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Avocado and cauliflowerSalicylate is a chemical that practically all plants produce to provide protection from bacteria in the soil. So whilst they are found to some degree in all plants, they are particularly high in fruits and nuts, a few vegetables and other products. 

Although they are recognised to be irritant to the intestinal tract, most people's system can handle a certain amount of salicylates. However, for some sensitised people they can present a severe problem.

Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid which is metabolised to salicylate by the body and this can induce the same reaction as salicylate-containing foods. In addition many synthetic flavourings, colourings and food preservatives contain salicylate and this has been shown to be an important factor in attention deficit and hyperactivity syndromes in children. 


Symptoms of salicylate sensitivity

Possible symptoms of a salicylate sensitivity include:

  • A flushing or swelling of the eyes, face and/or neck
  • Stinging or swelling of the lips and/or throat
  • Increased tear secretion
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, short attention span and/or easily distracted
  • Moodiness, bad temper, irritability, and/or depression
  • Pain in the joints - particularly of the back, neck or shoulders 
  • Muscle weakness - particularly of the legs
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Vertigo or light-headedness
  • Poor self-image, and distorted views of the world
  • Either involuntary movement of the eyes or a lack of ability to coordinate eye movement
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Stomach upsets
  • A feeling of pressure across the forehead or heaviness in the head
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hot flashes
  • Fidgetiness, or nervousness and 
  • Workaholism.


Generally, it is said that if symptoms come and go it is most likely to be related to something you are exposed to or are eating, whereas if symptoms are constant there may be other factors at play.


Salicylate containing foods

If you have ever reacted to aspirin (or aspirin-containing pharmaceuticals) or you react to any of the foods listed below, consider the possibility that you may have a sensitivity to salicylates. Also, consider this if any members of your family are known to be sensitive to aspirin or any of the foodstuffs listed. 

Foods that contain salicylates:

  • Fruits such as apples, apricots, avocados, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, currants, dates, figs, gooseberries, grapes, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pineapple, plums, prunes, raspberries, raisins, and strawberries.
  • Vegetables such as alfalfa, aubergine (egg plant), broad beans, broccoli, capsicum peppers, cauliflower, chilli peppers, courgette (zucchini), cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, spinach, tomatoes and pickles.
  • Some cheeses
  • Processed meats such as lunch meat and hot dogs 
  • Spices including allspice, aniseed, caraway, cardamom, chilli powder, cayenne, cloves, curry powder, ginger, mustard, paprika, and Chinese five spice 
  • Herbs including bay leaf, dill, mint, mixed herbs, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme
  • Beer, wine, cider, rum and sherry
  • Cider, balsamic and wine vinegars
  • Soy sauce, tomato pastes and sauces
  • Jams, jellies (Jell-O), and ice cream
  • Beverages such as orange juice, coffee, regular and herbal teas, carbonated drinks and all diet drinks
  • Nuts such as pine nuts, peanuts, pistachios, and almonds
  • Mint, menthol and liquorice flavoured sweets (candies) and chewing gum
  • A wide range of food preservatives and colourings
  • Margarine
  • Baked goods with the exception of plain bread 
  • Molasses, and clover honey.


Salicylate containing products

Products that may contain salicylates include:

  • A lot of personal care and cosmetic products such as perfumes, shampoos and conditioners, shaving cream, sunscreens, lipsticks and lotions.
  • Herbal remedies
  • Mouthwash and mint-flavoured toothpaste
  • Alka Seltzer
  • Aspirin (use Tylenol™ tablets Extra Strength)
  • Muscle pain creams 
  • Anything with salicylate or benzoate listed as an ingredient and
  • Aloe vera.


Determining salicylate sensitivity

Fortunately, sensitivity to salicylates is not like a true allergy where sufferers can go into anaphylactic shock by even touching a food to which they are allergic. But there does seem to be a threshold beyond which some people have adverse reactions. 

If you identify with one or more of the symptoms listed above, then it might be worthwhile either muscle testing yourself or getting someone else to muscle test you to aspirin and any of the fruits and vegetables which you have access to that are listed above - particularly any you think may be an issue. 

If you test weak to one or more of these foods and particularly if you test weak to aspirin, it might be valuable to conduct a full exclusion of all the foods listed above for a period of 6 weeks or so. During the trial you need to cook all foods from scratch and to avoid eating out where you cannot control what it is in the food that you are eating. 

Make a note of all your symptoms prior to going on the exclusion diet and grade them for severity out of 10. Then keep a food and symptom diary for the duration and then regrade your symptoms after 6 weeks.

Note that it takes several weeks for the stored salicylates to be excreted and any cheating may invalidate the trial. And also note that these reactions are delayed so that the glass of orange juice that you drink in the morning may give you a headache later in the day or the following day. 

If you determine that salicylates are playing a role in your symptoms, then either muscle testing yourself or getting an Allergy therapist or Kinesiologist to test the foods listed above, or reintroducing them one at a time while monitoring symptoms may highlight particular foods that are worth avoiding. 

Generally speaking, as the body heals the sensitivity to salicylates usually diminishes although there may be a few foods that are best avoided along with aspirin. 


Further resources

A salicylate-free diet is also known as the Fiengold diet and more information is available at

You might also be interested in the following: 

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The Nightshades and Fibromyalgia

Food Intolerances in Fatigue Syndromes

Coeliac Disease: An Undiagnosed Epidemic

Special Diets for Fatigue Syndrome Sufferers

Muscle Testing Dental Restorations

Book Review: Trick and Treat

Citrus Fruit


The Problem With Phytates

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Salicylates: Article summary

This article looks at the issue of salicylate sensitivity which can produce a variety of distressing symptoms. Salicylates are natural chemicals produced by plants that are present to varying degrees in many foodstuffs and products, and whilst they are irritant to all, some people appear to be particularly sensitive and need to reduce their dietary exposure in order to gain relief of disabling symptoms.  


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine December 2011 Issue 24. Copyright Alison Adams 2011. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach

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