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What Is A Low Salicylate Diet And Should You Follow It?

Detoxification Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

An image of an older man holding his abdomen in discomfort while sitting on the couchPlant-based food intolerance is a growing problem. Therefore, this fact explains the increased interest in a low salicylate diet. People are developing more food intolerances, which are often chronic. These persons tend to suffer from conditions like asthma, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Keep reading as we discuss if a low salicylate diet could be the right diet for you.

What Are Salicylates?

Salicylates are compounds found in most plants such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. They are a type of natural insecticides that plants use to protect themselves from pathogens and insects.

However, salicylates are also present in many products. These include gels and creams for pain relief, skin and hair care products, makeup, and house cleaning products.

Plant-based foods are the most common reason for digestive sensitivity in adults. There are various theories about why some people develop salicylate sensitivity or intolerance. It is believed that this condition is a sign that the affected individual lacks a certain enzyme needed to metabolize salicylates. When this enzyme is lacking, salicylates cannot be processed and instead accumulate in the body.

The best way to control this condition is to adopt a low salicylate diet. Foods that contain no salicylates or that are low in salicylates, will quickly reduce or eliminate the symptoms.

Persons Most Likely to Suffer From Salicylate Intolerance

Who is most likely to be affected by salicylate intolerance?

  • Adults
  • Individuals with asthma, hay fever, or eczema
  • People with low levels of phenol-sulfur-transferase (PST) enzyme
  • Autistic children

Salicylate intolerance means being unable to handle more than a certain amount of salicylates at a time. This means that it is necessary to abstain from foods that are high in salicylates.

Symptoms of Salicylate Intolerance

There are many different reactions to salicylate intolerance. This and the fact that most of the symptoms are nonspecific is what makes diagnosis so difficult.

Common Physical Symptoms

  • Stomach upset (diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating)
  • Asthma
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue/Chronic fatigue
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Weight problems

Common Mental Symptoms

  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Brain fog
  • Disorientation
  • Panic attacks

However, most of these symptoms are common in many other conditions.

Diagnosing the Symptoms of Salicylate Sensitivity

The most trusted method of diagnosing and controlling the symptoms of salicylate sensitivity consists of two phases. The first one focuses on the elimination of potential triggers and the second one on reintroduction.

During the elimination phase, the common foods high in salicylates are removed from your diet. During the reintroduction phase, these foods are gradually reintroduced to your diet. Then, your reaction to these foods is closely monitored.

During the reintroduction, foods that trigger a sensitivity reaction are easily identified. Once you know what foods are intolerant to, creating a personalized low salicylate diet becomes easy.

However, this is usually a time-consuming process so you need to be patient. There are also other methods, but this approach gives the most reliable results.

Please note that only a qualified nutritionist or a medical practitioner should undertake this therapy. Never try to do this on your own, in case you provoke a major allergic reaction.

Salicylates have a cumulative effect on the body over time. Also, the amount stored in the body will vary from one person to the next.

Foods to Avoid on a Low Salicylate Diet

Most of the foods we eat, and many of the products we use daily, contain salicylates. Avoiding them completely is difficult and sometimes impossible. However, the trick with a low salicylate diet is to know which foods to avoid or limit.

Foods to stay away from on a low salicylate diet include:

  • An image of 7 slices of cakes and pies with bits of chocolate chips and banana scattered around themBeverages: beer, bubbly drinks, whiskey, vodka, bourbon, gin, tea, and wine
  • Starches: potatoes
  • Sweets: mint or wintergreen products, pies and cakes made with fruits
  • Fats: Almonds, peanuts, avocados, mayonnaise, olives and olive oil, and salad dressings
  • Fruits: Apples, apricots, berries, cherries, currants, dates, grapes and raisins, melon, peaches, plums, and pomegranates
  • Vegetables: canned mushrooms, cucumbers, green peppers, radishes, and tomatoes

The healthiest way to deal with salicylate sensitivities is to introduce significant dietary changes. Adopting a low salicylate diet is the only way to control and manage an overload of salicylates.

A Low Salicylate Diet and Gut Inflammation

Avoiding salicylates is not easy as they are found in almost all plants, more in some than in others. They are stored in roots, bark, leaves, and seeds. So, whichever plant or part of the plant you eat, they are present.

Most people easily tolerate small amounts of salicylates. However, for those who are salicylate-sensitive, even small amounts can produce an allergic reaction.

Those who know they are sensitive to salicylates can easily solve the problem by adopting a low salicylate diet. Those that don't, unknowingly continue to expose themselves to these foods or products. However, unless they experience a very strong reaction to something they eat, people usually continue to ignore nonspecific symptoms.

However, not all salicylates are bad. On the upside, salicylic acid is a micronutrient that your body needs for optimal health. On the downside, it contributes to the development of some chronic conditions, such as adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) takes a long time to develop.  As it is with salicylate sensitivity, most people may not even know they are struggling with AFS. The nonspecific symptoms make diagnosis very difficult. AFS usually develops as your body has an increased reaction to stress.

How Stress Affects Your Microbiome

You experience both physical and emotional stress on a daily basis. When you eat food that doesn't agree with you, the stress increases throughout your body. This also includes stress on your digestive organs.

Being unaware of, or ignoring your food sensitivities, sooner or later leads to health problems. The trouble is that symptoms of food sensitivity take a long time to manifest.

People eat unsuitable foods out of ignorance or out of necessity. In either case, their dietary habits cause or contribute to chronic gut inflammation. And a chronically irritated gut leads to many debilitating gastrointestinal conditions, such as a leaky gut.

With this condition, the lining of your gut becomes permeable to partially digested food, bacteria, and yeasts. Gradually, they all leak into your bloodstream. Inflammation that results is simply your body's attempt to protect itself from these foreign products. Also, your body starts releasing histamines, chemicals that help it rid itself of irritants. So, with a combination of inadequate diet, cortisol, and histamines, inflammation can only get worse.

How Wrong Food Choices Contribute to AFS

An image of a woman in her nightgown, bending forward as shes holding her stomach in painWhen you eat food that doesn't agree with you, you are exposing your digestive system to stress. As with any other type of stress, your adrenal glands try to help by producing cortisol. If this happens repeatedly over time, you experience an overproduction of cortisol in your bloodstream. When your adrenal glands eventually become exhausted, you develop AFS.

Diagnosing both salicylate sensitivity and AFS can be tricky. Both these conditions have nonspecific symptoms that overlap with the symptoms of many other conditions. Besides, there are no approved blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.

By consuming foods that trigger an inflammatory response, you are putting pressure on your adrenal glands. As cortisol is the body's main anti-inflammatory hormone, these glands become overworked in continually supplying cortisol to fight the inflammation.

If you regularly eat foods you are sensitive to, your body is under permanent stress. This will, almost certainly, lead to adrenal fatigue.


Food sensitivities are commonplace and can have distressing symptoms. However, the best way to address such food sensitivities is to adopt a low salicylate diet. Although this is often a trial-and-error therapy, it is the only way to discover the culprit that is upsetting your digestive system and resolving it for your best health.

© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Adopting a low salicylate diet is easy with some careful planning. The key is to avoid or limit fresh and dried fruits and juices, as well as all the foods that are known to contribute to salicylate sensitivity. This diet is the only way to reduce the accumulated salicylates.

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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