Complete Guide to Salicylate Sensitivity

You may never have heard of salicylate (suh-lih-suh-late) sensitivity or salicylate intolerance, and because it mimics symptoms similar to other conditions, many don't realize they have an intolerance or allergy to salicylates.

While salicylate sensitivity is common, it is difficult to diagnose. Although mostly related to ingesting foods containing salicylates, some believe it may have symptoms related to the skin as well.

In people with salicylate allergy, an overdose to such medications as aspirin, may be life threatening. This is why it's important to know the causes, symptoms and prevention of salicylate sensitivity.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylate is a natural chemical. Plants contain salicylates in the from of a group of chemicals called salicylic acid. They serve as a natural hormone and preservative, to help protect plants from diseases and insects.

In personal care products, they are added in natural and as synthetic salicylates in medications, skin care for acne, toothpaste, aspirin, fragrance and preservatives. When used or congested in large amounts, it can cause health problems.

The synthetic form is known as acetyl salicylate (aspirin). Aspirin contains a higher amount of salicylates than plant sources.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, and honey are types of natural salicylates. Foods and personal care products contain less salicylates than medications such as aspirin and Pepto-Bismol.

People with salicylate sensitivity, even small amounts can produce adverse symptoms. Since the symptoms can vary depending on the amount of salicylate used or ingested, it can be difficult to determine the cause.

What causes salicylate intolerance?

Research has shown that salicylate allergy or sensitivity may be caused by an overproduction of the immune system inflammatory cells that are linked to people with asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, among others. It has been found to be more common in adults who have asthma.

Symptoms of salicylate intolerance

Respiratory symptoms appear to be the most common symptom of salicylate sensitivity. The symptoms can be similar to other illnesses.

Symptoms may include:

  • hives
  • abdominal pain
  • asthma
  • diarrhea
  • sinus infection
  • colitis (gut inflammation)
  • headaches
  • angioedema
  • hyperactivity
  • memory loss or poor concentration
  • depression
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • hands, feet, face swelling


List of foods that contain salicylates

Many foods contain salicylates. The largest amounts are found in fruits, vegetables and spices. The amounts can vary based factors such as how it was grown and preparation, including amounts ingested.

Dried fruits contain more than raw fruits, since they are more concentrated without water. Those highest in salicylates include:

  • Drinks - tea, wine, vinegar, mints, almond milk, soda
  • Vegetables - broccoli, artichokes, radishes, zucchini, chicory, watercress, alfalfa sprouts, eggplant, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, chili, olives, tomatoes, endive, cucumber, beetroot
  • Low salicylate vegetables - brussel sprouts, cabbage, celery, green beans, iceberg lettuce, white potato
  • Spices - rosemary, paprika, tarragon, oregano, mustard, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, curry, aniseed, dill, allspice, clove, cumin, pimiento, thyme
  • Fruits - guava, strawberries, raisins, oranges, tangerines, pineapples, oranges, raisins, prunes, blueberries, cherries, blackberries, apricots, plums, lemons, pomegranates, mandarins, melons, kiwifruit, dates, prunes, all berries
  • Low salicylate fruits - apples, bananas, pears, papayas, rhubarb
  • Desserts - any that contain mint or mint family such as spearmint, wintergreen, fruit pies, cakes with fruits.
  • Fats - almonds, nuts, avocados, olive oil, salad dressings, vegetable oils

Low salicylate diet and what it means

Known as an elimination diet, you avoid foods that contain salicylates. You then reintroduce each separately and pay attention to reactions and side effects.

Ben F. Feingold, MD, a pediatrician started Feingold diet, which is a salicylate elimination program to help children with autism and hyperactivity conditions.

Studies have reported hyperactive children respond positively when salicylates and the ingredients listed below are removed from their diet or daily care products. The diet was originally developed as a diagnostic diet to improve asthma and allergic reactions that were related to food.

Besides foods, the program eliminates any products that contain:

  • synthetic colors (FD&C and D&C colors)
  • synthetic flavors
  • synthetic preservatives (BHA, BHT, TBHQ)
  • artificial sweeteners (Aspartame, Neotame, and Alitame)
  • any personal care products that contain botanicals, plant extracts or essential oils

Salicylates in non-food products

What you brush your teeth with, put on your skin or wash your hair with may all contain salicylates, including:

  • toothpaste with natural flavor, especially mint family
  • fragrance
  • shampoos
  • conditioners
  • lotions
  • medications
  • laundry detergents
  • plant extracts
  • essential oils

How do you know if you have salicylate sensitivity?

There is no laboratory test to determine a diagnosis of salicylate allergy or sensitivity. Although it is established that medications like aspirin contain salicylate acid, there is little information about salicylate allergy or intolerance to foods or products. People with known aspirin allergy should avoid foods or personal care products containing salicylates.

A healthcare professional will determine if you have a reaction to aspirin by taking a detailed medical history of your symptoms, diet and types of products you use. If you're apt to mostly use 'natural' products with lots of plant ingredients, your doctor may have you try an 'elimination diet' of food and any personal care products you use with botanical ingredients.

On-going effects of eliminating certain foods and products results with studies have been limited, therefore their effects are not established.

Recommended salicylate free products

For those with allergies or sensitivities to salicylic acid, finding the right personal care products can be a challenge. With most common dental care, skin care, and cosmetics items being formulated with the plant acid, it can take time to find the safest products for your family.

Exposure to salicylates can leave those with sensitivities suffering with reactions and side effects. Cleure offers a complete line of salicylate free toothpaste and personal care products.


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