Salicylate sensitivity refers to the intolerance to compounds formed from salicylic acid and found naturally in certain fruits, vegetables, and spices and non-food sources like mouthwash, perfume, and medication. Most people can tolerate salicylates, but some are extremely sensitive to even small amounts of these compounds.

Salicylates are compounds formed from salicylic acids. They exist naturally in spices, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and many other foods but can also be synthesized and added to medications like Aspirin or perfumes, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc. In their natural sources, salicylates protect the plants they are found in from diseases, fungi, and insects, while they are used as preservatives in medications and other non-food sources. Salicylate sensitivity describes a type of intolerance to these compounds, which, despite being less common, is linked to serious symptoms. What is salicylate sensitivity, and what causes it? Get the answer to this question and many more by peering into this well-researched article.

Understanding salicylates

As the name suggests, salicylates are compounds generated from salicylic acid. Some foods, particularly fruits, spices, and vegetables, are packed with salicylic acid, and eating them may trigger intolerance to salicylates, also called salicylate sensitivity. In these forms, these compounds perform a protective role, preventing the food sources that harbor them from fungi, diseases, and insects. Apart from their natural forms, salicylates are also made synthetically and used as a preservative. As such, the compounds are added to medications like Pepto-Bismol and Aspirin, perfumes, mouthwash, toothpaste, lotions, and other no-food sources where the compounds preserve the products, extending their shelf-lives.

Dietary sources of salicylates pack fewer molecules than non-food sources

Although it is not as common as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, salicylate sensitivity is fairly common, and the number of people with such intolerance increases daily. This is because non-food salicylate sources, particularly medications, pack more molecules than dietary sources. For instance, you only get 10 mg- 200 mg of salicylates from the fruits, vegetables, and spices. However, some medications, particularly Aspirin, have as much as 350 mg- 650 mg of salicylates, making the condition commoner than ever since people are exposed to the compound’s high amounts.

Salicylate sensitivity- what are the causes?

Many people wonder what causes salicylate sensitivity. As with gluten sensitivity, many people are salicylate tolerance. However, a few people experience adverse effects on consuming salicylate-rich foods or using products with salicylates. Studies show that this is primarily due to the body’s inability to break down, metabolize, and fully eliminate salicylate compounds from the body. However, for the vast majority of individuals who can metabolize and excrete salicylates, the sensitivity should not even develop.

Furthermore, there is another reason for salicylate intolerance. The negative reactions could result from the overproduction of leukotrienes, inflammatory mediators closely related to inflammatory conditions like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and rheumatoid arthritis. Cyclooxygenase is a hormone that controls the amounts of leukotrienes in the body, and its inhibition results in over-secretion of leukotrienes, exacerbating the serious allergy-like symptoms.

Certain conditions are linked to increased risk of salicylate sensitivity

As seen previously, salicylate sensitivity occurs when the body does not efficiently metabolize and eliminate salicylates but could also originate from the overproduction of leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are linked to several inflammatory diseases, which are, in turn, a risk factor for it, showing a sort of chick-egg relationship. For instance, leukotrienes are linked to increased asthma risk, but asthmatic people are more likely to suffer from salicylate intolerance. Studies show that some 2-22% of asthmatic patients are also salicylate intolerant. Besides, research also shows that people with IBD are also likely to be sensitive to salicylates. As if that’s not enough, being allergic to another compound, especially plant-based, increases your risk of being salicylate intolerant.

The body interacts differently with salicylates for different people

Salicylate sensitivity is a rather confusing condition, mostly because its symptoms are wide-ranging and typically present themselves like other allergies. Still, the symptoms vary from person to person, clearly showing that people respond differently to salicylate compounds. For instance, some people may tolerate salicylates and only experience serious effects when the body reaches a certain threshold. Contrarily, others trigger the symptoms when they interact with the smallest amounts of the compounds. This explains why some people may be tolerant to dietary salicylates and eat foods rich in them without any issues but react badly when they take Aspirin or any non-food product with salicylates. The significant difference could result from the different salicylate concentrations in dietary and non-food sources. As such, you need not avoid salicylate-rich foods because you react to some medications or other non-food products with salicylates.

Diagnosis and symptoms of salicylate sensitivity

As mentioned previously, salicylate sensitivity presents symptoms similar to allergies and other sensitivities, including sinus infections, abdominal pain, tissue swelling, hives, diarrhea, bowel inflammation, gas, etc. Since the symptoms resemble other allergies and sensitivities, doctors usually use elimination, provocation, or another alternative method to diagnose salicylate sensitivity. This is because, at the moment, there are no blood tests that one can take to know whether he is salicylate sensitive. Besides, a food-symptoms diary can help a person know if he is sensitive to certain foods, and this typically takes long.

Which foods and substances contain salicylates and should avoid them?

As mentioned earlier, salicylates can be found in many foods, including nuts, coffees, teas, vegetables, spices, and fruits. Besides, many non-food products, including certain medications, mouthwash, toothpaste, perfumes, lotions, etc., pack these compounds. Salicylate-sensitive people do well to minimize or avoid their consumption of salicylate-rich foods, depending on the intensity and severity of the side effects, which should also apply to non-food products. However, if you are salicylate tolerant, you need not eliminate food rich in this compound from your diet since such foods are not only healthy but are packed with nutrients. Besides, they have antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory, which is why you need not avoid them if your body tolerates them.


Salicylates are compounds from salicylic acid found naturally in most fruits, vegetables, and spices and synthetically in mouthwash, toothpaste, perfume, lotion, etc. Although many people tolerate it, others are sensitive to it and experience a range of negative symptoms when the body interacts with foods and products packed with salicylate. As such, you might want to avoid salicylate sources and triggers if you are salicylate sensitive. However, if your system tolerates salicylate, you need not avoid foods or products containing it.

MS, University of Tartu
Sleep specialist

Using the acquired academic and professional experience, I advise patients with various complaints about mental health - depressed mood, nervousness, lack of energy and interest, sleep disorders, panic attacks, obsessive thoughts and anxieties, difficulty concentrating, and stress. In my free time, I love to paint and go on long walks on the beach. One of my latest obsessions is sudoku – a wonderful activity to calm an unease mind.

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