Salicylates and Summertime!

pinterest_salicylates and summertimeIf you were hoping that summertime – a time with no school, fresh air, sunshine, and exercise – would help your child feel better and improve their behavior…. but it hasn’t, then salicylates might be your challenge.

What are salicylates?

Salicylates are naturally-occurring food chemicals in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods like herbs, spices, nuts, etc.).  In the 1950’s and 60’s, Dr. Ben Feingold observed that artificial additives and high salicylate foods caused hyperactivity and other symptoms in some children.  Biochemically, salicylates are a type of “phenolic acid” or “phenol.”  Phenols need to be broken down in the body, i.e. “detoxified,” which occurs through a process called sulfation.

For children with salicylate sensitivity, summer can be particularly challenging because so many of the abundant summertime fruits are very high in salicylates, such as:

  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Most melons including watermelon
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Plums

These fruits are delicious and plentiful, children eat quite a bit more during summer than any other time.  The resulting increase in salicylate consumption can cause a child’s body to become overloaded, and cause physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.  Symptoms vary by individual, but some of the most common salicylate sensitivity symptoms are:

  • Red cheeks and ears (not from the heat)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Defiant behavior
  • Aggression toward self or others
  • Bedwetting and day-wetting accidents
  • Sleeping challenges

Chlorine in swimming pools

Chlorine from the swimming pool is another summertime stressor.  Your child doesn’t even need to drink the water, just soaking in a chlorinated pool will cause it to absorb into the body.

Chlorine is processed by the same sulfation pathway as salicylates in fruits.  Sulfation requires proper methylation and transulfuration, as well as adequate sulfate (sulfur) and many other needed nutrients.

Each of these stressors (the fruit and chlorine) will deplete the sulfate and detoxification pool further, making each that much more difficult to handle.  After working with many children with autism in my nutrition practice, I’ve found that most react poorly to chlorine from swimming pools.  Add this fruit consumption to chlorine from swimming pools, and a child can fairly easily hit “overload.”  Crying, meltdowns, increase in stimming, and hyperactivity can result.

Artificial Additives

Junk food with artificial additives are more plentiful during summer.  Artificial additives such as artificial colors, flavors and preservatives are strong phenols–and require the same biochemical processes.

If you don’t consume these, good for you. You shouldn’t.

In the average American family, however, blue-colored sports drinks on hot days, cotton candy from the beach boardwalk or fair, shaved ice or blended slushies from the amusement park are all to common occurrences (sadly).   Alone they are known to cause hyperactivity, combined with these other stressors and they can be particularly problematic.

What can you do?

Firstly, if your child eats artificial additives, cut them all out.

If you want to determine a food intolerance to salicylates, you might start by simply observing your child within the hour after they eat, and before bedtime—making correlations with high salicylate consumption.  The best way to determine salicylate intolerance is to avoid high salicylate foods for a period of time and observe any improvements, and then add them back and see if you notice a reaction.

There are two diets that I like that address this: The Feingold Diet and The Failsafe Diet.  The Feingold Diet is a smaller list of salicylates to avoid—it includes many of the big offenders (but misses some) and is easier to do.  The Failsafe diet is much more comprehensive, but more complex and restricts more foods.

Swimming pool solutions.  The best part about having your own swimming pool you can choose a less toxic sanitizing option. While I’m not a expert at this, you can Google and research: salt water chlorination, ionizers, ozonators, and more.  At public pools, these other options are not usually available, though you can ask around about any public pools that might use them (as some do).

You can also try Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths or magnesium sulfate cream before or after a swim in the pool—the sulfate absorbs and helps supply sulfate for sulfation/detoxification.  This can help a child process the chlorine better, hopefully, creating less (or no) reaction.

An Epsom salt bath or the cream can also help reduce salicylate reactions too.

We will be discussing the subject of salicylates at our Nourishing Hope Support Club online session this month.

If you are not already a member, join our the Nourishing Hope monthly Support Club, and attend this insightful webinar session for much more on this subject.  The Nourishing Hope Support Club is a ongoing program for parents or clinicians that are actively employing specialized diet and nutrition approaches for improved health and healing.



Leave a comment
  1. Tracy July 9, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    just starting Feingold with my son and Stage 1 says that watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe are allowed. I almost freaked when I read your blog about salicylates. Although Feingold does say that most fruit does contains some salicylates and to monitor your child. I am thankful since I just purchased melons.

    • Julie Matthews July 9, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

      Yes, melons are one of those areas that Feingold does not limit but Failsafe does. If things go well on Feingold, the extra restriction is likely not necessary. However, if someone doesn’t see improvement or benefit, would be good to consider whether these extra fruits/salicylates are not tolerated. All the best to you and your son!

  2. Margaret Gennaro, MD July 10, 2013 at 12:52 am #

    Dear Julie,
    I am a holistic MD who uses muscle testing to assess my patients and figure out the causes of their behaviors and symptoms. I have noticed for years that the chlorine in pools in the summertime REALLY affects behavior. I was taught by Dr Klinghardt to use Taurine either homeopathically from DesBio or actual capsules approximately 250-500 mg per 15 min in or near pools. I also notice people who have a lot of chlorine in their water also need taurine.

  3. Mariela July 10, 2013 at 3:08 am #

    Thank you for this salicylates information.
    We are currently trying a low salicylate diet for our
    son, 3 1/2 and its definitely made a change , though
    I was unaware that chlorine was as an other factor .

  4. Babyfoodsteps July 10, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Thank you so much for this post!!
    This has been a concern for our family for a number of years..
    My research has led me to wonder if those with salicylate sensitivity may also have mitochondrial dysfunction or
    Disease going on???
    More here…

  5. Lyndsay July 12, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    My children are very sensitive to salicylates. Fortunately, we are still able to enjoy them with regular epsom salt baths and a product from Houston Enzymes called No-Fenol. These enzymes have been a big game changer for us and the behavior in our house!

  6. Brita July 14, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Hello, Julie,

    I read with interest about the salicylates in fruit as our daughter loves fruit. We do not want to have the group home where she lives deprive her of fruit. Therefore we want to go the Epsom Salt bath route instead to balance the effects of the salicylates.

    What dosage of Epsom Salt do you recommend?


  7. Markey July 15, 2013 at 2:11 am #

    The Feingold diet does not differentiate between high and low salicylates. Those salicylates it eliminates is based on what seems to bother people most – some are ‘low’ and some are ‘high.’ There is much that is not known about salicylates. Look at

    Once a person has given Stage One a good trial and is successful for 4-6 weeks, one at a time salicylates are added back to determine tolerance. If success is not reached, then the other salicylates are looked at. They are all listed in the Feingold handbook. Everyone is different. I encourage people to join the Feingold Association The membership materials tell you which products to buy and how to step by step introduce those salicylates.

  8. Amy Day October 24, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    It’s great to know that there are supportive options other than, or in addition to, complete avoidance. Some of these foods and exposures are hard to eliminate 100%. I’ve long recommended epsom salt baths for the relaxing effects of magnesium and for the benefit of detoxification via sweating.

    Thanks, Julie, for also helping me realize/remember the importance of the sulfate molecule as yet another benefit of epsom salt baths, and for reminding me that one can use a cream as well. It’s great to have options!

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