On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Raspberries Can’t Replace Your Bottle of Aspirin

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is there salicylic acid in raspberries? And if so, isn’t that the active ingredient in aspirin? An article I read said that having raspberries could be as effective as drugs for pain from conditions such as arthritis or gout. If true, is there any concern for those of us who are told to avoid aspirin because of its effect on blood-clotting? -- D.F., Hayward, California

DEAR D.F.: Salicylic acid (salicylate) is indeed present in raspberries, along with a variety of other plant foods including fruits, vegetables and spices. Naturally occurring salicylates serve a variety of functions in the plant world, including acting as a type of plant hormone. (Now you know why some florists advise customers to put an aspirin in a vase of cut flowers to help them last longer.)

The active ingredient in aspirin is a type of salicylate -- in that case, acetyl salicylic acid. So, if the compounds are similar, can the salicylic acid in raspberries (or other foods) provide pain relief “as effective as drugs,” and do those on anticoagulants need to be concerned? The answer to both issues is “doubtful,” because of the relatively small amount of the substance present in food.

Studies rank the salicylate content of foods from “negligible” to “very high.” The “very high” ranking applies to foods containing more than 1 milligram per 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving. A 100-gram serving of raspberries, which would be approximately 50 berries, is estimated to have about 5 milligrams of salicylate. Compare this with a single adult aspirin tablet, which contains 325 milligrams of acetyl salicylic acid.

Curious thing about advertising: They may tout the presence of a compound and all that it can do, but there is often this disconnect when it comes to the amount of the compound per serving. Often, that amount isn’t up to the task.

I don’t want to knock berries; they are great foods. Red raspberries, like other berries, have a host of healthful phytochemicals. Consider that pain can have an oxidative component in addition to its inflammatory component. Berries provide antioxidants along with their (admittedly low) dose of salicylate. Bottom line: It’s fair to say that eating raspberries can help the cause of some types of pain, but over the line to claim that they can be as effective at pain relief as a pharmaceutical agent designed, dosed and chosen for the job.

As for the coagulation (blood thinner) issue, a small amount of salicylate is not much to be concerned about. It would depend, of course, on how much you eat, what other food sources of salicylate might be in your diet, and how tightly your blood coagulation needs to be monitored. An appropriate dose of an anticoagulant is usually determined through a series of blood-clotting tests, and from that point on, it is important not to make changes in diet or medication that would affect clotting. There are often periodic tests done to be sure that coagulation remains within specific limits. The person to consult is the physician who handles this aspect of your health.

Finally, certain forms of salicylate are used in processed foods and drinks as preservatives and flavoring additives. There are non-food uses as well, with salicylates being found in many personal care products. As a final note, some individuals are sensitive to salicylates and need to limit their intake. More info on salicylate intolerance, and a list of food sources, can be found at tinyurl.com/yagos9kc.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.