Pour yourself a glass of wine, but first..
Sulfites are most widely known as a class of preservatives that are frequently present in a range of food and beverage items, such as wine, processed meats, and dried fruits. Sulfites are typically harmless for the majority of people, but some may react negatively or have other health issues if they consume them. Sulfites may lead to chronic inflammatory processes in the body, which is one potential cause for worry. While acute inflammation is necessary for healing and protection, chronic inflammation can contribute to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Sulfites’ link to inflammation: take 1
One way that sulfites may contribute to inflammation is through their conversion to sulfates by the enzyme SUOX (sulfite oxidase). SUOX is responsible for breaking down sulfites into sulfates, which are then eliminated from the body through urine. If the body is unable to efficiently convert sulfites to sulfates via SUOX, the accumulation of sulfites may contribute to inflammation. Isolated Sulfite Oxidase Deficiency, or ISOD, is actually a life threatening condition that occurs early in life and needs careful supervision and treatment. Both sulfites and sulfates can be measured in urine as a complementary test to any genetic SUOX SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that may have been previously tested for.
Sulfites’ link to inflammation: take 2
In addition to SUOX, the CBS (cystathionine beta-synthase) enzyme also plays a role in the metabolism of sulfites, by acting upstream of SUOX, at a more foundational level. CBS is involved in the metabolism of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been linked to inflammation and other health problems. However, some research suggests that CBS may be impaired in individuals with certain genetic variations, and its upregulation could affect the body’s ability to metabolize sulfites and could potentially also contribute to inflammation. In other words, as with most other biological processes, a balance needs to be struck:
- too little CBS enzyme activity can lead to a build up in homocysteine, which can trigger inflammation
- conversely, an upregulated CBS can lead to a build up of sulfites, among other things, and an overburdened SUOX enzyme trying to metabolize them to sulfates
Either scenario has obvious downsides. So, as with everything in biology, a fine line needs to be walked!
Managing CBS & SUOX-triggered inflammation
As you may guess, this one is not easy and in all honesty there is no cookie-cutter approach here either. How your enzymes are working depends on a host of other enzymes, which in turn are all determined by the gene-environment interaction you are exposing yourself too. That’s why, to get to the bottom of anything, you should think at some point about a genetic and metabolic optimization. Wink, wink.
However, a few good rules of thumb are to first cover foundational behaviours and practices, such as eating a healthy diet & customized supplements regimen, engaging in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, breathing properly and managing stress. And then, if you want to get geeky about it, learn how to manage other environmental factors to your advantage, such as light and temperature. What to do exactly in all these respects is a life long journey that we are happy to guide you on.
In the meantime, if you suspect you may be sensitive to sulfites, try to limit the intake of sulfite-containing foods and beverages, such as dried fruits, processed meats, and unfortunately wine, too. Actually, there’s a hack for this one. Cheers to your SUOX!