Salicylates in the Diet: Could You Be Sensitive to Them?

We commonly hear about people having an allergy or sensitivity to shellfish or peanuts, but have you ever heard of someone being sensitive to salicylates? You’re probably thinking, “what the heck are salicylates?” and I don’t blame you. They’re not something that is often talked about. If you find that you develop symptoms after taking aspirin or eating blueberries, you could be dealing with a salicylate intolerance or allergy. Today, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about salicylates in the diet and why some people may need to avoid them. Let’s get started.

First things first, what are salicylates?

Salicylates are a group of chemicals that are naturally found in plants. They make up part of a plant’s natural defense system, protecting it from harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi. Salicylates are found in varying concentrations in many fruits, vegetables, spices, seeds, nuts and herbs. Salicylates are also synthetically produced for use in processed foods, condiments, cosmetics, toiletries and medications. Aspirin, a common NSAID, was synthesized by Felix Hoffman in 1897 using salicylic acid from the willow tree.

Compared to foods, medications like aspirin contain much higher amounts of salicylates. Dietary intake of salicylates is usually 10-200 mg per day, whereas a single dose of aspirin can contain 325-650 mg.

Could you have a salicylate sensitivity?

As you might have realized, we all consume salicylates through our diets every day. While consuming excessive amounts of salicylates can result in adverse reactions in anyone, most people can consume salicylate-rich foods on a daily basis or take a couple of aspirin every so often for a headache with no problem.

Some individuals, however, have a salicylate sensitivity or intolerance, meaning they have a decreased ability to properly metabolize and excrete these chemicals from their bodies. In these people, consuming foods or using products that contain even small amounts of salicylates can result in a wide range of potential symptoms. The amount of salicylates that trigger a reaction can differ depending on an individual’s ability to break them down. This means that some people can experience symptoms after being exposed to a small amount, while others can tolerate larger amounts before experiencing symptoms.

Salicylate sensitivity is thought to be caused by an overproduction of leukotrienes, which are inflammatory mediators that have been linked to a variety of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma. In fact, it’s estimated that two to 22 percent of adults with asthma are sensitive to these chemicals.

What are the symptoms of a salicylate sensitivity? 

Determining if you have a salicylate sensitivity can be difficult because symptoms can mimic allergies and other illnesses. There are many signs and symptoms, some of which may include: 

  • abdominal pain
  • asthma
  • diarrhea
  • eczema
  • fatigue
  • gas
  • gut inflammation (colitis)
  • headaches 
  • hives
  • mood disorders
  • nasal and sinus polyps
  • sinus infection and inflammation
  • stuffy nose
  • tinnitus
  • tissue swelling

Which foods contain salicylates? 

Salicylates are in many foods that are considered to be very healthy. While these foods do offer health benefits for the average person, they can be problematic for those with a salicylate sensitivity or intolerance. The level of salicylates depends on the type of crop, presence of pathogens, climate, and weather, so definitive amounts of salicylates in various plant foods are impossible to pinpoint, however, some common foods that are high in salicylates include: 

  • Fruits: Raisins, prunes, dates, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, grapes, pineapples, plums, oranges, and strawberries.
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, cucumbers, radish, zucchini, eggplant, squash, sweet potato, spinach, and artichokes.
  • Spices: Curry, cayenne, dill, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, clove, mustard, cumin, oregano, turmeric, paprika, thyme, and rosemary.
  • Other sources: Tea, wine, rum, vinegar, almonds, honey, licorice, jam, chewing gum, green olives, aloe vera, aspirin, ibuprofen, Alka-Seltzer and Pepto-Bismol. 

The above is not an exhaustive list as there are several high-salicylate food lists. If the initial assessment shows that you would benefit from excluding some foods at the beginning of your program, this will be factored in to your Personalized Active Care Plan. It’s important to note that salicylates can also be absorbed through the skin, so those with a sensitivity or intolerance need to seek out salicylate-free toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, conditioners, mouthwash and perfumes.


What should you do if you suspect salicylate sensitivity? 

Unfortunately, to date, there aren’t any lab tests that can diagnose salicylate sensitivity or intolerance. An exposure test, however, can be administered by a medical professional. This involves being exposed to a small amount of salicylic acid and monitoring for symptoms. 


This is where it gets a little tricky: even if you don’t have an allergy or intolerance, you could still have a sensitivity. While not life-threatening like an allergy, a sensitivity can result in a wide range of troublesome symptoms such as digestive troubles and fatigue. If a sensitivity is suspected, an elimination diet that excludes foods high in salicylates is the best option. If you feel better and notice a reduction or elimination of symptoms following a diet low in salicylates, there’s a good chance that you could be sensitive to these chemicals. 


The bottom line 

While most people can consume salicylates just fine, some are very sensitive to them. There is no reason to avoid salicylates unless you suspect you might have an intolerance or sensitivity, or your health practitioner suggests doing so. In fact, foods high in salicylates are generally very healthy and filled with antioxidants, so you shouldn’t avoid them unless you react poorly to them. 


For those that are sensitive, however, adopting a low-salicylate diet can be a game-changer for your health. If you think that salicylates could be affecting your well-being, talk to me so I can help guide you through the process of determining your individual response to these chemicals. 


What’s next? 

You might already know that salicylates are affecting your health in some way. Or it’s something you’ll realize when we do an initial assessment. Either way, when we collaborate on a Mineral-Nutritional Balancing Program one of the goals is to strengthen gut health. You might need to limit high-salicylate foods at the beginning. Often, as your gut health increases so does your ability to eat a variety of foods without overreacting. 


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