Allow me to introduce the Brimstone Demons. Their ancestors swam in hell’s lakes of fire and brimstone. Today, they live around the corner and just down the street from your house and mine. When they moved from hell to America, they updated their wardrobe and changed their ancient family name from Brimstone to Sulfur. Their modern names are sodium sulfite, bisulfite, metabisulfite and sulfur dioxide. Collectively, they are the sulfur food additives that help preserve the foods that you and your children eat every single day.
Unfortunately, like millions other Americans, I am sensitive to sulfites and sulfur dioxide. The most commonly reported reactions to sulfite preservatives are breathing problems that lead to asthma attacks. In fact, it is generally reported that 5% of all asthma sufferers are quite sensitive to sulfites, althouth this percentage may be much higher. Other allergic reactions commonly include hives, rosacea, facial swelling, throat constriction, muscle cramps, digestive upsets, headache and allergic shock. In addition to asthma, many diseases are complicated by sulfites including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, G6PD deficiency, heart arrhythmia, irregular blood pressure, thyroid and liver problems, lichen planus, Marfan syndrome and Behcet's vasculitis. If a reaction occurs many hours after eating a food containing sulfites, the body’s allergic system is usually not involved and one is said to be "intolerant" or "sensitive" to sulfites. If the reaction is more immediate and allergic antibodies are formed, one is said to be "allergic" to sulfites. As with most food disorders, it is much more common to be sensitive than allergic to sulfites.
If you are old enough, you may remember that restaurant salad bars used to spray lettuce and fruit with sulfite preservatives to maintain color and prevent that wilted look. But because of a rash of highly publicized deaths due to sulfite anaphylactic shock (an allergic failure of multiple organs), the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of sulfites on fresh foods in 1986. Today, salad bars are no more a problem than any other food form. In fact, the lettuce from a salad bar is quite clean of all sulfites in my experience. Of course, the rest of the salad bar (dressings, soups and other goodies) can still be loaded with any number of preservatives and food additives.
My personal problem with sulfites is headaches, less dramatic than dropping dead but still very troublesome. These headaches begin about 12 hours after I eat a problem food and last 24 more hours. During that time, it is difficult to do anything, even sleep. Common headache pain medications do little more than upset my stomach and the only complete remedy is avoidance. Now, avoiding sulfur preservatives is what doctors recommend but it is almost impossible to do. The Sulfur Demons are everywhere. They hide in over half of the packaged foods in a typical supermarket. If you find that hard to believe, keep on reading.
Headaches, Asthma, Fries and a Cola is the copyrighted property of Rybett Controls, Inc. This internet version may be freely copied and distributed as long as the chapter, "Brimstone Demons and Legal Notice", is included. The book is based on the personal experiences of the author. The research was funded to protect the author, an employee of Rybett Controls, Inc., from headaches caused by sulfur preservatives. To the extent that other people with similar problems may benefit from this research, the information was condensed into book form. This book is strictly for general information and is not meant as a replacement for the proper medical care of headaches, asthma, allergy, food intolerance or any other disease or condition. The conclusions of this book are not meant to substitute for medical advice or replace medical counseling. However, I do hope that you will find the information helpful.
No amount of information, advice or data can completely eliminate the threat of food intolerance. Sulfite and other sensitivities should be considered dangerous and you should seek competent medical treatment for such conditions. If your sensitivity warrants, you should always be prepared for an emergency and carry an antidote. If you are sensitive or allergic to sulfur preservatives, this book should add to your store of knowledge and reduce your risk of exposure. However, neither Rybett Controls, Inc. nor the author assumes any responsibility for your medical condition. We are not responsible for any illness or injury related to the interpretation or misinterpretation of information presented in this book.
All numbers given and estimates made for sulfur dioxide and sulfite levels are theoretical approximations or mathematical averages. There is absolutely no guarantee that the estimates are correct. It is entirely possible that a particular food estimated to be free of sulfites may actually contain sulfur preservatives. If your sensitivity is dangerous, all foods should be treated as potentially dangerous. The charts and databases of this book are best utilized for determining your relative risks and controlling your averaged exposure to troublesome ingredients.
From the last few paragraphs, you might conclude that I am overly cautious and ridiculously fearful of our legal system. You might even surmise that I consider litigious attorneys more of a danger to society than food allergy. You might be right.
I refer to sulfites as Brimstone Demons because it’s a cute name and it conjures a colorful image. Of course, there is nothing evil about sulfites. They are just chemicals. And, there is nothing sinister about the companies that produce or use sulfites. They are just trying to make the best products they can. For most of America, they do a great job. For people like me with an abnormal metabolism, it’s just tough luck. I must be wise enough to know what to avoid, carry a remedy if possible and not get overly upset about it. If you have questions or comments about sulfites, I am happy to answer email from "firstname.lastname@example.org".