Tag Archives: sulfites

Catch-Up Mondays: What are sulfites? Why do we need them?

This was the second post in my sulfite series.  It was originally shared on February 1, 2013.  It is amazing the number of ways sulfites can be listed.  It is like corn (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, food starch, etc.) and wheat (food starch, maltodextrin).  There are so many ways these items are hidden in labeling.

Sulfites or sulfates are preservatives used in various foods and medications. They have been used for centuries as food additives but can occur naturally in fermented beverages and wines. Sulfites (a group of chemical compounds including sulfur and oxygen) are found in such forms as sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium bisulfite and potassium metabisulfite.

Sulfites are known to increase asthma symptoms in approximately 5% of asthmatics especially adults with severe asthma.  According to an article on about.com less is known about hives/swelling and anaphylaxis as a result of sulfites (guess they haven’t seen me in action). I have read that it is not completely known how sulfites cause reactions in certain people. Some make allergic antibodies and others do not. Gases generated from sulfites can cause muscle spasms in the lungs of some asthmatics. Some people may not metabolize the sulfites appropriately.  I believe this is what happens to me which might explain not only the asthma symptoms but the severe stomach cramping and flushing.  While some have been diagnosed with sulfite allergy using skin testing, it seems that there is no reliable commercially available skin test for sulfite allergy.  The diagnosis is most often based on a history of adverse reactions to foods containing sulfites.  I never thought to ask Dr. William Rea while I was at the Environmental Health Center-Dallas if he had a test for sulfites. 

For me even more concerning is that sulfites are added to some medications for their antioxidant properties.  I carry an epi-pen with me in case my histamine injections are not enough to stop a severe reaction.  Sulfites are added to injectable epinephrine to prevent browning which can decrease the effectiveness of the epinephrine.  While this is not optimal for someone with a sulfite sensitivity, it is widely felt that the life saving benefits of the epinephrine out way the sulfites in it.    I also have a rescue inhaler.  Sulfites can be in some inhaler solutions while many of them now no longer contain sulfites due to safety concerns.

Yesterday I mentioned that at the time of my diagnosis of sulfite sensitivity, they were being used regularly in stores and salad bars on fresh foods and there were no required labels on packaged goods.  In 1986 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of sulfites in salad bars particularly on fresh lettuce (potatoes still do not have a ban on them).  It also required foods containing more than 10 ppm (parts per million) to be declared on food labels.  Experts are not yet sure how much sulfite is enough to cause a reaction or what mechanisms might cause the reaction.  Again as I mentioned previously, for those who don’t know the degree of sensitivity, this may not be enough to make packaged food safe for them.  Many restaurants use potato products and it is, therefore, recommended that potatoes with the exception of baked potatoes (skin on) be avoided for sulfite sensitive individuals.

Is this getting your attention on the seriousness of sulfite and sulfite sensitivities like mine?  I knew when I started researching and pulling everything together it was going to be too much information to absorb in a single post.  So, what foods can have sulfites added?  What medications?  Stay tuned for my next post or posts.

Catch-Up Mondays: Sulfites and Me, an Ugly Combination – revisited

 

This was first posted on January 31, 2013.  This post was the first of a four-part talk about sulfites.  I will be sharing the subsequent posts on the following Catch-Up Mondays.

I talked about sulfite sensitivity recently.  Years ago my husband and I would go to Happy Steak (a place to eat when you were on a budget back in the day).  We would order steak and the salad bar.  It never failed that within hours after eating at the restaurant I would develop horrible symptoms.  My throat would itch, my sinuses would get swollen and congested, and my chest would tighten up.  This was followed by a trip to the bathroom where I could barely sit on the toilet because of the intense feeling I was going to pass out and my body feeling hot.  As if this wasn’t enough, after taking an antihistamine, my nose would run nonstop (imagine a water faucet in your head being turned on to full).  Then I would be freezing cold and just let myself lie on the bathroom floor covered in a blanket or my robe because I didn’t have the energy to move or the desire to be too far from the bathroom.

I visited an allergist out-of-town and mentioned these bizarre symptoms to her and what usually preceded them (usually a trip to a salad bar somewhere).  Wow!  She immediately knew what the culprit was.  She said I had a severe sulfite sensitivity.  She then proceeded to tell me that sulfites where on most items in food bars (lettuce, potatoes, fruit).  I was given a list of what sulfites were, what foods they were in and what to avoid.  At the time, there was a medical facility in La Jolla, a southern California town, where sulfite sensitivity testing was done.  From what I remember of that conversation, I would have to stay there a minimum of a week.  I would be under constant supervision as they tested me by having me ingest sulfites to see the minimum amount that it would take to cause a reaction.  My husband and I talked this over.  Going there would give me a sense of how sensitive and severe my sulfite sensitivity would be.  The only problem was that it really wouldn’t help me in terms of which foods I should/should not avoid.  At the time, sulfites were not required to be disclosed on food labeling.  Rather than make the trip and go through the risk of testing myself, we decided that I would just give up everything on the list.  I am not sure exactly how I came upon a Sulfite Support Group (there were no computer groups back then) but I was able to get a more detailed list and a newsletter in support of dealing with sulfites.

Fast forward several years.  We were having a special dinner with friends in their home followed by cards.  The menu we planned was steak and lobster tail along with baked potatoes and some form of dessert.  We had chosen lobster because Costco was having a seafood special and we were going to buy fresh lobster.  My husband and I were given the task of making the trip to buy the lobster.  We arrived at Costco only to find that they didn’t have fresh lobster.  Our taste buds were crying out for lobster and determined not to leave without it, we browsed and purchased frozen lobster tails.   The evening in the home of our friends had been wonderful, good company and delicious, mouth-watering steak and lobster.  With dinner over, we settled down to cards.  In the midst of our cards, my asthma starting acting up.  I felt kind of flushed and out of sorts.  We left early barely making home when the stomach cramps and congestion kicked in.  I was dying.  Every part of my body was rebelling.  In an attempt to make sense of this I had my husband call to inquire about the lobster packaging.  After digging through the garbage our friends confirmed my fears, the lobster had been preserved in sulfites.

I learned then and there that I needed to be a better label reader.  If I wasn’t sure about a frozen item I needed to avoid it and contact the company and ask questions.  In my next post I will discuss more about what sulfites are, other names of sulfites and what foods contain sulfites.

Undisclosed Sulfites

We have been talking a lot about sulfites lately and I have found other blogs discussing it as well. In today’s email there was the week’s update for Nutriwellness. In it there was an article about undisclosed sulfites in a product.

What are sulfites? Why do we need them?

Sulfites or sulfates are preservatives used in various foods and medications. They have been used for centuries as food additives but can occur naturally in fermented beverages and wines. Sulfites (a group of chemical compounds including sulfur and oxygen) are found in such forms as sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium bisulfite and potassium metabisulfite.

Sulfites are known to increase asthma symptoms in approximately 5% of asthmatics especially adults with severe asthma.  According to an article on about.com less is known about hives/swelling and anaphylaxis as a result of sulfites (guess they haven’t seen me in action). I have read that it is not completely known how sulfites cause reactions in certain people. Some make allergic antibodies and others do not. Gases generated from sulfites can cause muscle spasms in the lungs of some asthmatics. Some people may not metabolize the sulfites appropriately.  I believe this is what happens to me which might explain not only the asthma symptoms but the severe stomach cramping and flushing.  While some have been diagnosed with sulfite allergy using skin testing, it seems that there is no reliable commercially available skin test for sulfite allergy.  The diagnosis is most often based on a history of adverse reactions to foods containing sulfites.  I never thought to ask Dr. William Rea while I was at the Environmental Health Center-Dallas if he had a test for sulfites. 

For me even more concerning is that sulfites are added to some medications for their antioxidant properties.  I carry an epi-pen with me in case my histamine injections are not enough to stop a severe reaction.  Sulfites are added to injectable epinephrine to prevent browning which can decrease the effectiveness of the epinephrine.  While this is not optimal for someone with a sulfite sensitivity, it is widely felt that the life saving benefits of the epinephrine out way the sulfites in it.    I also have a rescue inhaler.  Sulfites can be in some inhaler solutions while many of them now no longer contain sulfites due to safety concerns.

Yesterday I mentioned that at the time of my diagnosis of sulfite sensitivity, they were being used regularly in stores and salad bars on fresh foods and there were no required labels on packaged goods.  In 1986 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of sulfites in salad bars particularly on fresh lettuce (potatoes still do not have a ban on them).  It also required foods containing more than 10 ppm (parts per million) to be declared on food labels.  Experts are not yet sure how much sulfite is enough to cause a reaction or what mechanisms might cause the reaction.  Again as I mentioned previously, for those who don’t know the degree of sensitivity, this may not be enough to make packaged food safe for them.  Many restaurants use potato products and it is, therefore, recommended that potatoes with the exception of baked potatoes (skin on) be avoided for sulfite sensitive individuals.

Is this getting your attention on the seriousness of sulfite and sulfite sensitivities like mine?  I knew when I started researching and pulling everything together it was going to be too much information to absorb in a single post.  So, what foods can have sulfites added?  What medications?  Stay tuned for my next post or posts.

Sulfites and Me: An Ugly Combination

I talked about sulfite sensitivity recently.  Years ago my husband and I would go to Happy Steak (a place to eat when you were on a budget back in the day).  We would order steak and the salad bar.  It never failed that within hours after eating at the restaurant I would develop horrible symptoms.  My throat would itch, my sinuses would get swollen and congested, and my chest would tighten up.  This was followed by a trip to the bathroom where I could barely sit on the toilet because of the intense feeling I was going to pass out and my body feeling hot.  As if this wasn’t enough, after taking an antihistamine, my nose would run nonstop (imagine a water faucet in your head being turned on to full).  Then I would be freezing cold and just let myself lie on the bathroom floor covered in a blanket or my robe because I didn’t have the energy to move or the desire to be too far from the bathroom.

I visited an allergist out-of-town and mentioned these bizarre symptoms to her and what usually preceded them (usually a trip to a salad bar somewhere).  Wow!  She immediately knew what the culprit was.  She said I had a severe sulfite sensitivity.  She then proceeded to tell me that sulfites where on most items in food bars (lettuce, potatoes, fruit).  I was given a list of what sulfites were, what foods they were in and what to avoid.  At the time, there was a medical facility in La Jolla, a southern California town, where sulfite sensitivity testing was done.  From what I remember of that conversation, I would have to stay there a minimum of a week.  I would be under constant supervision as they tested me by having me ingest sulfites to see the minimum amount that it would take to cause a reaction.  My husband and I talked this over.  Going there would give me a sense of how sensitive and severe my sulfite sensitivity would be.  The only problem was that it really wouldn’t help me in terms of which foods I should/should not avoid.  At the time, sulfites were not required to be disclosed on food labeling.  Rather than make the trip and go through the risk of testing myself, we decided that I would just give up everything on the list.  I am not sure exactly how I came upon a Sulfite Support Group (there were no computer groups back then) but I was able to get a more detailed list and a newsletter in support of dealing with sulfites.

Fast forward several years.  We were having a special dinner with friends in their home followed by cards.  The menu we planned was steak and lobster tail along with baked potatoes and some form of dessert.  We had chosen lobster because Costco was having a seafood special and we were going to buy fresh lobster.  My husband and I were given the task of making the trip to buy the lobster.  We arrived at Costco only to find that they didn’t have fresh lobster.  Our taste buds were crying out for lobster and determined not to leave without it, we browsed and purchased frozen lobster tails.   The evening in the home of our friends had been wonderful, good company and delicious, mouth-watering steak and lobster.  With dinner over, we settled down to cards.  In the midst of our cards, my asthma starting acting up.  I felt kind of flushed and out of sorts.  We left early barely making home when the stomach cramps and congestion kicked in.  I was dying.  Every part of my body was rebelling.  In an attempt to make sense of this I had my husband call to inquire about the lobster packaging.  After digging through the garbage our friends confirmed my fears, the lobster had been preserved in sulfites.

I learned then and there that I needed to be a better label reader.  If I wasn’t sure about a frozen item I needed to avoid it and contact the company and ask questions.  In my next post I will discuss more about what sulfites are, other names of sulfites and what foods contain sulfites.