In the 1960s, rheumatologists noticed that some children taking arthritis medication were behaving strangely. One professor reported a patient who attacked him with a knife while ‘under the influence of salicylates’. Then in the 1970s, an American paediatrician noticed that it wasn’t just the salicylate in the meds causing the problem, but also by natural salicylate in foods. Later a study confirmed that children’s learning could be affected by both salicylate in foods and salicylate in some medications. 



Salicylates are chemicals naturally occurring in many plants. They work to protect the plants against insects and diseases, acting like a kind of natural pesticide. 


Most people with this sensitivity have no idea what’s triggering their symptoms, yet it’s not uncommon to have a salicylate sensitivity. Research shows that approximately 75% of children with behaviour problems, 70% of people with IBS, 60% of people with food-induced itchy rashes, headaches or migraines and 20% of adults with asthma may be sensitive to salicylate. 


Salicylates are found in most fruit, some vegetables, herbs, spices, tea, coffee and nuts. Things like berries, citrus, tomato sauce, jams, honey, yeast extracts, juices, beer and wines, and processed foods with those flavours. Salicylates are also found in some medications. (Aspirin being the best known, was originally extracted from willow bark when introduced nearly 150 years ago. It was regarded as a completely safe wonder drug but by now, numerous side effects have been documented. Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID) induced stomach problems are estimated to cause 76,000 hospital admissions and 7,600 deaths each year alone in the USA. Other NSAIDs, as well as over-the-counter topical medications – such as lotions and ointments should also be avoided as salicylates are easily absorbed through the skin. They are also present in artificial fragrances (e.g. peppermint and mint flavouring), perfumes, scented toiletries, eucalyptus oils, industrial chemicals, plastics and some pesticides, and like sulphur dioxide, doesn’t even need to be eaten to cause havoc; they can have a negative effect simply by inhaling them. Don’t despair however, as four of the top five foods low in salicylate (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, garlic and shallots/scallions), have been found to be most effective in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. 

Eat Whole Food

Where once we ate whole fruits and veggies, nowadays that’s been replaced with bi products of these foods. As a result we’re consuming high levels of processed, concentrated salicylates in fruit or vegetable juices, sauces, pastes, powders, jams, stock cubes, tomato paste and dried fruit and vegetables, syrups and flavourings, hot potato chips and soft drinks. 


The other issue increasing salicylate levels in our food is picking fruits and veggies when they’re unripe (for a longer shelf life) when salicylates are at their highest. Naturally tree-ripened fruit is a much better option, when it’s just about to fall off the tree. Moreover, plants are now genetically engineered to have increased salicylates for disease resistance. These foods are very often available all year round, and that’s very worrying.


Chemicals can be addictive, and those occurring naturally in plants are no different. It’s not unusual is to see children with a salicylate- sensitivity chowing down on very little other than the highest salicylate foods – tomato sauce, fruit juice, broccoli, grapes, berries, kiwi fruit, sultanas and fruit- flavoured yoghurts. Most of the time parents are unaware of the child’s ongoing addiction/intolerance – as the food is considered ‘healthy’.


Symptoms vary from person to person, but digestive problems are the most common. Things like reflux, nausea, vomiting, stomach bloating and discomfort, pain, wind, diarrhoea and/or constipation; behaviour problems such as irritability, restlessness, inattention, oppositional defiance, symptoms of ADHD; asthma, stuffy or runny nose, nasal polyps, frequent throat clearing; anxiety, depression, panic attacks; sleep disturbance – difficulty falling asleep, night terrors, frequent night waking, sleep apnoea; rapid heart beat and arrhythmias; tinnitus, hearing loss; joint pain, arthritis, and more. Very often it’s a feeling of being generally unwell, run down, or just plain irritable.

What To Do

Salicylate sensitivity varies greatly. Some people improve just by cutting down on their intake, and others will have to avoid high salicylate foods altogether. Reactions are related to dose – the more you eat, the more likely you are to be affected.

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