Could Salicylates be Responsible for your Migraine?

by | Jan 23, 2022 |

I thought I was doing everything right diet-wise. I made sure to eat my “five-a-day”, adopted a longevity-bound Mediterranean style of eating (heavy in tomatoes, olive oil, spices and nuts), went wild with herby condiments and drank copious cups of soul-soothing tea throughout the day. Unbeknownst to me, what I was putting in my mouth was actually contributing to the debilitating migraines I was suffering due to a chemical found in high quantities in most of the food and skin products I was consuming.

Salicylate sensitivity is a condition where consuming salicylates, either orally or topically, can induce a reaction in one or more systems of the body (e.g. skin, airways, gastrointestinal, nervous system). While most people don’t have a problem with salicylate-containing foods, products or medicines, research shows that about 60% of people with food-induced headaches or migraine may be affected by the pervasive chemical (1). 

As someone who has suffered persistent migraine since puberty, it was interesting to learn that migraine is a commonly reported symptom of salicylate consumption (2,3). Thanks to my dietitian who pointed out that a chemical sensitivity could be at play, I underwent an elimination diet to confirm whether this was indeed the case. After a few months of detective work, it was established that salicylates did indeed play a factor in my migraine, thus I had to be mindful of my intake of this chemical from now on. 

In my experience, though it was tough to say goodbye to some of my favourite foods and drinks, it was worth it in the long run for the significant reduction in migraine and other symptoms I had endured. I’m still able to eat foods that fall in the low to moderate salicylate food list categories, as well as some high if I’ve had a fairly “low sal” week. However, if I do eat something in the very high list, I pay for it later with a quick return of symptoms.

One should of course be mindful that the cure can sometimes be worse than the condition, so as always, it’s up to the individual to assess whether a drastic change in lifestyle outweighs the severity of their symptoms. Either way, finding out that salicylates are contributing to your migraines is empowering in itself, providing a sense of control that is so often missed by those suffering this neurological condition.

Brigid xx



(1) Loblay RH, Swain AR. ‘Food intolerance’. In Wahlqvist ML, Truswell AS, Recent Advances in Clinical Nutrition. London: John Libbey, 1986, pages 169-177.

(2) Gray, D. “Food and Drug Administration Memorandum, glutamate in food.” Fed Regist 61.178 (1996): 48102-48110.

(3) Wantke F, Götz M, Jarisch R. Histamine-free diet: treatment of choice for histamine-induced food intolerance and supporting treatment for chronic headaches. Clin Exp Allergy. 1993 Dec;23(12):982-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.1993.tb00287.x. PMID: 10779289.


DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 


  1. Antonia

    Hi Brigid,
    Very interesting article. Thank you. I get almost daily migraines and I am no spring chicken. Recently, I have become very congested, clearing my throat and losing hearing after eating foods with salicylates. I will be making sure to write down what salicylate foods set off the congestion and if a migraine follows. This evening it was Brussels sprouts with the congestion coming on very strongly about five minutes after consumption. It would be incredible if avoiding salicylates reduced my migraines. No more olive oil, much as I adore it.

    • brigid

      Hi Antonia. So sorry to hear you suffer from migraine, it’s just horrid, isn’t it. Hope you’re able to identify what your triggers are. If you think foods chemicals may be contributing to your migraine, highly recommend seeing a dietitian if possible, I found seeing one to be very helpful in pinpointing what chemicals were the biggest problem for me. The elimination diet is a challenging process but totally worth it for the reduction in migraine episodes!


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