At Home With Nature

The Cayenne Pepper Salicylate Experiment – Can a Plant Save Me?


I love plants – growing them, learning about them, seeing them in their natural habitats. I also love learning how humans and plants have interacted across time, with humans finding species for food and medicine, and in exchange, helping to spread these species far and wide.

Plants were the original medicines, and for the past three decades or so, one of my passions has been learning about this type of healing.

So it was quite distressing for me when I developed salicylate sensitivities. I lost not only many food options, but also my preferred healing modality.

I love plants, but at the moment, in some ways at least, plants do not love me.

Now, out of desperation, I’m giving something a try. I’m using a plant, the cayenne pepper, to help me manage my salicylate sensitivity.

I’m hoping it will help save me.

My Food Intolerance Background

Why do I need saving? Because I’m stuck in a vicious cycle where my health needs plant foods and medicines, but plant foods and medicines also make me sick.

Just so you know where I’m coming from, first a little background.

A couple of years ago, I was sick, very sick, with no explanation for how I felt. My heartrate was constantly elevated, I had severe allergy symptoms, and my lungs felt like they had jugs of liquid sloshing in them. Those were only a few of my symptoms.

Finally, I found that a low histamine diet helped some of my symptoms. Then I kept peeling the proverbial onion, got diagnosed with SIBO, and realized that I had not just one but several food chemical sensitivities, one of which is salicylate sensitivity.

After that I realized that my SIBO had changed to the hydrogen sulfide variety and I was now reacting to sulfur in foods as well, with bloating, other GI issues, and histamine symptoms.

The Breaking Point

Removing high sulfur foods from my already limited diet was my breaking point. There was almost nothing left for me to eat when I took the high sulfur foods out of my food routine.

I desperately needed to try to improve my salicylate sensitivity in order to add more foods back to my diet.

So I followed all my health care practitioners’ advice to try to increase my tolerance to salicylates – taking fish oil 3 times a day, adding Calcium D-glucarate, incorporating glycine into my supplement routine. I also tried digestive enzymes with amylase. All of these things seemed to help a little, but not enough to keep me from reacting from most moderate salicylate foods.

Meanwhile, I consulted with one of my practioners about treating my hydrogen sulfide SIBO, but the treatment is herbal, and has caused me salicylate reactions every time I’ve tried it.

So I came back to the chili pepper solution, an option I encountered a few months ago.

The Chili Pepper Solution for Salicylates

While first learning about salicylate sensitivity, I read about trials using capsaicin from chili peppers to essentially block salicylates.

My understanding of the science goes like this, and apologies if I’m getting any of it wrong, but this is the general idea:

There are receptors in the human body called TRPV1 receptors.

Apparently these receptors are found “distributed in vascular peripheral nerve cells,[…] in sensory nerve fibers, smooth muscle cells, vascular endothelial cells, submucosal glands, and inflammatory cells in the respiratory system.”

Sounds like they are almost everywhere!

We might think of them as outlets that can be plugged into. Salicylates can “plug” into these receptors, and when they do, those of us who are sensitive experience symptoms.

But capsaicin can also plug in to these receptors. If the receptors are already engaged with capsaicin, when the salicylates are eaten, then the salicylate compounds can’t dock there, and won’t cause the reactions associated with salicylate intolerance.

I read about this at the Food Intolerance Network, where Sue Dengate explains the science, how it was discovered, as well as her own experience with it.

So basically, salicylates are docking with certain receptors in our body, and in those of us who are sensitive, they are causing reactions. If you can prevent the docking, you can prevent the reactions.

Just to be clear – chili peppers aren’t a cure for salicylates, they can simple help by blocking salicylates. If you don’t take the cayenne for a meal, you don’t get the protection.

The Method

Sue Dengate recommends taking 1/4 of a teaspoon of cayenne powder (aka “cayenne pepper”) before meals.

She recommends mixing this with something like milk, yogurt,  cheese, or low sal hummus to prevent heartburn or GI irritation.

Dengate claims she was able to implement this herself and even traveled in India and was able to eat higher salicylate foods as long as she continued eating chili peppers before or with meals.

She says this only increases tolerance to moderate and high salicylate foods, not those that are extremely high.

And according to Dengate, cayenne peppers are the capsaicin source of choice because they are actually relatively low in salicylates compared to other hot peppers.

The Start of My Personal Trial

I  tried taking cayenne for salicylates a few months ago, and did not get the hoped for results. What I didn’t know at that point was that I also had sulfur sensitivities, and eating high sulfur foods causes some of the same reactions for me that salicylates do. (No wonder it’s so hard figuring out food sensitivities – even with a food journal!)

Having lowered my sulfur intake and been reduced to eating essentially the same thing every single day, I thought, OK, I’m at rock bottom now, perhaps it’s time to try the chilies again!

Help me cayenne pepper, you’re my only hope!

I’m going to try this for a month if all goes well.

I am now on day four of my trial, eating higher salicylate foods than normal, and so far I’m quite excited by the results!

I have eaten lettuce, which usually makes me sleepy and foggy headed and summer squash, which makes me feel hypoglycemic, sleepy, and brainfogged. So far, the cayenne seems to be preventing my typical reactions to moderate salicylate foods, and I’ve been feeling pretty amazing!

I’m keeping track of my food intake and reactions during this experiment and will report back at the end of my trial.

Should You Try it Too?

Short answer – well, why don’t you wait and see how it goes for me?

Everyone is different and while this is going well for me so far, I don’t want anyone to take risks that may not be suited to their particular health configuration.

While chili peppers are considered higher in histamine, I find that my histamine bucket is mostly filled up by other food chemical reactions, and that the histamine itself in foods, isn’t what seems to cause me the most problems. That will not be the case for everyone.

I also realize that for some people, salicylates can cause anaphylaxis, so if that’s you, of course you’ll want to be very cautious. I’ve had a lot of respiratory reactions from food, but never anaphylaxis. Although my salicylate reactions are scary at times (especially the erratic heartbeats), I’m willing to risk some discomfort if it means I can expand my diet, enjoy more flavor, and work on repairing my gut dysbiosis.

Be sure to check back in a month for my full report on my experience with this process – and in the mean time, best of luck with your own health journey.

If you too are a member of “the Messed Up Gut Club,” here are a few more posts you might want to check out:

Here it comes, the obligatory, but well-intentioned and heartfelt disclaimer….

This article does not intend to diagnose any health conditions or offer treatment advice. Please consult with your health practitioner before trying any supplements or making any dietary changes.

And a request or two for your assistance…

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