, but it is extremely difficult to diagnose because of the wide and varied range of symptoms. It is also important to distinguish allergy from histamine sensitivity. Although people do take antihistamines during allergy season, and if they can preferably choose a wine low in histamine during this period (as fermented drinks with a high histamine content can exacerbate their symptoms), it may suffice for them to just pay attention to it intermittently.

 

What about natural wines?

Natural wines are pretty much the opposite of low histamine wines. Low histamine wines are made under strictly controlled technological conditions, with a specific yeast. There is no other way. Whereas with natural wines, the point is to leave everything to nature… Of course, I like them too and also sell natural wines. Although they are riskier for people with histamine sensitivity, it is important that they are made using a chemical-free, organic process, and the chemical residues may also cause the body to release histamines… So, maybe not natural wines, but organics, organic farming is very important here too.

 

So, should people who are sensitive to histamines also avoid red wine, natural wine and orange wine?

It’s important to understand that this is not a disease, rather a condition. There is always a problem behind it, often several at the same time. So if you solve the problem, you may be able to eat histamine-rich things again. I can even drink a glass of natural red wine or orange wine, which have the highest histamine content. Of course, I had been curing myself for the previous three years, watching my body’s signals. Lifestyle changes and mindfulness help a lot. Of course, wines low in histamine are not good for everyone. If you are in very bad condition, e.g. at risk of anaphylactic shock, don’t drink low-histamine wine either. The histamine level in your body is constantly changing, so you can measure it, but it will only be relevant at a given moment. The digestive system is usually affected and needs to be regenerated, and this can take several months, during which time it is best to avoid alcohol. After that, you can reintroduce things back into your diet, but the pace of this is entirely individual and requires constant attention and patience with yourself.

 

Could reducing your wine consumption be a solution?

What I see is that people are no longer interested in just the flavours, but also in where the product comes from and how it affects them. This health awareness is also spreading to Eastern Europe, just look at the market for non-alcoholic wines. It’s important to know that alcohol, for example, blocks the DAO enzyme, which is responsible for breaking down histamine in your body. If for example, you drink alcohol (not necessarily wine) and eat aged cheese or oilseeds with it, then any existing intolerance or allergy symptoms can be exacerbated. There is a clear increase in demand for alcohol-free wines, but consumers find it easier to understand de-alcoholised wines than histamine-free ones. I started my webshop three years ago, and I’m now starting to feel that the syndrome and what causes it is becoming part of public consciousness. Fortunately, there is a solution, not just total abstinence.

 

What should you know about low histamine wines?

To put it in a nutshell, they are like good quality organic wines. Most non-alcoholic wines (since I also sell those) are a different category and should be tasted in a different way to a traditional wine. You need a certain openness or obviously a certain interest to feel comfortable drinking them. However, there are more and more good products available, which I’m trying to gather in my range. But the good news is that the taste and texture of low-histamine wines are no different from normal wines.

 

This begs the question, will there be histamine-free de-alcoholised wines?

Yes, we are planning this, together with my current supplier. At the moment, about 60% of my turnover consists of non-alcoholic wines, but I am getting more and more questions about whether they contain histamine. The truth is, yes, but their histamine content is not measured. Low-histamine wine, on the other hand, has alcohol, which is not an option for many people. So, I see that there is a segment of the population for whom this new type of wine could be the solution. The aim is to make the pleasure of drinking wine a pleasure for everyone!

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