Most people have never even heard of salicylate intolerance. Those who have connect it with hyperactive children. But, as Diane Palmer found to her cost, you do not have to be a hyperactive child to be salicylate intolerant.
In 2001, I was eating what I thought was a fairly good, healthy diet – breakfasts of cereals, topped with fresh fruit and/or nuts and seeds; lunchtime salads, evening meals with vegetables; fruit and fruit juices for snacks, with my favourite tipple of red or white wine at the end of long working weeks. I was also very fit, training, running and playing competitive sports at least 3 times a week.
I consulted my GP and was told to go home and rest, as I probably had ‘sub clinical’ flu. I also then developed chronic bowel disturbances, which were investigated fully by gastro-enterologists, but with no result. Just the predictable label of irritable bowel syndrome.
Could it be diet?
I was stunned and still a little sceptical when he explained that natural aspirin, or salicylates, is found in many foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. He gave me a very general list to take away of those foods with highest and lowest levels of salicylates in them.
Over the following months, I avoided scrupulously the wheat, dairy and yeast (with a few near misses that I now know are part of every food avoidance learning curve). However I had little symptom improvement by avoiding those foods in the moderate/high salicylate categories.
So I began researching salicylates for myself. This was not an easy task with little information available at the time. However finding one piece of research done in Australia that detailed specific amounts (mgs) of salicylates per 100g of food items, made things a little clearer and I was able to clean my diet of any remaining salicylate content. Symptom relief has thankfully since followed.
What can I eat?
Fresh meats, fish and eggs, iceberg lettuces, celery and water are totally salicylate free and are my mainstays.
I am also able to eat Brussels sprouts, and heavily peeled asparagus, although not every day, as these do have trace amounts in them. One lesson I have learnt is that salicylates can build up in the body and will catch you unawares with a full blown reaction one or two days later.
Thankfully, the gluten free wholegrains – quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat - are all salicylate free and cause me no problems provided they are well cooked. I am now an expert in hypoallergenic porridge.
There is no apparent rhyme or reason for which foods do or don't contain salicylates, and food families do not give any clues to relative levels.
Salicylates are also very stable to processing, so cooking at high temperatures is not an answer. It really is a question, as they say, of 'knowing your onions'.
Even the special dietary product manufacturers are generally unable to cater for the salicylate issue. Maize starch is found in many products. Vague terms on ingredient lists (such as ‘'vegetable' oil and ‘'natural flavourings') are not helpful. The salicylate avoider needs to know WHICH vegetable the oil is from (palm or corn oil are probably not good, but rapeseed, safflower and sunflower oils may be), and what the flavouring is that has been added.
I would really appreciate any help or advice anyone else can offer in tracking down exactly what it may be in toiletries (I don’t wear cosmetics, just use moisturisers) that could be causing this problem.
I have also discovered that I enjoy my kitchen - experimenting with alternative flours and the fewingredients I can use. I am always on the look out for any potentially suitable foods/products I have previously not encountered.
So, for anyone else who may be eating what is generally believed to be a vitality promoting, antioxidant rich diet, but who cannot retain their health, then may be it is your daily fruit, herb and vegetable intake that you need to examine further.
Diane suggests that this is the most useful/accessible site for salicylate levels in foods.
Diane Palmer's article in last month's Foods Matter provoked a speedy response - including a postscript from Diane herself.
Having re-read the article last night, it has occurred to me that
there are two things I didn't touch on that it may be important for
others to know about.
Similarly, I didn't specify that all spices contains salicylate,
and most at very high levels. Although you only use a pinch each
time, they are very concentrated, so even a pinch can produce a reaction.
From Margaret Moss - Nutritionist:
Natural chemicals in fruits and vegetables do indeed cause problems for sensitive people. There are various reasons including phenols, amines, boron, lectins, cyanide, vitamin C and carotenoids.
There are phenols in fruit and vegetables. For example, there is quercetin in cabbage, grapes and pear, kaempferol in strawberries and Brussels sprouts, apigenin in celery, luteolin in red bell peppers, and isoflavone in soya. There are amines in bananas, cheese and fish. Amines, phenols and vitamin C are processed by the body, using sulphate.
People with food and chemical sensitivity tend to be inefficient at doing this, and may be unable to eat foods that are healthy for the rest of the world. Sulphate levels can be increased, using vitamins B2 and B5, omega 3 fats from fish, and molybdenum. Some foods, like oranges, spinach and radish, slow down the detoxification of phenols and amines.
There is boron in apples, pears, plums, peppers, tomatoes, peanuts, hazelnuts and soya. It causes excretion of vitamin B2. Seeds contain lectins. These include wheat, rice, potatoes, swede, beans, peas and lentils. Lectins attach themselves to specific sugars in the body, causing symptoms. Cyanide is released from maize and millet, when eaten with lettuce or celery. Some people are inefficient at dealing with cyanide. People who convert carotenoids too avidly to vitamin A may experience vitamin A toxicity symptoms. There are carotenoids in tomatoes, peppers, carrots, spinach, cabbage, mango and melons.
Food sensitive people tend to react to more than one category of chemical, rather than just to one type, like salicylate.
I am puzzled that Diane says the structure of the organic chemical, salicylate, is similar to that of inorganic nitrate, nitrite, sulphite and sulphate. Sulphites can be found in drinks, salads and coal smoke, and are harmful. However, the enzyme, sulphite oxidase converts them to sulphates, which are anti-histamines, needed for the integrity of the gut wall, and the release of pepsin, stomach acid and digestive enzymes. They are needed for detoxifying amines and phenols.
Moisturisers can be troublesome. It is better to have adequate omega 3 and 6 fats in the diet, to keep the skin healthy from within. If Diane wants to know more, I can send her a copy of our article, ‘'The plasma cysteine/sulphate ratio: a possible biomarker' by Moss M and Waring RH, published in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine in 2003.
(Margaret can be contacted at the Nutrition and Allergy Clinic 0161 432 0964 www.nutritionandallergyclinic.co.uk)
First published in 2005
From Leigh Devlin
I have just read with great interest Diane Palmer's article on salicylate intolerance. I was diagnosed with this in 2006 after taking a Nurofen which apparently 'tipped me over the edge'.
I had all the things Diane described as well as allergic rhinitis (I hadn't slept properly for years due to blocked nose) but the GP kept giving me nasal sprays because he said 'trying to find out what you're allergic to will be like trying to find a needle in a haystack' .....very helpful especially seeing as they contained salicylates which made it worse.
Ed. If you wish to contact Leigh please email us.