Concern about sulfites and anemia stems from the fact that extremely high sulfite concentrations result in the formation of Heinz bodies. Heinz bodies are small pockets of denatured or nonfunctional hemoglobin on the surface of red cells. Anemia can result from the formation of large number of Heinz bodies. The concentration of sulfites required for Heinz body formation is several thousand times higher than the amount of sulfites available in a diet. Some sulfites occur naturally in beer and wine and some are added as preservatives of color and appearance. For most people, sulfites, even in large quantities, are not harmful. This has led the FDA to list sulfites on their GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list. Therefore, it is unlikely that the sulfites contained in one glass of wine per day would have any adverse effects on anemia.
Some people do report headaches from the sulfites, though.
One should be aware that sulfites are frequently added to prepare foods such as salad bars and other foods at restaurants. It is likely that a restaurant meal will contain two to several times as much sulfites as a glass of beer or wine. One should also know that some people are hypersensitive to sulfites and should limit all exposures to sulfites.
For additional reading:
Bryson, P.D., "Sulfites and MSG," in Comprehensive Review in Toxicology, 2nd Edition, Chapter 50, Aspen Publishers, Inc., Rockville, MD, 1989, pp591-595
Back to top
This page was updated on December 03, 2002