Am I Allergic to Alcohol?

It’s been only five years in the liquor business and I have all ready have customers come to me with concerns that they are allergic to alcohol.  I’m no doctor and in no position to explain what’s happening, however, it sparked a curiosity to do some research.  

First of all, there’s the misnomer on calling it an Alcohol Allergy when in actuality it’s an Alcohol Intolerance.  We assume that we are allergic to alcohol because of the reactions we suffer.  However, very few are allergic to just alcohol. Whereas, many are intolerant to alcohol.  Alcohol Intolerance occurs when your body does not have the proper enzyme called Aldehyde Dehydrogenase or ALDH to break down the toxins.  Symptoms includes:  ‘nasal congestion, warm red itchy skin, worsening of pre-exsisting asthma, runny or stuffy nose, headache, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, or abdominal pain.’ ~ Mayo Clinic.

Many blame sulfites as the cause for their discomfort or hangover and therefore cannot drink red wine.  There are higher concentrations of sulfites found in white wine than in red.  It helps the white wine from turning brown.  Red wine have more natural preservatives from the tannins found in the skins of red grapes.   However, sulfites found in wood casks that store red wines for a long period of time can result in higher levels.  Sensitivity to sulfur dioxide or other preservatives is related to alcohol intolerance.  There is also sensitivity to histamines.  Histamines are produced in beer, wine, and spirits due to the fermentation process.  Histamines need ALDH to metabolize and therefore the lack of ALDH causes the allergy-like symptoms.  Food allergies can result in an intolerance to certain alcoholic beverages.  When alcohol like wine and beer is ‘fined’ or clarified with proteins like egg whites or fish bladders, allergic reactions are due to that particular process.   In addition, there are people who are gluten sensitive and allergic to wheat, rye, and barley produced alcohol.  However, careful choices in alcohol consumption will less likely to result in an allergic reaction.   Food allergies does not mean an intolerance to all alcoholic beverages like having an ALDH deficiency.

In reality many do suffer from alcohol intolerance due to genetics more specifically from Asian descent.  Also, there is a growing number who believe they are becoming alcohol intolerant.  So is alcohol intolerance degenerative?  The body’s organs do breakdown and the liver is the main organ responsible for breaking down alcohol.  Is it because one is losing ALDH or is the liver becoming more fatty?  I’m not an expert but I know I’m not the same consumer as I was twenty years ago.

There is good news on the horizon for those who suffer from Alcohol Intolerance.  An interesting read from the Wine Spectator announced a possible cure.   It would open up a whole new world to those who long to appreciate a glass of wine, chug a beer, or sip an XO cognac.  Crossing my fingers it will be available soon.


Category : Blog Posted on October 5, 2011

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