Tomato Sauce Makes Me High

food At the start of the year, I had a dietary revelation: I am salicylate intolerant. Earlier in the winter, I’d had an acute reaction after eating a lentil dish that was loaded with tomato paste. It was not an unfamiliar reaction, but it was one I had rarely experienced since I ditched processed foods and went low-carb. For the first time it became obvious that it was a food reaction, not just a random bad day.

It wasn’t anything as obvious as an allergy: my face didn’t swell up. My throat didn’t close. I didn’t have any trouble breathing. Instead, most or all of the symptoms were neurological: my ears were ringing, I was hearing and seeing with very little comprehension, I experienced mild visual disturbances (visual static, and persistent “trails” or afterimages), and I felt disconnected from the world around me, and extremely disinclined (possibly unable) to talk. I also drew a few pages’ worth of tiny repeating patterns with a pen (something I did quite a lot as a kid, but rarely do now) The effects persisted for over 24 hours. 

I dug into the allergy literature; something in that bowl of lentils must be responisble. Once I hit on salicylate intolerance, it was obvious why I’d had the reaction. Everything I ate that day was high in salicylate. In the morning, I’d taken two aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), and over the course of the day I’d eaten grapefruit, honey, cinnamon, and peanut butter, all of which contain salicylate. Then, for dinner, I’d capped it off with tomato paste, which is very high in salicylate.

Salicylates are chemicals that plants manufacture in order to ward off bugs and fungi. They’re poisonous. Most people’s bodies process them out efficiently, and it’s hard for them to eat enough to have a reaction. A normal person would have to overdose on aspirin to experience a salicylate reaction. All I have to do is eat a bowl of chili or a pint of strawberries. I guess the difference is that I don’t process them as well. So while two or three strawberries won’t give me any trouble, I probably shouldn’t ever eat tomato sauce, honey, almonds, or anything artificially colored or flavored. The problem is apparently quite common among people with ADD, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders— and many find that reducing or eliminating salicylate from their diets can drastically improve concentration and behavior.

Another funny thing I ran into in my research was that salicylate consumption may cause sudden drops in blood glucose levels, in salicylate intolerant people. This would go a long way toward explaining why it seems so much easier for me to stick to my low-carb diet since I started controlling my salicylate intake as well: I’m not getting the crazy raging sugar cravings any more. I’m not sure why I never pinpointed those as possible hypoglycemic episodes.

I only get neurological symptoms (as far as I know– though I do get the occasional rash from scented products, which is apparently part of the same problem), but salicylate intolerance is one of those problems with a very, very long list of possible symptoms that range from tinnitus to joint pain to depression to hallucinations. Is it any wonder nobody knows about it? It would be a nightmare for a doctor to diagnose. Even I was a bit skeptical at first. I’d had that dramatic reaction to the tomato paste, but I still wasn’t sure. I went on the FAILSAFE diet for weeks– zero salicylates– and felt fantastic, though the food was awfully bland. Then I tried eating honey, almonds, strawberries, and cinnamon again. And I had the reaction again. So the reaction is consistent and repeatable. I’m a believer:  it’s really nice to know that those totally spaced-out, zero-comprehension spells I used to think of as “a weird mood” or “a bad day” are something I have some control over. Still… I miss the tomatoes.

Further reading:
What is FAILSAFE?
Salicylate Sensitivity
Salicylate Content of Foods
Salicylate Content of Foods with Amounts

Do you eat Tomatoes?

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0 thoughts on “Tomato Sauce Makes Me High

  • June 12, 2009 at 10:29 pm
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    @cordelia_naismith@xanga – yeah, I know it isn’t everyone’s cause. I just figure that since it is probably one of the only things I haven’t tried yet… maybe that’d do it…LOL I know a lot of my more irritating stomach issues stopped when I cut out red meat and dairy. Who knows?

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  • June 12, 2009 at 1:56 pm
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    @keystspf@xanga – Yeah, wheat and chocolate both give me acne. I have no idea why– I discovered it sort of accidentally when I went low-carb. That’s not the cause of everyone’s acne, but it’s certainly worth experimenting to find out. 

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  • June 12, 2009 at 1:09 pm
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    @cordelia_naismith@xanga – You get acne when you eat wheat? I have had break outs since I was eight years old and I’m 31 now and STILL get them. Never thought about the possibility of it being caused by wheat. I have tried literally EVERYTHING else to get rid of it. Perhaps I will attempt to see what happens if I stop eating whole wheat bread for a while. I should probably start keeping some kind of food diary.

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  • June 12, 2009 at 10:51 am
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    @bluejacky@xanga – Glad to be of help!  I’ve lived with
    constant tinnitus for most of my life, too. It didn’t completely clear
    up when I went on the FAILSAFE diet, but I noticed a few times that for
    once, my ears *weren’t* ringing. Also, ibuprofin is one of the things you’re supposed to avoid on the diet– I stopped taking it about ten years ago because it made the tinnitus about 10x worse. 

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  • June 12, 2009 at 10:42 am
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    @keystspf@xanga – I used to really like pizza, but I never felt well after eating it! At least now I know why! In addition to the freaky tomato reaction, I’ve discovered over my years of low-carbing that when I slip up and eat wheat, I instantly get acne. Pizza=evil. But I’m a little jealous of people who *can* eat it ; )

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  • June 12, 2009 at 10:26 am
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    I have never had a reaction that strong to any of those things, but I also tend to not eat most of them. Fresh tomatoes make me gag. I do like honey and peanut butter. I have pretty much zero tolerance for all things dairy. Occasionally I will eat cheese, but I usually regret it… perhaps between the two this would explain my aversion to pizza. I HATE pizza. I think I must have driven people crazy when I was a teenager, always complaining, “Pizza AGAIN????” I’d eat it anyway because I was hungry, and then everyone wondered why I was always miserable.

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  • June 12, 2009 at 10:11 am
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    What an informative post. Sometimes anecdotal research is much more helpful than “double blind studies with a control group”.

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  • June 12, 2009 at 7:24 am
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    I have written some pretty long posts on digestive problems and the various causes and never once run into this.  You perfectly described a list of foods I have problems with and doctors have chalked it all up to IBS.  I automatically avoid all the things you listed, or rotate them so they’re not on the same day.  I’ve completely stopped eating cinnamon, can do tomatoes or products thereof in very small amounts only once every other day, etc.  And since I spent 20 years having reaction after reaction to handfuls of lupus meds, I noticed certain foods tend to aggravate med reactions, as well.  Last year I found out I’m allergic to mega doses of ibuprofen, which is a common prescription for many conditions, and they say if you’re allergic to that, then you’re sensitive to aspirin.

    This post is uber useful to me, I appreciate you taking the time to write it out.  I can’t believe you hit the nail on my head ticcing off a list of food like that.  And btw, I have lived with ringing in my ears all~my~life.  I’ve had my hearing and ears checked several times.  We’ve been chalking that one up to cranial nerve damage from illness and injury, but I’ve noticed some days are much better than others, so it would make sense if a food allergy might be triggering that.

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  • June 11, 2009 at 9:41 pm
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    @LadyLibellule@xanga – I was really surprised at how many different food intolerances there are, once I started reading!  It seems like people who have difficult-to-treat or hard-to-diagnose autoimmune issues or neurological issues might find it worthwhile to investigate food intolerance. At the very least, it doesn’t hurt. And it might help a lot.

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  • June 11, 2009 at 8:13 pm
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    I have problems with tomatoes, but for me it’s a phenol issue… not salicylates.  I can take aspirin and eat most of the foods on those lists (including honey and licorice, which are both high in salicylates), no problem.

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