Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tannin Sensitivity (Sensitivity to Tannins)

Here's the ungarnished truth about tannins and tannin sensitivity. As you probably know, tannins are astringent polymers that naturally occur in coffee, tea, red wine and chocolate (among the most popular dietary sources).


Effects of Tannins:


Tannins may cause migraines, joint pain that mimics artheritis, tiredness, depression, bowel problems, problems with vision when focussing, digestion problems, thin brittle skin, perhaps hair loss and slow hair growth, and myriad other symptoms, both subtle and severe.


For years I suffered a series of symptoms that I had pinned on coffee, uncertain about tea, and pretty sure were tied to red wine - no problem with chocolate.


These symptoms were such diverse elements as - lethargy, tiredness, depression, joint pain in hips, shoulders and fingers, thin brittle skin, hair loss, slowed hair growth, slowed metabolism and even acid reflux and heartburn and diminished ability to focus closely, requiring reading glasses.


I tried experiments by going off all these items and found that in a few days the joint pains went away. In about a week my vision returned to normal, and in about a month my skin improved. So, I assumed that one of those drinks was the cause - perhaps some sort of allergy. I was sure it wasn't caffiene because even decafe coffee and tea caused the same problems.


After years of searching for information that would help me undestand the cause of all these maladies, I've finaly done an exhaustive intent research of everything from wikipedia to manufacturers, heralists and personal blogs and determined that the cause is tannins (as suggested it might be by my partner Teresa).


While there was no single source on the internet that really had a grip on the big picture, I was able to piece together a clear outline of tannin sensitivity from these many disparate sources.


Here's the results of my research on tannin sensitivity:


Tannins in Tea:


Tannins leach out of tea only after about two minutes of brewing. During the first two minutes, mostly caffiene leaches out. So, if you like tea and want to limit tannins, brew as quickly as possible.


Here's something I worked out on my own - just a theory, but sounds reasonable. Tannins are polymers. Polymers break down into different lenghts depending upon the temperature and the time. For example, when home-brewing beer, you actually cook the "wort" on the stove at different temperatures for different times to break down the polymers to the proper length for a porter, an ale, or a lager.


So, if you want fewer active tannins in your tea, brew at a lower heat for less time. Sun tea may be an exception since it doesn't get very hot. Perhaps even a long brew may not bring out the tannins.


Tannins in Coffee:


Apartently, in order to brew coffee beans, rather than tea leaves, it requires higher heat and longer exposure of the bean to the water. This makes it difficult to prevent tannins from getting in your drink.


I'm wondering if varying the grind from course to fine, or using paper or metal or French Press filtering has an affect. I'm not sure if decaffienating coffee changes the tannin level - no data on that I could find.


Tannins in Wine:


Red wine has lots, white wines not much. That's because red wines have the skins of the grapes included in the fermenting process and the skins and seeds of grapes are very high in tannins.


I have heard there are some wines that filter out the tannins, so I wonder if that could be applied to coffee and tea as well?


Tannins in Chocolate:


Chocolates are reasonably high in both caffiene and tannins. But I've never noted negative physical or mental effects from chocolate. I'm wondering if perhaps the low heat of preparing chocolate and that it is eaten usually and a lower temperature may prevent the tannins from being released or activated.


My Tannin Theory:


Overall, I get the sense that the tannin polymers just might be bound to other chemicals in the source. Brewing or fermenting breaks that bond and releases the tannins into the drink. Once free, the tannins are able to bond with chemicals in the body which has both physical and mental effects.


If so, then rather than filtering out or avoiding tannins, we might find a way to put an additive in drinks that would bond with the tannins and keep them from being free to bond in the body.


That way, coffee, tea and red wine might respond a lot more like choclate in the system.


Tannins - Both Good ANY Bad!


When reasearching tannin sensitivity I discovered there are two camps - those promoting the health benefits of tannins and those warning of tannins' detriments.


Here's how the Pros and Cons lines up:


Tannins act as antioxidents, which mop up free radicals in your system, thereby preventing cancer and preserving your DNA, hopefully slowing aging, but tannins are the stuff they use to tan leather (an astringent) and dries your skin and slows your metabolism.


Tannins inhibit tooth decay, but tea, coffee and wine stain your teeth.


Tannins leach nutriants from your system, especially iron, leading to anemia, but they aid in digestion. But, if you have tannin drinks between meals to avoid the leaching, tannins reduce your seratonin levels. This makes you more emotional because the dopamine remains normal, but also makes you more depressed because the dopamine wasn't raised, but seratonin was just lowered.


A final clue was that I don't particularly like cumin (a high source of tannins) but I DO like pomegranates (also high in tannins). This, I believe, supports my theory that the high temperatures of cooking when using cumin release the free tannins but the room temperature of pomegranates keeps the tannins bonded when they enter your system. In red wines it may be the fermenting process that unbinds the tannins.


Okay, so there you have it. It isn't a complete or scientific study of tannins, but it does provide an overall hyposthesis of how it all works and what might be done about it.

25 comments:

marco said...

Hi Melanie.

I've noted that when I've given up coffee/tea/wine/chocolate my constipation has suddenly disappeared and, after three days of loose stools, I have normal bowel movements again.

Are tannins the reason for this?

Sorry for my English, I'm Italian.

Marco

tysondirtywork said...

Great info. Thanks!

Misty said...

i have had red hands for four months that ache like arthritis. it comes and goes i wonder if this could be from tanins- i will try!

Pamela said...

I think this is the source of my symptoms, which I've resolving through elimination. My question to you is, was it difficult giving up caffeine? I am really dreading giving it up, even though I only have a couple of cups in the morning.

How did you do it?
Pam Johnson
Clarkston, MI

Melanie Anne Phillips said...

Hi, all. In answer to a lot of your questions, yep - most of the symptoms you've described might very well be caused by the tannins. Certainly, they were in my case, since the symptoms go away when I cut down on tannin items. As for caffiene, I still like a cup of coffee in the morning. But I've found that half-and-half doesn't neutralize the tannins like I'd hoped. What works is one particular brand of non-dairy creamer: Western Family. All others I've tried, coffeemate incudede, don't have the same effect. Try this test, see how the coffee leaves an acrid coating on the back of your throat/tongue when you drink it. Then try using Western family and see if that feeling is significantly reduced. This has allowed me to have a cup of coffee in the mornings and not build up past my tolerance. Hope this extra info helps y'all a bit.

Chris said...

Thank you for posting this! This is exactly how tannins effect me, and I'm a coffee/tea/wine lover. I've had to cut down my intake too much for my liking. I'll have to try Western Family and see how that works out.

Chris said...

I did a little more searching and found this:
http://schaerer.ca/pressure_brewed_coffee.htm
It makes sense to me that pressure brewed espresso or coffee would have a much lower tannin level - when I've had lattes, cappuccinos, or americanos the tannin effects aren't nearly as bad. Elsewhere on the website they claim that brewing coffee in those single "K-cup" machines results in a tannin level in between a conventional drip coffee maker and an espresso machine. Hope this helps!

Melanie Anne Phillips said...

Hi, Chris. I've also noticed that even a mocha at Starbucks seems to be free of any tannin related problems. And those are made using the pressure brewing method. Good suggestion! Perhaps I need to haul out my old espresso maker and run a few subjective tests!

claire said...

Hi Melanie et al,
It took me years to work out the tannin-related problem.
Try switching to Redbush (rooibos) tea. It's naturally tannin free and really good. Also outlets that use expresso method of making coffee are much better for me also, but only if they use arabica beans.
See link below re stuff with tannin in...
My personal list of problem stuff is: Harsh brewed coffee, tea, DARK chocolate, raisins, red wine ( very light red like beaujolais nouveau I can just about cope with)and vegetable stuff with red/red-brown skin like whole peanuts/walnuts/red beans etc)

its so good to find I'm not the only one...Although I wouldn't wish the pain, puzzlement and confusion on anyone!

(I also have an odd chemical sensitivity to just some perfumes and bleach in general... does anyone have the 2 issues together? I'm wondering if there's a link?.... just a thought)
C


http://www.widomaker.com/~jnavia/tannins/tannlist.htm

noahhead said...

Found this site as I'm trying to figure out why tea burns my tongue and makes my throat sore if I drink too much. I have drank tea my entire life, but in the last 3-4 years this has been happening. I don't have any other symptoms, though, so maybe it's not a tannin allergy.

Carol said...

I made a tannin sensitivity/allergy connection about 14 years ago after a very hard bout of the flu and 104 temp for a week. I get sore throat, and flu like symptoms drinking apple cider, tea or coffee. After eliminating them the sypmtoms went away. Now I get muscle aches and joint pain. I found that cold brewed coffee like ToddyCafe eliminates most of tannin which is great. But I have question are tomatoes high in Tannins? I can't have chocolate, cola, root beer, and anything with ester of rosin in it. I also have perfume sensitivity but not bleach that I am aware of. Oh and i have to be careful where I swim or I break out.

imataz said...

I am very thankful for all of your information on Tannins. I believe that I am sensitive as well. So nice to know there are others who have adverse reactions.

nordica said...

Hi, am just putting all this together myself, after realizing the EXCRUTIATING abdominal pain I've been having was caused by green tea supplements (where, unlike brewed tea, the tea leaf is actually ingested), and wanted to add... with all this pain has been a horrific rash. After reading your site, and making the connection with no symptoms from chocolate"... chocolate makes me break out, always has... and now I know the concentrated tannins are also causing a rash. Am thinking perhaps the chocolate break outs is not acne after all, but a tannin sensitivity. Thank you for this site, btw.

Julie Conant Wallace said...

Thanks for the post Melanie. I'm in the nutrition field and have never had an allergy/intolerance that I knew of my entire life until in my 20s. I do not know for sure if it is tannins that bother me but I do believe that is the case. I have done multiple elimination diets re: coffee, tea, and wine. Decaf coffee/tea bothers me just as much as regular (although decaf does not actually always mean there is *no* caffeine but small amounts). As you mentioned coffee- I have found that espresso bothers me less than any coffee (even decaf) but still, it bothers me enough to have given it up but I believe this is due to the fact that is is brewed for a shorter period of time. I have found only one wine (very recently) that does not bother me (I can only find it at Whole Foods and it is called Bera Moscato D'Asti- very sweet/bubbly but not overwhelmingly so) but otherwise have eliminated all other alcohol and coffee from my life. Most teas bother me, including herbals, but I have usually contributed all of my issues to my low blood pressure however I think the tannins are a big part of it. Like you, chocolate does not bother me at all. My symptoms have included: anxiety, trouble concentrating, flushed skin (yes, even with tea and coffee), and headaches. I would love to publish something scientific on this in the future- very interesting topic! Glad to know I'm not the only one out there dealing with this and questioning the relationship to tannins.

Brendon said...

Thanks for your blog posting. I too have come to the same conclusion. My symptoms are a thirst that can't be quenched, fuzzy thinking skills, and ultra dry, scratchy, and tired eyes.

I've abstained from coffee but I love it. That's helped a lot, and I've tried some teas. Peppermint tea was terrible, probably the worst for me. I had a can of iced tea earlier and I feel terrible now.

To suit my need for a hot beverage replacement, I've moved to milk and cocoa powder, no sugar. I have a Nespresso Aerochino that stirrs while it heats the milk. The non-sweet, slightly bitter flavour reminds me of coffee a bit.

I love red wine but can't drink it either. I did read that milk with tea / coffee causes milk proteins to bond to the tannins which then are too big to absorb. I'll have to try a milk before a glass of red wine.

Take care...

Kurt said...

Thanks for putting this information up. I struggled for over a year to understand what made my joints ache and feel like I had a mild cold at all times. After many trips to the doctor without a diagnosis, I was finally able to nail down my daily intake of coffee and tea as the source of my trouble. When eliminated, the symptoms went away after a few days. I love coffee and tea, and it's very hard to give up, but at least now I know. Other than this website I haven't heard of anyone else with similar issues. Nice to hear I'm not the only one with this issue. I have found low temperature brew matcha green tea works for me.

elnoss said...

I read your blog with great interest. I have found that coffee, tea, wine and other alcohol gives me a headache even in small amounts. Chocolate does not seem to. I also found that this is irrespective of whether coffee and tea is decaf. I tend to feel very dehydrated (dry mouth etc) when I have coffee, tea etc and the headache follows. I have asthma and I find that having these substances alo triggers shortness of breath. It's a little sad not being able to have these foods as they are some of my favorites so always looking for ways to be able to avoid the sympoms. I will try brewing tea for a shorter time at lower temperatures.
Thanks
Sean

Amos said...

Hello Melaine. Thank you very much for the information about the tannins. I have scaring alopecia for 15 years, I am fighting to stop it with all kind of medications doctors give me, but the inflamations on my scalp never stop completely. I have noticed some years ago that when I drink red wine every day the itching and inflamation usualy to become much more worse. But I love red wine and tried to ignore it. This auto-imune desease leaft many patches on my scalp causing me embarrassment. 4 months ago I found your blog and it cames to confirm that I was being under the bad reaction efect of tannins. I stop to drink red wine and was free of the itching and inflamation on my scalp until I start to drink again last month just to confirm, and now I'm sure, the tannines in red wine makes the scaring alopecia much worse, if it's not the cause. I notice that even not drinking red wine, the black tea gives me a bad reaction on my scalp as well. Hope the others thousands people that suffer with the same problem like me get to know about it. Now I'm avoiding every kind of food and drinks that is high in tannins and the iching and inflamation stops. I want say that when the scaring alopecia started on me 15 years ago, was exactly that time when I began to love red wine end started to drink very often. The young wines are the worse. Green apple juice is not very friendly for me as well. Thank you for the blog Melaine. Kind regards. Amos

gg said...

Thanks for the interesting blog Melanie,

In the UK we have always traditionally added milk to tea to counteract the bitter tannins and also to coffee as well. The milk takes the bitterness away but keeps the flavor. The tea should be a medium brown colour, something like copper. I drink lots of tea and have never had any problems....around 8 mugs a day.
I have had problems with too much coffee upsetting my stomach and causing irregular heartbeats(especially instant coffee which I no longer drink). It is a lot more acid than tea, not necessarily to do with tannin but caused by the roasting of the beans. Highly roasted malt barley used for stouts is also is quite acid for the same reason.
As for chocolate, I can get a headache if I eat too much of the very dark high cocoa type with no added milk in it. I received a present once of a bar of dark 99% cocoa chocolate and ate the whole lot and got a nasty headache next day. This may or may not be connected with tannin. If you eat milk chocolate it does not seem to happen....again milk cancels out the bitter taste and possibly netralises the tannins, also supplying extra calcium to counteract the chelating effect of the tannin. In fact in chelating the calcium in the milk, the acid of the tannin may be effectively neutralised.
RE red wine: I adore dry tannic red wine, the dryer the better and have never had any problems with its effects. I have worked in the wine industry and tasted my way through very many types of wine. Though red wine can be high in tannin, it need not be that high in acidity. Classic French Bordeaux wines are traditionally high in tannin but with no sourness, just astringency balanced by sweet fruit flavors. Just because a drink is high in tannin does not mean it has high acidity.but it will have astringency or bitterness.
General points...Tannins are powerful antioxidants and tea, coffee, cocoa, red wine and red grapes etc are supposed to be healthy because of this. Tannins are precursors of anthocyanins, the purple pigments in red wine and blueberries. Red grapes, coffee and cocoa are sky high in anthocyanins as well as tannins. They are claimed to benefit heart health. Blueberries and other berries are very high in tannins...do you want to give them up? No of course not....the tannins are balanced by the sugars in the fruit. When sugars combine with tannins you get compounds forming like anthocyanins, Tannins are basically(Dont quote me!)flavanol molecules bonded together in 2s,3s,4s,5s or more as dimers, trimers, etc up to polymers. Anthocyanins are basically (Don't quote!)flavanol molecules with sugars attached. So sugars can change tannins. Nuts(with skins on) and berries are very high in tannins, but I have not heard of any problems with them. The theory therefore needs some qualification. Maybe we need to add milk and sugar to coffee and tea again, eat milk chocolate or drink cocoa with milk and sugar. Personally I can't stand sugar in tea and coffee anymore though I do add milk.

All the best to you Melanie and thank you to all other contributors.

gg said...

INTERESTING QUOTE FROM WIKI ARTICLE ON TANNIC ACID:

Tannic acid is a specific type of tannin (plant polyphenol), the two terms are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably. The long standing misuse of the terms, and its inclusion in scholarly articles has compounded the confusion. This is particularly widespread in relation to green tea and black tea, both of which contain tannin but NOT tannic acid.[1]

-Q- said...

Thanks for the info Melanie, I am investigating tannin sensitivity as a cause of cysts in my armpits. Your blog was helpful as I have some of the symptoms you mention. Will change my tea drinking habits and see what happens.

Brendon said...

I thought I'd check in with a comment. I've been trying various supplements over the last year and have narrowed down an improvement that I've come across. I've found that taking lecithin (one derived from soy) and I find that I feeling much better during the day and can cope with drinking coffee again without the dryness. I've found that garlic supplements were bad, but C, D, Q10, and flax (for omegas) are fine. I can't tell much either way with the others, but the lecithin is like a light switch for me. I ran out and again started feeling tired and had dry eyes. Maybe this may be useful for someone else...

Brendon

Chris said...

I'd like to second Melanie's suggestion of using a generic non-dairy creamer such as Western Family. I tried doing this, and it really does help, while the name-brand ones do not. I compared the ingredients (I'm using Prioce Chopper brand non-dairy creamer) with Coffee-Mate, and there are two ingredients that stand out in the generic brand: silicon dioxide and sodium stearoyl lactylate. I'm not sure which is the one that makes the difference in coffee, but it helps out enough to allow me to have coffee on a more regular basis (I won't say it completely eliminates the tannin's side effects, but it does a decent job). Hope this helps. And thanks again, Melanie, for creating this clearinghouse of information!

gg said...

I've personally never noticed any side effects of tannins on my health. They do have a lingering dry or bitter flavor which, in moderation, is very necessary for the overall taste of wines(skin and pip tannins), beers(hop tannins)and also in coffee and tea. Beer and wines with no tannins would be flat and tasteless. I've seen scary web adverts warning of the dangers of tannic acid. However, tannin need not contain any acid at all...according to wiki, tannic acid is not a single identified chemical. Tea contains a lot of tannin but no tannic acids, whereas coffee can some contain quinic acid, which might be described loosely as tannic acid. Clearly, coffee is not very acid, or it would curdle milk when it is added to it. Add milk to lemon juice and it curdles straight away. I do not like any dairy creamers in my coffee or tea. They give the drink a sickly smell and taste in my opinion....plain simple milk is best and does not interfere with the coffee flavor. When people bring the take-away coffee with creamer onto a train for example, you can detect that acrid smell wafting around.

Troy Ellis said...

This blog is an amazing find- thank you so much! I am in Toronto Canada and it seems I am unable to get Western Family creamer in my city? Any ideas anyone? I would like to explore tannin as being the culprit of my fatigue?