Salicylates are compounds found in many fruits and vegetables. They are chemically related to the active ingredient in aspirin, and they can be used in the treatment of a number of medical conditions. People normally consume trace amounts of these compounds with their food, and in some cases people may develop salicylate allergies or intolerance, in which they react to these compounds when they are exposed to them.
These compounds are named for the Salix or willow genus of trees, a popular source for salicylates. Historically, willow bark was used in teas and tinctures for people suffering from headaches, joint pain, and muscle aches. They are also present in many fruits, especially dried fruits, along with nuts, wine, beer, and vegetables. Salicylates have natural bacterial and fungicidal properties, which explains their ubiquity in plants, because they offer some protections to the plants they are found in. They also have anti-inflammatory actions, which makes them of interest to humans.
Some salicylates are employed in the treatment of skin conditions like acne and warts. Creams and other preparations can be rubbed directly onto the skin to treat skin problems. These compounds can also be taken internally for joint pain and inflammation, or applied topically to joints and absorbed through the skin to provide some relief. Unlike aspirin, salicylates do not have a thinning effect on the blood, and they also do not confer cardiovascular benefits, which is something important to be aware of.
People who consume too many salicylates can develop salicylism, a form of food poisoning. Individuals who are sensitive to salicylates can experience issues like skin outbreaks, difficulty breathing, nausea, and vomiting as a result of exposure to these compounds. A doctor may be able to diagnose salicylate sensitivity by having a person take incrementally larger amounts of salicylate and see if he displays symptoms, and if a patient does not have demonstrated sensitivities, it may be necessary for him or her to make dietary adjustments to avoid foods which are high in salicylates.
Some examples of foods which can contain high levels of salicylates include: nightshade vegetables, prunes, cherries, cheeses, ice cream, peppermints, pistachios, coffee, almonds, broad beans, spinach, grapes, and many herbs. A doctor can provide patients with sensitivities with a complete list, and discuss which foods may need to be avoided, and which foods can simply be eaten in moderation. It is also important to avoid skin creams and other beauty products which contain salicylates; these compounds are often added to reduce puffiness and swelling in the skin.