Sulfates, sulfites, and preservatives…Oh, my! The term “sulfates” refers to any additive that contains sulfur. Your body contains sulfur naturally, so items that contain pure sulfur do not pose a problem for people. However, if you see the prefix “sulfa” in your prescription ingredients, then this could actually cause headaches in some individuals. Natural elements from the earth are never the problem—it is when people begin to chemically alter the fundamental elements in nature that issues arise. Unfortunately, many body washes and shampoos contain the altered type of sulfur, or sulfites.
This altered form of sulfur may not cause headaches when applied to the outside of your body. It is typically when you ingest this chemical that you might experience problems. That being said, since sulfites are often sprayed on crops to avoid fungus then you may end up ingesting more altered sulfur than you realize.
Wine may not be your nemesis
Many people end up avoiding wine, because they often experience headaches after drinking. As long as you are not finishing off an entire bottle by yourself, you may want to start looking at the real cause of your headaches.
Vineyards may spray grapes to avoid fungus growth on their crops. Of course, these people are not spraying pure sulfur. If they did, then you would likely not experience a headache at all. It is altered forms of sulfur—sulfites, in this case—that lead to headaches. Sulfites are often added to wine as a type of preservative, but anyone who knows about wine understands that unnatural preservatives and other additives are not necessary to make a good wine. Many screw-top wines (i.e. table wines) do not really need these preservatives at all—table wines are meant to be opened relatively quickly. So, the next time you cringe while turning down a glass of wine, check the bottle first. If it does not contain sulfites, then you are likely in the clear.
Sulfites in food
Sulfites are often added to food, because the altered form of sulfur acts as a preservative. Here is the issue: so many people have had headaches and other symptoms caused by sulfites that companies must put a warning about sulfites on their packaging. This has occurred since 1986, so be sure to check the ingredients on food packaging.
Sulfates are a bit different. Sulfates are chemicals that happen to include sulfur. Since sulfur is not toxic to the body, sulfur does not likely cause headaches. Once again, it is the altered form of sulfur that causes problems, and some of the most common foods to contain sulfites are: instant potatoes, dried fruit and pizza.
The Cleveland Clinic suggests that you look for the following words listed under ingredients if you need to avoid the altered sulfur: sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite. Did you know that those who suffer from asthma are more likely to have a reaction to sulfites than those who do not? Sulfites can cause asthmatic reactions, so be sure to check labels if you have asthma. The FDA actually began the 1986 label requirement after a bunch of people went into anaphylactic shock from a salad bar! Luckily, salad bars are no longer a problem. Just be sure to check your labels if you experience headaches after eating.
Learning Target. Help for Sulfite and Sulfur Dioxide Food Allergy, Sensitivity, and Intolerance. http://www.learningtarget.com/nosulfites/.
Physical Renewal. What Is the Difference Between Sulfas, Sulfates, and Sulfites? https://physicalrenewal.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/what-is-the-difference-between-sulfas-sulfates-sulfites/.
The Cleveland Clinic. Sulfite Sensitivity. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Allergy_Overview/hic_Sulfite_Sensitivity.