From the Vineyard: Do you have a hangover? It’s probably the alcohol, not sulfites.

Though I suspect that most readers of The Connection have learned not to drink so much that they get hung over, many people still ask what they can do to reduce the impact of drinking too much alcohol.

What they don’t want to hear is, “Drink less” or “Don’t drink.”

That’s particularly true as we’ve learned that moderate consumption of wine can be good for your heart, though it may have other negative effects including high blood pressure and even cancer.

Many people believe that sulfites present in most wine, histamines, sugar in drinks or flavorings from oak barrels or other substances are the problem.  Well, they may be for some people, but the usual culprit is alcohol.  Wine typically contains about 14 percent ethanol, beer about five percent and straight spirits 40 percent, though much less in cocktails.

Alcohol, like many other substances, is toxic in excess.  In lesser amounts, it obviously has other effects, including all the symptoms we recognize.  No alcohol, no hangover.  You won’t get a hangover from the sulfites found on most dried fruit, cut packaged potatoes and many other foods, for example.

So, sadly, the real solution is to drink less.

If you do drink, some things might help.

The first is to drink lots of water, too.  It both dilutes the alcohol and likely reduces total consumption of liquids.  Alcohol is also a diuretic, so you need to replace the water you lose.

Studies indicate that very few people are actually allergic to sulfites.  Small amounts in the form of sulfur dioxide gas (once created by burning sulfur wicks) or potassium or sodium sulfite in water are added to grape musts to kill unwanted yeasts and bacteria before fermentation, and during aging and at bottling to sterilize the wine.

A few wines don’t have sulfites added, but they tend to have a limited life and some sulfites are created by the yeasts that ferment wine anyway.  One way to preserve life would be to chill the wine like dairy products (and some draft beer) but that’s not likely to happen.

Wine also contains two kinds of amines, histamines and tyramines; histamines dilate blood vessels in the brain, while tyramines constrict them.  Both of these actions can cause headaches in people who are sensitive to one or both of the chemicals.

In the unlikely case that you are allergic to sulfites, aside from avoiding wines containing them, you can oxidize some of the sulfites.  Aerating the wine can help, as could adding a few drops of hydrogen peroxide, a powerful oxidizer.

A number of commercial products claim to do that, too, though I can’t endorse them, since I’m not particularly allergic to sulfites and I didn’t test them scientifically.

SO~2~GO ($25 for 100 uses) comes in a small bottle that is sprayed into a glass of wine.  (A single-use packet version, designed for desulfurizing an entire bottle, is also available.)

Just the Wine ($6 for 25 uses) comes in a tiny bottle and is applied via drops.

The Wand by PureWine ($25 for eight) is inserted into a glass of wine and swirled, aerating the wine as it oxidizes sulfites (and claims to reduce the amount of histamines too).

As for those histamines, if you flush when drinking wine, especially red wine, an antihistamine might help (as it can for bee stings!).

Another product is more ambitious.  Over EZ claims to flush out acetaldehyde, a toxic product of metabolizing alcohol in your liver.  “One Over EZ capsule contains vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B6 e vitamin B12, which together make up the B-complex vitamin plus minerals (magnesium and zinc), amino acid (L-Cysteine) and others ingredients, such as chicory root extract, milk thistle extract, amla extract, Chinese date extract, grape extract and beet juice may help restore balance to the body and can assist it in replenishing depleted nutrients resulting from alcohol consumption.”  No eye of newt or toe of frog, however.

If you do find yourself hung over, drink lots of water and liquid containing electrolytes like fruit juice, try to eat something and sleep, and take an aspirin or ibuprofen (not acetaminophen, which can harm the liver when combined with alcohol).

Don’t drink a bloody Mary or screwdriver:  that just puts the ill effects off.

And remember not to drink so much next time!

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