Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Symposium on ‘Phytochemicals’

Is there a role for dietary salicylates in health?*

The late John Patersona1, Gwen Baxtera1, James Lawrencea1 and Garry Duthiea2 c1

a1 Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, Bankhead Road, Dumfries DG1 4AP, UK

a2 Rowett Research Institute, Greenburn Road, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK


Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirinTM; 2-acetoxybenzoic acid) has been used for >100 years for pain relief and to treat inflammatory conditions and fevers. More recently, regular intake has been associated with decreased incidence of certain cancers, particularly colon cancer. After absorption aspirin is very rapidly hydrolysed to salicylic acid (2-hydroxybenzoic acid). The anti-cancer effects of aspirin may be a result of salicylic acid reducing the transcription of prostaglandin H2-synthase and thereby the synthesis of pro-inflammatory and potentially-neoplastic prostaglandins. Salicylic acid is widely present in plants and functions as a hormonal mediator of the systemic acquired resistance response to pathogen attack and environmental stress. Thus, it is present in a large range of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices of dietary relevance. Consequently, the recognised effect of consuming fruit and vegetables on lowering risk of colon cancer may be partly attributable to salicylates in plant-based foods. The present review discusses which types of fruit and vegetables are the richest source of salicylates and whether they are sufficiently released from the food matrix to modify the key cellular events associated with the pathogenesis of colon cancer.


c1 Corresponding author: Professor Garry Duthie, fax +44 1224 716629, email


* This paper is dedicated to the memory of john paterson.