Article written: September 2001
Salicylate sensitivity is the body’s inability to handle more than a certain amount of salicylates at any one time. A salicylate sensitive person may have difficulty tolerating certain fruits, vegetables, or any products that contain aspirin.
What are salicylates?
Salicylate is a natural chemical made by many plants. It is chemically related to aspirin, which is a derivative of salicylic acid. It is believed the plant uses it as protection from insects, and they are everywhere around us.
Although natural salicylates are found in wholesome foods, some individuals have difficulty tolerating even small amounts of them. The reaction to a natural salicylate can be as severe as that to a synthetic additive if the person is highly sensitive. Some people are troubled by only a very few, but some are troubled by all of them.
Drugs that contain salicylates include aspirin, analgesics (painkillers), and muscle relaxants, cough mixtures, antacids, cold and flu medication and acne lotions.
What is salicylate sensitivity?
Some adults and children have a low level of tolerance to salicylates and may get symptoms that are dose-related. The tolerated amount varies from one person to another. This is an example of food intolerance.
What are some of the symptoms of Salicylate Intolerance?
- Chronic Urticaria & Angioedema
- Trigger for Eczema
- Nasal Polyps
- Rhino conjunctivitis
- Stomach aches and upsets
Foods containing Salicylates
Salicylates occur naturally in many fruits, and vegetables as a preservative, to prevent rotting and protect against harmful bacteria and fungi. They are stored in the bark, leaves, roots, and seeds of plants. Salicylates are found naturally in many foods and its compounds are used in many products.
- The salicylate level in food can vary, with raw foods, dried foods and juices containing higher levels than the same cooked foods.
- Salicylates are used in many flavoured products — sweets, toothpaste, chewing gum
- Some artificial food colourings and flavourings such as peppermint and strawberry
All fresh meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, cereals, bread are low in salicylates
Foods with very high Salicylate content
- Hot Peppers
- Tomato based foods
Nuts, sweets, and snacks to avoid:
- All jams, except pear
- All jellies
- All marmalade
- Chewing gum
- Fruit flavours
- Honey and honey flavours
- Mint flavoured sweets
- Muesli bars
- Savoury flavoured items
- Water chestnuts
Herbs, spices, and condiments
- Commercial gravies
- Commercial sauces
- Fish paste
- Meat paste
- Tomato paste
- White vinegar
- Worcester sauce
Investigating Salicylate Intolerance
This is a complex undertaking, but can be most rewarding. Because the occurrence of salicylates is wide spread, it is almost impossible to cut all sources. Keep a diary and record all foods and drinks consumed plus any symptoms noted. You may detect a pattern with time and therefore only need to cut out those that cause symptoms. As foods are gradually reintroduced, you will find by trial and error which ones can be tolerated. Often all of the foods can be tolerated provided they are eaten in small amount (eg. Half a tomato per day) and provided that not too many of the high/very foods are eaten at any one time.
What can I do?
- Never self-diagnose — have your symptoms and signs reviewed objectively. Skin prick tests might be needed to exclude a true IgE allergy.
- Your symptoms and new symptoms that you develop after salicylate sensitivity is diagnosed could be due to something totally unrelated to foods.
- You should work with a registered dietician especially if the diet is needed for a prolonged period.