Did you know that aspirin can trigger non-allergic mediated reactions? Or that salicylic acid found in most plant foods can cause histamine release, or compound histamine related inflammation? It’s a conundrum I faced when first starting out on the histamine intolerance diet: why was I still reacting to foods once the high histamine foods were eliminated? The answer was salicylic acid. Thankfully it was temporary. Here’s what science tells us.
Medical literature tells us that salicylic acid found in aspirin can cause an allergic-like response. This is particularly true in asthmatics, but we’re told that dietary salicylic acid does not contribute to this hypersensitivity. I’m sure there’s people reading this right now who may feel otherwise, please do leave a comment below if so.
Salicylates derived from salicylic acid are found in plants, where they function as an immune hormone and preservative. They are also a plant defence mechanism, protecting against disease, predators and harmful bacteria.
In the case of salicylate intolerance, at least in my experience and in the medical literature regarding intolerance to sals medications, lowering intake (but not eliminating), and a slow process of desensitisation have been shown to be effective.
Research published in the journal of Clinical Biochemistry found that asthmatic patients with an excess or dysregulation of arachidonic acid (due to lack of omega 3 fatty acid intake, or eating too many inflammation promoting foods), or who had elevated levels of prostaglandin D2 (which is released by mast cells along with histamine), a lack of prostaglandin E2 (a “good” anti-inflammatory agent), were more likely to negatively respond to salicylic acid in medications (though I have not found comparable studies on dietary salicylates).
The take away here is that inflammation has many sources: histamine, prostaglandins, salicylates, oxalates, and they all build on each other. Remove one and things might improve, for a while, but until we address the core issue, we’re not likely to get very far. More below…
WHERE ARE SALICYLATES FOUND?
In plant foods: avocado, apples, melon, cherries, grapefruit, watermelon, sweet potato, cucumbers and others.
Cosmetics: most commercial brands contain salicylic acid to help exfoliate skin, or even in perfumes, toothpaste etc.
It’s important to note that like with histamine and other intolerances, dose is relevant. Though histamine is no longer something I go out of my way to avoid, I do keep the intake to reasonable levels. So while I will eat avocado, I will not eat an entire one, nor will I do it in a meal that includes other high histamine foods. And I definitely take care to eat it smothered in foods with antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties.
I try not to go overboard anymore with any one food group. Sadly elimination diets encourage over reliance on other food types that could end up making the situation worse.
HOW ARE HISTAMINE & SALICYLATES LINKED?
The problem with eliminating any group of foods is that you end up adding more of something else. In my initial efforts to get healthy, I loaded up on salicylates and oxalates found in plant foods. It’s simple: I went nuts. I went totally gonzo on my health quest and histamine elimination. And I became more reactive as a result, partly because I added other compounds that have the ability to irritate sensitive individuals, because I hadn’t taken time to address my gut issues (more on how histamine causes leaky gut here), and because I removed so many nutrients from my diet that the body started falling apart.
On the one hand we have the issue that salicylates trigger histamine inflammation, but these are the very foods that also possess antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a tough issue, until we consider the inflammation bucket concept.
By lowering my inflammation overall, I became less sensitive to histamine, salicylates and oxalates.
Because I realise that salicylates can be a short-term problem for many people, I’ve added a low salicylate 7 day meal planner to my Histamine Rest program. It was created to help take the stress out of eating, and includes lifestyle changes that are proven to help fight inflammation, including some optional very basic and short stress relief techniques.
THE INFLAMMATION BUCKET
As I outlined in my previous post on multiple food intolerances occurring together naturally, for many of us healing inflammation isn’t about the magical supplement, or finally cutting out the “right” food group. It’s a multi pronged approach that incorporates body and mind. When we’re sensitive and the gut is compromised, anything can (and usually will bother us). This doesn’t mean it’s always going to be the case, but rather that we need to look at each individual component as a healing building block.
Histamine, salicylates and oxalates all build on each other, creating more inflammation. Remove one and the inflammation might go down, but as we continue cutting and cutting foods from the diet, we’re left with a collapsing house of cards.
A short elimination combined with keeping problem foods on a longer rotation is healthier in the long term. That’s why I built my histamine reset program to be adaptable, with all recipes interchangeable. I encourage people to strip down recipes to the basics. I often just eat a few chicory (which is a prebiotic food and has antihistamine properties), plus a handful of berries and a few nuts for breakfast. It can be that simple, something I cover in the course and all over this blog.