Phenols are present in food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives and in highly colored fruits and vegetables, in bioflavonoids, and in cartenoids (carotene, lutein, lycopene, xanthophylls, and zeaxanthin).  Almost all foods have phenols, but in varying amounts. Salicylates are a subgroup of phenols. Salicylate is a group of chemicals related to aspirin. There are several kinds of salicylate, which plants make as a natural pesticide to protect themselves.  Foods high in natural salicylates are tomatoes, apples, peanuts, oranges, cocoa (chocolate), red grapes, coffee, all berries, peppers (bell & chili) to name a few.

Symptoms of PST/sulfate deficiency(problems with phenols/salicylates) are reddened ears, hyperactivity, inappropriate laughter, night sweats, black under eyes, excessive thirst, eczema, facial flushing, trouble falling to sleep, disturbed sleep and odorous bed clothes.  Your child doesn’t have to exhibit all of these symptoms in order to have trouble with phenols.  My son gets most of these symptoms and he not only becomes very hyper, but he starts to stim and he has trouble with emotion regulation.

One very important sulfotransferase enzyme is the one that attaches sulfate to phenol compounds, called phenol-sulfotransferase (PST). The PST is under active in the majority of autistic children. Without the PST enzyme working properly, the liver will have trouble eliminating the phenols in food.  PST is a Phase 2 liver enzyme that detoxifies leftover hormones and a wide variety of toxic molecules, such as phenols and amines that are produced in the body (and even in the gut by bacteria, yeast, and other fungi) as well as food dyes and chemicals.

Dr. Rosemary Waring found that most children on the autism spectrum are very low in sulfate due to a deficiency in the PST pathway. This detoxification pathway processes other phenolic compounds including salicylates (salicylates are a subset of phenols), artificial food colorings, artificial flavorings, and some preservatives. Besides requiring PST, research has found the salicylates further suppress the activity of any PST enzyme present, making matters worse. Food dyes also have been shown to inhibit the PST enzyme.

The problem can be two- fold: there may be a lack of phenol-sulfotransferase enzymes, or there may be a lack of the sulfates (due to the absence of or to the poor absorption of amino acids in the diet, or due to a failure to metabolize them into sulfate form).  Dr. Waring believes the lack of sulfates is the primary problem.  Since sulfur intake is low, and its oxidation is slow in many autistic children, phenols and salicylates that requires or uses up sulfate ions during its metabolism, will make the situation worse.  Tylenol is phenolic and one or two minutes after a dose of  Tylenol, the entire supply of sulfate in the liver is gone!

Eliminating the yeast overgrowth may also reduce the burden of phenolics on the body. Yeasts and fungi in the intestines can produce phenolics. Therefore, eliminating the yeast, and avoiding the phenols, salicylates and in food may reduce the strain on the PST enzyme.  Making sure there is enough magnesium should help the functioning of the PST enzyme. Yet you must be careful with the B6. Too much coenzyme B6 can suppress PST.  However, Dr. Waring found that this effect is mitigated if more magnesium is given.

There is a digestive enzyme product made by Houston Nutraceuticals that might help. Their No-Fenol product helps the body remove carbohydrates from phenolic compounds and this may make it easier for the liver to remove these phenolic compounds. This is their website, and their phone (866) 757- 8627.  My son has trouble processing phenols and this enzyme has made it possible for him to enjoy phenolic fruits and vegetables.  Kirkman Labs also sells one called Phenol Assist.

There are two ways you can relieve the toxic load in the PST pathway. One is reducing the amount of phenols and toxins entering the body. This is the basis of the Feingold Program.  The second method of enhancing the detoxification process is to supply more sulfate. This increases the amount of toxins processed out. Sulfate ions may not be absorbed well from the gut, so simply giving more sulfur directly by swallowing supplements may not produce satisfactory results. Some people have seen improvements by supplementing with the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and taurine, or MSM (methysulfonylmethane), or by using one of the many commercially available MSM creams. However, others have not found this tolerable. This may be because their body is unable to convert the sulfur to the needed sulfate form.

My son does well with Taurine and Epsom salt baths because the form of sulfur in the Epsom salts is already sulfate and readily available to the body. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate and are available at most local grocers or health food stores, Costco, Wal-Mart, or inexpensively in bulk at agricultural supply stores.  Be sure to purchase U.S.P. (United States pharmaceutical grade).

When given an Epsom salt bath, the magnesium and sulfate in the salts are absorbed into the body through the skin. Because the sulfur is already in the sulfate form, it does not need to be converted like other forms of sulfur do. Sulfate is thought to circulate in the body up to about nine hours. Any Epsom salts left on the skin may continue to be absorbed as long as it is still on the skin, offering continuous ‘timed-released’ input into the bloodstream.

I put 1.5 to 2 cups of Epsom salts in hot bath water to dissolve and then add the cold water to balance the temperature. My son will soak for about 15 minutes before I use natural soaps or shampoos. Others add baking soda and lavender oil to enhance the relaxation effects.  I give my son an Epsom salt bath at least 5 nights a week, others do less.  It really soothes and calms him for bedtime.

For more detailed information on salicylate sensitivity, symptoms and foods, visit Karen DeFelice’s website Enzymestuff at and click on “list of salicylates in food and products.

40 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for the presence of your blog. I am dealing with ADHD in my 8yo daughter, and began blogging to spread hope to other moms. I am so glad I found you! Your site is chock-full of good resources. My nephew is autistic, so I am learning double from you. 🙂 I’m going to place a link to you on my blog so others can find their way here too.

  2. […] that she is sharing what she learns.  Joanne details the issue with phenols and salicylates here and also mentions supplements which help the body process the phenols so as to minimize the effects […]

  3. I have diagnosed my son as having PST disorder- just from reading info and observing him. Do you know what kind of specialist I should go to to get blood tests, a specific diet and supplements etc… I do not think he is on the Autism spectrum, but I would like a proper diagnosis from someone who beleives that diet and supplements can halp manage his problem. Any ideas?

    • I wish I could tell you a particular test that would confirm your diagnosis, but if I knew, I’d have gotten it done on my son. Have to go with your mommy gut and empirical trial of diet changes and other remedies to confirm your diagnosis. The diet he should be on is Feingold and supplements that help are Taurine, and GABA if he gets hyperactive from phenols. Epsom Salt baths are my life saver…my son always feels better and detoxifies the phenols with the added magnesium sulfate. I also love the digestive enzyme No Pheol for when he does have foods with phenols/salicylates in it. I’ve had enough pediatrician’s tell me my son is fine and “he’ll grow out of it” to just not feel the necessity to have someone with a framed piece of paper on his office wall to tell me something I already know. Trust your instinct. Treatment for this doesn’t require a prescription med. Diet, baths, supplements will help him the most.

      • Thanks for your insights- our son is 2 but has had terrible night terrors off and on for six months. He has been on the Feingold diet with success (although I don’t believe this diet covers all phenols- as far as I know, tylenol was okay to take on the Feingold diet, but when we gave it to him, he had the worst reaction ever). Thanks to your blog, we are doing epsom salt baths, but we just wanted a little more guidance about the night terror issues and dosage for supplements – maybe you already mentioned dosage somewhere in your blog, but what would you suggest for Taurine, and GABA for a two year old? One more question- I keep seeing contradicitng lists of salicylates and phenols (any place I can get a comprehensive list- other than the Feingold program (I do have this). Thank you so much for your blog and for responding so quickly.

      • I wrote on my blog about my oldest son having night terrors starting at age two until age 9. They stopped when I took him off of all dairy. We did the GFCF diet and within a few weeks of going off dairy, the night terrors ceased. I ran blood and skin allergy tests on both sons and my oldest was allergic to cow’s milk and all dairy. One year on the diet, I retested him and his allergy was completely gone. The allergist said that by removing the allergen, he no longer had it and it was OK to reintroduce it. I started giving them digestive enzymes and then weaned them off the diet. All is well and night terrors are a thing of the past. Your son could be reacting to a food allergy. Cow’s milk is the biggie for most allergies. A doctor could not tell me why my son had night terrors and to this day my DAN doctor is baffled about the association with cow’s milk. But I believe that caused them, since nothing else I tried stopped the night terrors. I healed my sons gut while on the GFCF diet and so they didn’t react to the foods they were allergic too once they were reintroduced.
        I can tell you what we did for dosage for the supplements Taurine and GABA. Taurine at 325 mg from Kirkman Labs worked well for my son at a young age of 5. But I’ve read doctors giving up to 1,000 mg for a 5 yr old. GABA that I like comes in 250 mg capsules (Kirkman again) and you can dose until you see drowsiness. Every kid reacts differently, so I’d go low and slow on GABA. I highly recommend the book “Healing the New Childhood Epidemics, Autism, ADHD, Allergies & Asthma” by Dr. Kenneth Bock. He talks about everything but I especially like how he describes conditions and supplements with dosage.

      • I forgot to give you links other than Feingold on foods with salicylates. Remember, salicylates are a subgroup of phenols. Here are a few good ones if you haven’t seen them already.

  4. You can go to an allergist and have your son tested for allergies. You do have to specifically request chemical allergy testing (a separate blood test), and not all insurances pay for it. In the chemical testing, phenol should be one of the specific chemicals they test for, along with chlorine and several others. I just received the results of my testing and I am allergic to phenol. I suspect the same in a few of my children, so I plan on having them tested as well. All of my girls have asthma. The more I read, the more this all makes sense.
    Thanks for all the info!

  5. Hi, I’ve returned to your site numerous times for info and I can’t thank you enough for your resourcefulness.
    I have two boys, 11 and 7, autistic and ADHD respectively. We are no longer in touch with a DAN Dr because of money but we take (and have taken) many supplements, done tests and corresponding treatments and diets resulting in things being peacefully controllable until now…my autistic child is very aggressive/abusive and both boys are very moody. Nothing has really changed to warrant these behaviors. I’m desperately looking for natural treatments/doses (150lbs and 60lbs) to help these issues….any suggestions?

    • Hi Anne,

      Your 11 year old may be acting out due to hormones. Starts around 10 or 11 and the moodiness, sudden outbursts, aggressiveness can be from his testosterone. My 12 year old has been dealing with this issue for the past year. All I can recommend is GABA, magnesium and taurine since they are neuro-calming. Also provide a great outlet for lots of excercise to release stress, and pent up male energy! My kids swim and are in Taekwondo…which wears them out and the mood swings lessen greatly. Best wishes in your journey through the teenage years! I’m not looking forward to it much. 🙂

  6. Hi there, are you sure bananas are high in salicylates? Almost every list I see says bananas are very low in salicylate, though they’re high in amines. Unripe fruit will be higher in salicylates while riper fruit (gone mushy) will be higher in amines.

    • You know, I don’t recall where I got that banana’s are high in salicylates, so I revised my page to exclude them. Don’t have time to go back through all the research, but your assessment sounds accurate. (unripe fruit being higher in salicylates). Thanks for the info!

    • The book ‘The Autism and ADHD Diet’ by Barrie Silberberg lists bananas as phenolic on page 190. Perhaps they really are.

      This is a great site with a wealth of information!

  7. Interesting that tylenol also contains the phenol group and is given to many babies both before and after vaccines.

    Many phenol compounds have been linked also to cancer and are known mutagens.

    Tylenol can be expected to have phenol properties and its use for infants should be investigated urgently.

    Years ago the pheniol group was changed simply for this reason but suffered a serious problem.

    It made the drug more expensive than tylenol so the cheap option prevailed and all our babies are fed phenol compounds to save a few dollars, cents et al;

  8. Dear Joanne,

    According to Dr. Kenneth Block’s book, cysteine and taurine can increase yeast proliferation because of their sulfur. Do you know if MSM can cause the same problem?


    • Hi Rebecca,

      I have read that sulfur containing supplements can increase yeast. But in researching MSM (I’ve not tried it, but am now since I’ve learned more about it!) it states that the sulfur balances out our bodies PH and makes it more normal. It also detoxifies cells and helps eliminate Candida in the gut. So it may be worth a try, but I’d watch it closely if your or your child battles yeast.

  9. […] can exacerbate autism symptoms. Also the way his body reacts to  phenols and salicylates. (Link: I’m trying to do a little more research on food that might give him a little more of a push. […]

  10. I am so glad I have found your website. Ive been looking through it since last night. I have a 6 year old that is hyperactive and a 5 year old that is on the spectrum. I was wondering if you could tell me of any ways you get supplements into your child?? My 6 yr old has a horrible gag reflex, and is an extremely picky eater! I need to get supplements in him but I feel very defeated!! TIA

  11. We are on the Feingold diet and don’t eat tomatoes. I have been making the tomato free auce using beets and carrots. I found a website called Nomato. It’s the same stuff I’ve been making but it is so nice to be able to just open up a jar like everyone else!

  12. Hello,

    For more info on salicylates (as well as other naturally-occurring food chemicals such as amines & glutamates), go to The Fed Up site explains the diet developed by the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
    This diet picked up where Feingold left off and many people (including myself) have found it useful. As far as I know, its list of salicylate-containing foods is the most researched & up-to-date available.

    If interested in going down this path, I’d firstly read up on the Fed Up website, & buy the Fed Up book & cookbook (or borrow them from your library). I’d then get in contact with one of the “failsafe” facebook groups who can point you to a dietitian in your area who is familiar with the Failsafe/RPA low-chemical diet (mostly the dietitians are in Australia, but some of them do Skype consultations). I’d then definitely buy the RPA handbook as this is your bible on food chemicals and you’ll refer to this frequently. It’s well worth the money (although I think it can cost a lot to post if you live outside of Australia. If you connect through Facebook, I’m sure people can advise how to get your hands on a copy cheaper, or maybe an Australian could post you a copy cheaper than buying from RPA itself). The Friendly Food cookbook is also good to have.

    Admittedly, the Failsafe/RPA diet is a lot to get your head around (hence the steps above and this long post!), but it’s worth it to see an improvement in your or your child’s health.

    Best of luck!

  13. I want to say thank you so much for your website. We started the the Feingold diet 18 months ago for my hyperactive 6 year-old daughter, and saw some improvement. We decided to go further and 6 months ago we had IgG testing done and then eliminated gluten, casein, and eggs based on those results. But soon big new behavior problems arose with foods high in phenols and amines. I’ve been researching like crazy and keep coming back to your site. The information you provide on sulfation and on supplements that can help with ADHD has been so helpful! In the last month we’ve introduced digestive enzymes (a broad spectrum plus No-Fenol), probiotics (Kirkman ProBio Gold), daily epsom salt baths, and GABA (500 mg 2x/day) and we are seeing amazing results! I can’t thank you enough for sharing your knowledge and experience with the rest of us!

  14. […] can read more about phenols/salicylates in the previous link or here & here & here & here & […]

  15. We also follow Feingold diet, mostly stage 1, and Salicylates are a problem! I just purchased the Phenol Assist by Kirkman labs, just used it twice, but I am not seeing satisfactory results. My son ADHD, 9, still is having hyperactivity, really silly, inappropriate, can’t sit still reactions. Am I hoping for a miracle, or am I just not using it correctly? I gave him one capsule before his meals. He is also on a probiotic. I am also contemplating ordering the Phenol Assist Companion, as he does respond positively to Epsom Salt bath, its just not that convenient, as he doesn’t like sitting there. 🙂 Any guidance, feedback would be appreciated!! Thank you!

    • Only using it twice isn’tt enough time to see results. Keep trying it consistently. Sometimes there are bigger issues than phenol intolerance going on. His gut may need more like ridding it of yeast or bad bacteria. He may have a leaky gut than allows food particles to enter his blood stream and cause behaviors. Good that you are using probiotics. Perhaps try using a complete digestive enzyme along with the Phenol Assist.

  16. Thanks for your feedback! I just got the Kirkmans enzyme complete / dpp-iv and started using that as well but not in conjunction with phenol assist. Will try both together. I read somewhere that enzymes will deplete the effects of probiotics, so to give probiotics before the enzyme, does this sound familiar?

    • Yes, I give enzyme before start of meal and probiotic after eating or just before bed.

      • About the enzymes, I saw something positive when putting the two enzymes together like you suggested but also added the Phenol Assist Companion from Kirkman to help with the sulfate. I might have to increase the Phenol Assist to 2 capsules. But on another note, Taurine, you said your son does well with this. Can you tell me how you use it and how much? TIA!

      • Glad to hear you’re see results with the enzymes and Phenol Assist Companion. I started my son on Kirkman Labs 325mg Taurine. They have a 1,000 mg capsule, but I never felt he needed that much since he responded to the 325 mg. Keep in mind the PAC has 65 mg of Taurine in it already. I gave it in the am with any other supplements at breakfast.

  17. Thank you for replying! Your blog is instrumental for me and I really appreciate it! It’s hard to figure out if it’s the taurine helping or a combination of them in the companion supplement. I have two more sons, 5, and I’m seeing some of the same reactions with them as I do my 9 yr old when it comes to salicylates. Hereditary?? I’m wondering how much of the taurine you would give a 5 year old about 35 lbs. (small side) or the phenol assist. If at all. As always I appreciate your feedback as a mom trying to figure all this out. We’ve been down the stimulant road with my 9 year old, not good side effects. TIA!!

    • I’m not sure about the Phenol Assist for your 5 yr old since I have no experience with it, sorry. You could start out with 1/2 the 325mg dose of Taurine, sprinkled in yogurt or something. Always best to start any new supplement at a low dose and ramp up slowly. Best of luck!

  18. Hello
    Your webpage is filled with interesting information. I hope things are going well for you and your family. Question about the Epsom salt baths. Interesting about what you mentioned about the Epsom salts providing a time-release source of Magnesium and sulfur but I would think that to have that effect, you would need to wash child first and then have them take this Epsom salt bath so the mag and sulfur would remain on skin. Am I wrong? I am wondering if the soap would interfere at all with having the salts remain on the skin. Your thoughts??
    Thank you.

  19. Hi
    It has been interesting reading. We suspect our son to have possible salicylates sensitivity and are at early stages of eliminating food items that may be causing problems.
    So reading the information above is really helpful.
    another symptom that we had noticed and it’s now been almost a year is that he also has had tics/twitches mainly affecting his hands and face whereby he rolls eyes together simultaneously mouth moving in upwards/sideways in same direction, also making throaty noise as if clearing his throat or clicking noise.
    Just wondered if anyone could shed any light, advice etc
    I’m looking to find best method in helping our son naturally as possible without being labelled
    more than the hyperactivity we are concerned about the tics/twitches.
    We noticed them reduced a lot when we introduced raw juicing and smoothies
    looking forward to any advice

  20. Hi I have a 11 year old boy with ADHD and Autism he is very moody and he’s sometimes have problems sleeping lately he starts streaming out loud and it takes a long time to calm him down I am going to try the bath you Epson Salt and the diet thank you guys for sharing your story it help me a lot .

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