Chemwatch’s Sree Malakar is celebrating the completion of her PhD from Monash University – Central Clinical School, Gastroenterology Department.


Sree investigated the effects of naturally-occuring food chemicals salicylates and whether they influenced the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sufferers.


“Most patients with IBS, a common functional gastrointestinal disorder, blame food as the causative agent for their symptoms,” she said.


“Most attention has been focussed on poorly-absorbed carbohydrates and gluten, but naturally-occurring bioactive food chemicals like salicylates have also been suggested to induce symptoms or even cause IBS.”


The salicylate content of over 100 foods was measured using highly sensitive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), with Sree finding that the salicylate content of a number of foods varied considerably from previously published levels.


“For example, beetroot contained 26.96 mg/kg compared to 1.8 mg/kg reported previously,” Ms Malakar said.


The study saw 10 patients split into groups based on whether they were sensitive to salicylates or not, and then fed a majority of foods from the high-salicylate food group and then the low-salicylate food group for two-week periods (with a break in between). Symptom responses were compared using visual analogue scales.


“There was no difference in symptoms between high and low salicylate diets found, except in one patient in whom abdominal symptoms were markedly worse on the high salicylate diet, and another with only IBS,” she said.


Whilst the study found there was no statistically significant correlation between foods containing high and low salicylate levels and the severity of IBS symptoms for the participants in the study, there are recommendations for future studies.

“Evaluation of larger salicylate-sensitive IBS and IBS populations is warranted to define clinical predictors of response and role of reducing dietary SA intake in clinical practice,” Ms Malakar said.