It was summer and the wildfire smoke was at it again. I was feeling miserable, trying to hide indoors with air purifiers on full blast, and meanwhile I was having new food related symptoms.
I had already adopted a low histamine diet, reduced my oxalate intake, and was also avoiding FODMAPs for SIBO. My histamine symptoms had improved and for a time, I had been able to indulge in some higher histamine foods again, such as canned sardines. But now I was having a different set of symptoms.
My lungs were frequently irritated, yet my nose wasn’t running. (A runny nose was my classic histamine warning sign.) My hands were getting extremely inflamed again – something that I had connected with oxalate since it stopped after going on a low ox diet. Often, after I’d eat, my whole body would feel itchy. Worst of all I was frequently experiencing tachycardia, both elevated heart rate and irregular heart beats.
Was I still getting too much oxalate? I was keeping track of my oxalate intake, which was low, despite my symptoms. Was it histamine? I was having reactions when eating low histamine foods.
I just couldn’t tell what was going on and my daily food experiments weren’t shedding any light on for me.
A Lucky Decision
By the time fall came around, I decided to take part in a group coaching class focused on navigating histamine intolerance and oxalate overload. I thought maybe this class would help me find the answer to what I was doing wrong.
It did, but in an unexpected way – a brief mention of salicylate sensitivity and its symptoms got my attention. One of the symptoms of this food chemical sensitivity is tinnitus – something I have had as a constant companion for over two decades. It’s also something that I have noticed goes up in volume when my body feels inflamed.
The Salicylate Bucket
I decided to look into salicylate sensitivity and see if that could explain my symptoms. A couple of weeks of experimenting – and I realized this sensitivity explained not only the symptoms which had been bothering me, but many which I had no clue were connected.
As with multiple chemical sensitivity and histamine intolerance, there’s a salicylate bucket, meaning you can handle a certain amount of sals (salicylates) until your bucket starts overflowing – you start experiencing symptoms.
With a bit of hindsight, it’s now apparent to me that many factors during that summer were filling my salicylate bucket – wildfire smoke, tons of fresh garden produce, and frequent dishwashing.
Sals sensitivity isn’t just a food sensitivity – it is a sensitivity that works via touch and smell as well, so I had to learn how I was exposing myself not only via food but via personal care products and cleaning products as well.
Lowering my sals intake quickly calmed my racing heart and skipping heart beats.
Over two months in to this diet I am still trying to see what my comfortable salicylate limit is (how big my bucket is), and if I go too high, my heart rate goes up. But thankfully, my normal heart rhythm is much more comfortable now.
As I learned more about salicylate sensitivity, I removed more and more salicylate from my bucket and started feeling better and better. I realized that I had been getting nauseous and lightheaded every time I handwashed our dishes because of the all natural almond-scented dishsoap I had been using.
I can now correlate my lung irritation to sals exposure – a chance encounter with some essential oil filled soap over the Christmas holidays gave me a prime example.
And although I don’t have answers for every ache and pain that bothers me, it is a relief to know that there’s a direct correlation between many of my most bothersome symptoms and salicylate exposure.
This adjustment has been hard psychologically, as my ever more restrictive diet has made me question my identity. Reducing the number of plants I can eat, means a further change in garden plans.
What’s more, as with oxalates, plant content of salicylates can vary and testing for sals content is limited, so it can be tricky knowing for sure what’s safe to eat and what isn’t.
However, I’m hopeful that this extreme diet and lifestyle change is temporary – many others who have gone down this path claim that they were able to rebuild tolerance through detoxification support.
I’m taking supplements to help improve my sals tolerance, experimenting with new, low salicylate foods such as chayote and mung bean sprouts, and am dedicated to working on healing my gut microbiome as a key element of improved health.
And now I know that when wildfire season comes around again – I need to take extra measures to protect myself, and reduce the other things filling up my sals bucket.
If you stumbled across this article because you are dealing with confusing symptoms and are wondering if you have this food chemical intolerance as well, hang in there! If you figured out your salicylate sensitivity, I’d love to know how you figured yours out. Let me know in the comments.
If you’re following a difficult diet like I am (low ox, low sals, low histamine, low FODMAP) here’s a recipe that might work for you: