a health hazard?

a health hazard?

What are sulphites? Can you be allergic to sulphites? What foods contain the most? Is this substance dangerous for our health? Stéphane Quesnot, a doctor specializing in Public Health and intolerant to sulphites agreed to answer our questions.

What are sulphites?

Sulphites are chemical compounds with the sulfite ion SO3 2-. “If these substances are naturally present in certain fermented foods in small quantities, they are often used by humans as additives to preserve foods thanks to their antioxidant properties. explains the doctor. Sulfites correspond to the codes E220 to E228 in European legislation.

In summary, in order to remember what sulphites are, here is the list of their denomination in Europe on product labels, when their concentration reaches 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/:

  • E220 or sulfur dioxide;
  • E221 or sodium sulphite;
  • E223 or sodium bisulphite;
  • E224 or sodium metabisulphite;
  • E225 or potassium sulphite;
  • E226 or calcium sulphite;
  • E227 or calcium bisulphite;
  • E228 or potassium acid sulphite;
  • potassium bisulphite;
  • sulfurous acid;
  • sulphiting agents;
  • dithionite;
  • sulphur dioxide ;

What foods contain sulfites?

On the side of products and foods containing sulphites, here is an exhaustive list:

  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic wines, ciders, champagnes, certain beers;
  • Müesli and processed cereals;
  • cold cuts
  • Condiments: coleslaw, horseradish, ketchup, mustard, pickles;
  • Sauerkraut ;
  • Dried and candied fruits;
  • Canned, vacuum-packed or frozen fruits and vegetables;
  • Vacuum-packed or canned starches;
  • Dried herbs, spices, tea;
  • Fruit syrups, gelatins, jams, jellies, marmalades;
  • Confectionery, sweets;
  • Bottled lemon juice;
  • Fruit and vegetable juices;
  • Tomato puree and concentrate;
  • Fish, crustaceans and molluscs;
  • soy products;
  • Baked goods;
  • Fresh grapes, lettuce;
  • Sugar syrups: glucose syrups, glucose solids, dextrose syrups;
  • Vinegars;
  • Sauces, soups.

What are the consequences of consuming sulphites?

“Each of us has a threshold of tolerance to sulphites, which can be very different from one person to another: tolerant, moderately intolerant, strongly intolerant, very strongly intolerant. If the amount of daily sulphite ingested is greater than the individual threshold of sulfate metabolism, the body is overwhelmed.This is where symptoms can appear: headaches, which can be confused with migraines, significant fatigue, digestive disorders (diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting), joint pain , stuffy nose…”.

You should know that sulphites can cause a reaction similar to an allergy in 1 in 100 people. This sensitivity manifests itself in different ways in individuals, such as asthma-like breathing difficulties, digestive disorders, and sometimes even anaphylactic shock. It would also seem that people sensitive to sulphites are also intolerant or allergic to aspirin. But since this intolerance is not considered an allergy, it cannot be detected by any test.

Can you be allergic to sulphites?

“It’s not an allergy but a intolerance. The immune system is not mobilized. But skin or blood immune tests can show reactions to sulfites. explains Doctor Quesnot.

What causes sulphite intolerance?

“The exact cause of sulfite intolerance is not fully understood. In my opinion, this metabolic alteration probably has a genetic origin modifying sulfite metabolism” says Stéphane Quesnot.

Which drinks contain a lot of sulfites?

“When we talk about sulphite, wine is the first word that comes to mind! All wines contain natural sulphites in very low doses. It is a substance naturally produced by yeast during alcoholic fermentation. Sulfites are sometimes added for their antioxidant and antiseptic properties. Wines “without sulphites” are in fact wines “without added sulphites”. explains the doctor. “Black tea is also an important source of sulfites but often overlooked as in my case”.

What foods contain a lot of sulfites?

“Plants of the alliaceae family contain variable amounts of sulphites, in decreasing order: garlic, shallot, onion, leek, chives… We can also mention condiments: mustard, ketchup, gherkins but also dried and candied fruits, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, fruit and vegetable juices, cold cuts, spices” quote the doctor. Legislation obliges manufacturers to mention the presence of sulphites on the packaging as soon as the concentration exceeds the 10 mg/litre or 10 mg/kg, but not the contained dose. “On the other hand, there are no regulations concerning the use of maximum doses of sulphites in food” regrets Stéphane Quesnot.

During a sulphite elimination diet, how long does it take for the symptoms to disappear?

“It took me 2 to 3 months to detoxify the body and obtain a disappearance of the symptoms. Being myself intolerant to sulphites, I was able to observe a virtual disappearance of my migraines after stopping the black tea that I consumed in large quantities. My chronic fatigue also faded. I divided my consumption of analgesics and anti-inflammatories by 4, even completely interrupted for several weeks” says the doctor.

What is the connection between sulphites and nasal polyposis?

“Nasal polyposis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the nasosinus mucosa leading to the formation of polyps. As they grow, the polyps obstruct the nasal cavities and the sinuses. The patient always has a stuffy nose, a runny nose and he will gradually lose his sense of smell. The traditional treatment is based on local intranasal corticosteroid therapy and long-term nose washing. In the most advanced cases, surgery may be necessary.” explains the doctor. “There is a link between nasal polyposis and sulphite intolerance. Sulphite elimination diets should be offered systematically to people with nasal polyposis, before any surgical intervention. ENTs are beginning to take this therapeutic alternative into account and communications are being made at congresses in this specialty.” he completes.

NO to diets, YES to WW!

What are the dangers of sulphites on our long-term health?

“Sulfites are present everywhere in our diet. It is difficult to measure the quantities ingested by populations and even more difficult to establish links with the occurrence of chronic diseases. To my knowledge, there is no precise study on the subject”.

Doctor Stéphane Quesnot recommends the very enlightening reading of Bertrand Waterman’s book published in 2017 “Chronic diseases and allergies to sulphites: asthma, eczema, fatigue, migraines, nasal polyposis, rhinitis, sinusitis, digestive disorders…”. This book allows you to know if you are intolerant to sulphites, to learn how to detect them in food, drinks and cosmetics. Thus, you can control your daily intake to keep them below the saturation threshold of their metabolism and therefore avoid the appearance of signs of intolerance. Dr Quesnot specifies that he has no conflict of interest with Mr Bertrand Waterman.


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