Adjusting to Life With Salicylate Sensitivity

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A few months back, I wrote that I was developing food allergies at 40. Thankfully, I was wrong. While initial tests were positive for milk and hazelnut allergies, further tests, exams, and discussions with my allergist revealed a combination of Oral Allergy Syndrome and a severe Salicylate Sensitivity.Admittedly, when the allergist said I had a Salicylate Sensitivity, I thought something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah. Because that’s a thing.” It sounded like baloney to me, the allergy equivalent of the, “It’s stress” answer when no one knows what’s wrong. But the truth is, sometimes it is stress, and Salicylate Sensitivity is a real thing that way more people live with than I first imagined. And really, most of them don’t even know it.

The allergist explained Salicylate Sensitivity to me, but I really didn’t get it until I did some reading myself. It was almost too much to take in. Here’s what I learned, in layman’s terms.

Salicylates are plant proteins that function sort of like natural pesticides. They’re dangerous to all humans in massive quantities, but most people process salicylates without any problem in the course of their daily lives. Unfortunately, some people are sensitive to or intolerant of salicylates even in small amounts. Plus, because these proteins exist in so many foods and products (particularly cosmetics, medications, and personal care items), until a person sees or is shown the salicylate connection between all of these seemingly random items, it’s really hard to know what’s causing so many apparently disconnected reactions.

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Some Resources

Our friend, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne over at The Paleo Mom, explains salicylates very well in this far-more-technical-than-mine blog article from 2012. Her list of Salicylate Sensitivity symptoms reads like my reaction diary. Thankfully not all at once, but at some point or another, I’ve experienced most of these symptoms. She also provides some very helpful lists of foods and products that are highest in salicylates.

Given that I have asthma, migraines, and bouts of IBS, I was unsurprised to read this Food Intolerance Network report, which reads, “Research shows that about 20% of adults with asthma1, 60% with of people with food-induced itchy rashes, headaches or migraines, 70% of people with irritable bowel symptoms2 and 75% of children with behaviour problems3 may be sensitive to salicylates.” However, since reducing my salicylate exposure and intake, all three of these issues have been diminished greatly. For me, it feels like a miracle.

What It’s Meant For Me

Finding out I have a Salicylate Intolerance felt overwhelming at first, especially because it came at the same time that I was diagnosed with Oral Allergy Syndrome. But once I sorted through the information, and started paying close attention to my reactions and the exposures, product uses, and dietary intake surrounding them, I’ve been able to minimize my reactions. My migraines are few and far between. My IBS has improved, and I haven’t needed my inhaler at all.

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I’ve cut out all aspirin, a salicylate-based drug that I also may be allergic to. I’ve cut out red wine, which is high in salicylates. I’ve reduced my intake of various fruits and vegetables that are high in salicylates and swapped them out successfully for items with lower salicylate content. I’ve also found that I can tolerate sweet potatoes, for example, so long as I don’t bake them with cinnamon and raw honey in a pan prepped with coconut oil, as all four of those things created the equivalent of a salicylate pot pie. It’s been about finding my limits and staying well below them, because avoiding salicylates altogether is just about impossible.

I’ve also cut out salicylic acid, which may not seem like a big deal, but when you start reading the ingredients in cosmetics, shampoos, and even some body washes, it’s actually pretty hard to avoid. I accidentally used an acne treatment with salicylic acid instead of benzoyl peroxide the other day and had a three-hour migraine that bounced back for an entire weekend.

I always say, when we know better, we do better (Thanks to the late Dr. Maya Angelou for that mantra.). And now that I know what to look out for, I may make mistakes from time to time, but I’m doing better. And more important, I’m feeling better.

What about you? Do you have a Salicylate Intolerance or Sensitivity? We want to hear from you!

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