Salicylate Intolerance and Mold Illness

Mold illness can trigger many types of food intolerances. Salicylate intolerance is a significant food intolerance that can occur in individuals with mold illness, yet it is often overlooked.

Read on to learn about the connection between salicylate intolerance and mold illness, and how a short-term low-salicylate diet can help relieve symptoms and support your recovery process

What are Salicylates?

Salicylates are chemicals that occur naturally in many plants, including many edible plants. Salicylates belong to the phenol family of plant compounds, which are commonly found in bright-colored fruits and vegetables.

There are also some synthetic salicylates that can be found in pharmaceutical drugs, most notably bismuth subsalicylate, which is used for diarrhea, heartburn, and upset stomach, and aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).

Food-based salicylates act as natural pesticides by protecting the plants against predation by other animals and defending against disease. Salicylates are present in a number of the foods we eat and do not cause problems for the average person. However, some people can develop an intolerance to high-salicylate foods, particularly if their gut health is compromised.

My Experience with Salicylate Intolerance and Mold Illness

I personally dealt with a severe dietary salicylate intolerance early on in my mold illness journey. I didn’t understand why I was reacting to healthy foods, such as blackberries and blueberries, so I decided to dig into the research to see if I could uncover an explanation.

While researching, I learned that many of the detoxification pathways that our bodies use to detoxify salicylates are also required to detoxify mold and mycotoxins. For example, our bodies use an antioxidant called glutathione to detoxify both mycotoxins and salicylates.

Presumably, if the body is preoccupied trying to detox mycotoxins, it may have less glutathione available for salicylate detoxification. Furthermore, salicylate is a potent depletor of glutathione, leaving less glutathione available to the body overall. (24)

In my situation, I believe my body was already so overburdened with mycotoxins that my liver and gastrointestinal tract were unable to effectively detoxify salicylates. As a result, my “salicylate bucket” was overflowing, causing symptoms!

I suspect this may be the case for many people with toxic mold illness and salicylate sensitivity too. For more information about phenol/salicylate intolerance, check out my blog Phenol Intolerance: A Symptom of Mold-Induced Illness.

By following a low salicylate diet for a couple of months, I was able to reduce my symptoms of salicylate intolerance, including facial swelling and tinnitus (tinnitus is a common symptom of salicylate intolerance 24), and better tolerate my treatments for toxic mold illness.

In my nutrition practice, I have found that some of my clients with mold illness do well on a short-term low-salicylate diet while we work on resolving the underlying causes of salicylate intolerance, including mold illness. Please note that not everybody with mold illness needs to try a low-salicylate diet! For foundational information about the best diet for mold illness, check out my blog The Definitive Guide to the Low-Mold Diet.

a bowl of blackberries
Blackberries, a wonderfully healthy food, are also high in salicylates and can trigger symptoms in individuals with salicylate intolerance caused by toxic mold exposure.

Salicylates Intolerance Symptoms

Below, you’ll find information about the symptoms of salicylate intolerance and a chart depicting salicylate levels in various foods. Salicylate sensitivity symptoms usually occur upon ingestion of salicylate-rich foods. However, other products such as fragrances can also contain salicylates, and inhalation of those substances can trigger symptoms as well. Foods that are low-mold may still be moderate or high in salicylates, and potentially cause problems for those who are sensitive.

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Itchy, inflamed skin rashes, including eczema
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Bedwetting
  • Asthma
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Behavioral problems, including irritability, restlessness, and ADHD
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heart beat and arrhythmias
  • Tinnitus
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis

The Low-Salicylate Diet for Mold Illness

Here are several tables showing the salicylate content of common vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, fats, herbs, and condiments.

I’m not going to mince words: Following a low-salicylate and low-mold diet is challenging. If you are not actually sensitive to salicylates (i.e., experiencing symptoms from the list above and reacting to foods in the “high” and “very high” columns in the tables below), then please do NOT go to the trouble of trying to follow a low-salicylate and low-mold diet. Furthermore, a low-salicylate diet isn’t meant to be followed forever! If you are optimally addressing the underlying causes of salicylate intolerance, such as toxic mold exposure and gut imbalances, then you should only need to eat a low-salicylate diet for a very short period of time.

If you suspect you are salicylate intolerance, I suggest focusing on avoiding the “high” and “very high” foods so you don’t overwhelm yourself and unduly restrict your diet, even if it is just for a short period of time.

Salicylates in Vegetables

NegligibleLowModerateHighVery High
Bamboo shootsFresh asparagusCanned asparagusArtichokeRed chili pepper
Brussels sproutsFresh beetsCanned beetsEggplantChicory
CabbageFresh carrotCanned carrotOkraEndive
CeleryCauliflowerBok choyBroccoliGherkin pickles
ChivesHorseradishLettuceGreen and yellow chili peppersCanned mushrooms
LeekMushroomOlivesCucumberSweet peppers
Iceberg lettuceOnionParsnipSpinachRadish
RutabagaPumpkinSweet potatoSquashTomato paste
ShallotFresh tomatoWhite sweet potatoZucchini
TurnipCanned tomato
Water chestnut
Watercress
**Preserved and canned foods are more likely to cause problems, as salicylates are increased in these types of foods.

Salicylates in Fruits

NegligibleLowModerateHighVery High
BananaGolden and Red Delicious applesApples (other than Golden and Red Delicious apples)Granny Smith appleApricot
Peeled pearFresh figsKiwiAvocadoBlackberries
CherriesFresh nectarinesDried figsBlueberries
Green grapesUnpeeled pearsGrapefruitCantaloupe
MangoFresh plumMandarin orangeCurrants
Fresh lemonWatermelonMulberriesDates
PomegranatePeachOrange
RhubarbPineapple
Raisins
Raspberries
Strawberries

Salicylates in Nuts, Seeds, and Grains

NegligibleLowModerateHighVery High
CashewsPecansCoconutPine nutsAlmonds
Poppy seedsPeanut butterBrazil nutsMacadamia nuts
All grainsSesame seedsPumpkin seedsPistachios
HazelnutsWalnuts
Sunflower seeds

Salicylates in Fats

NegligibleLowModerateHighVery High
ButterGheeAlmond oilSesame oilCoconut oil
Sunflower oilCorn oilWalnut oilOlive oil
Peanut oil**
** I don’t recommend eating these oils because they are industrial seed oils, and are thus high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

Salicylates in Seasonings, Sweeteners, and Condiments

NegligibleLowModerateHighVery High
GarlicVinegarFennelRed and white wine vinegarAnise seed
ParsleySaffronApple cider vinegarCayenne
ChivesVanillaCinnamon
CorianderMolassesCumin
Maple syrupBrown sugarCurry powder
White sugarDill
Honey
Ginger
Mint
Mustard
Oregano
Paprika
Pepper
Rosemary
Sage
Tarragon
Turmeric
Thyme
Worcestershire sauce

As a general rule, grains, meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products contain either no or negligible amounts of salicylates, unless they are preserved and contains spices, sauces, or preservative chemicals.

Note that levels of salicylates can vary in vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices depending on the season, whether or not the food was peeled, whether the food is cooked or raw, and how ripe the food was upon harvest. It is impossible to control for all of these factors. Additional stress isn’t going to help your healing process!

Removing yourself from moldy indoor environments, detoxifying from toxic mold exposure, and treating fungal colonization of the body are vital steps towards resolving mold-induced salicylate intolerance.

I recommend partnering with a functional healthcare provider for guidance because recovery from toxic mold illness can be complex, and it is extraordinarily helpful to have professional support. If you need guidance in your mold illness recovery, I would love to help you! You can schedule a discovery call with me to learn more about how I can help!

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