Salicylates in Food and Signs of Salicylate Sensitivity - Dr. Axe

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Salicylates in Food + Signs of Salicylate Sensitivity


Salicylates - Dr. Axe

What do aspirin, berries, almonds and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have in common? A group of chemicals derived from salicylic acid called salicylates.

These naturally occurring chemicals are found in foods, over-the-counter medications, body care products and more. They have been shown to cause anti-inflammatory effects in the body and are found in a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables, but for some people, consuming salicylates causes adverse reactions, such as upset stomach, rashes, headaches and respiratory problems.

It’s difficult to diagnose, but if you notice food allergy symptoms after eating or using the wide range of products that contain salicylates, it may be time to consider whether or not you have an intolerance to the group of chemicals.

What Are Salicylates?

Salicylates are a group of chemicals that are derived from salicylic acid, a naturally occurring compound found in plants. They are commonly used in many products, such as aspirin, as a pain reliever, fever reducer and anti-inflammatory medication. They are also used in various food products as a preservative, flavoring and coloring agent.

Salicylate derivatives also include white willow bark and methyl salicylate. The chemical group is found naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, tea and spices.

While salicylates can have some health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory properties, they can also cause allergic reactions and sensitivity in some individuals. People with aspirin sensitivity, asthma or nasal polyps may be at higher risk of salicylate sensitivity.

Salicylate Sensitivity Causes

Salicylate sensitivity or intolerance is a condition in which a person experiences an adverse reaction to salicylates, either from natural sources or from products that contain them. The exact causes of salicylate sensitivity are not yet fully understood, but it is believed to be related to a person’s ability to metabolize salicylates and remove them from the body properly.

Some potential causes of salicylate sensitivity may include:

  1. Diet high in salicylates: A diet high in salicylate-containing foods, such as fruits, vegetables and spices, can trigger symptoms in individuals with salicylate sensitivity. However, most people don’t get adverse reactions from eating a healthy diet with naturally occurring salicylates.
  2. Gastrointestinal issues: People with gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease,or ulcerative colitis, may have a higher risk of salicylate sensitivity due to their compromised gut health and decreased ability to metabolize salicylates normally.
  3. Overproduction of leukotrienes: Research shows that some people may be sensitive to salicylates because of an overproduction of leukotrienes, which are inflammatory mediators that are released when you consume or come into contact with something you’re allergic to.
  4. Genetics: Some studies suggest that genetic factors may play a role in the development of salicylate sensitivity. Individuals with a family history of allergies, asthma or other immune-related disorders may be more prone to developing this intolerance. In fact, reports indicate that 2 percent to 22 percent of adults with asthma are sensitive to salicylates.
  5. Medications: Taking certain medications, such as NSAIDs like aspirin, has been shown to increase a person’s sensitivity to salicylates.

Salicylate Sensitivity Symptoms

While salicylate sensitivity is a real condition, it is not very common and often misdiagnosed. Symptoms of salicylate intolerance can vary in severity and may include:

  • Skin reactions, such as hives, rashes or eczema symptoms
  • Respiratory symptoms, such as stuffy nose, wheezing, difficulty breathing and asthma
  • Gastrointestinal issues, including stomach pain, gassiness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Behavioral changes, such as hyperactivity, irritability and difficulty concentrating
  • Tinnitus, causing ringing or buzzing in the ears
  • Tissue swelling
  • Anaphylaxis, in rare cases, causing a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction

Salicylates Foods

Salicylates are naturally occurring compounds that are found in many healthy, anti-inflammatory foods, particularly in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.

Some common examples of salicylate-containing foods include:

  1. Fruits: Apples, prunes, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, grapes, nectarines, oranges, pineapple, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines and tomatoes.
  2. Vegetables: Avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, okra, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, spinach, squash, watercress, endive, sweet potatoes and zucchini.
  3. Herbs and spices: Cinnamon, cayenne, dill, curry powder, ginger, mint, paprika, parsley, rosemary, thyme and turmeric.
  4. Nuts: Almonds, cashews, chestnuts and peanuts.
  5. Beverages: Tea, beer, wine, vinegar, rum and fruit juices.

It’s worth noting that salicylate levels can vary widely within the same food category, depending on factors such as ripeness, storage conditions and processing methods. Salicylates are also found in some non-food products, including lotions, perfumes, toothpastes and mouthwashes.

How to Manage a Sensitivity

The first step to managing a salicylate sensitivity is to determine when you experience adverse symptoms. If you notice them after taking aspirin, then avoiding the drug is your first line of defense.

In some cases, an intolerance is caused by overconsumption of high-salicylate foods. To determine if that’s the cause, keep a food intake and symptom journal, which will allow you to highlight the specific food triggers so that you can avoid them.

Here are some other tips for managing a salicylate intolerance:

  1. Keep a food diary to help you track which foods trigger symptoms and which are safe to eat. Try the elimination diet if you’re having trouble detecting how your body reacts to specific foods.
  2. Avoid triggering foods, which may include berries, citrus fruits, tomato products, and certain spices and herbs.
  3. Read labels carefully to avoid salicylates that are used in processed foods.
  4. Consider a low-salicylate diet to reduce symptoms, which involves reducing the intake of foods high in the chemicals.
  5. Speak to your doctor about avoiding medications that contain aspirin or other salicylates.
  6. Use non-salicylate personal care products and cleaning products. Look for products that are labeled as “salicylate-free” or “fragrance-free.”
  7. Take probiotics to improve the health of your gut and reduce inflammatory conditions that are linked to salicylate sensitivity.


  • Salicylates are a group of chemicals that are derived from salicylic acid, a naturally occurring compound found in plants.
  • Salicylate sensitivity is a condition in which a person experiences an adverse reaction to salicylates. This can be caused by several factors, including asthma, gastrointestinal conditions, such as IBS, excessive intake of salicylates through medicines or foods, or genetics.
  • Signs of salicylate sensitivity include respiratory issues, skin reactions and headaches.
  • To manage an intolerance to these chemicals, read labels carefully to ensure they aren’t present in unsuspecting products, find out what specific foods act as triggers by doing an elimination diet, and take probiotic supplements to improve your digestion and gut health.

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