What do leafy greens like kale and spinach, almonds, sweet potatoes and quinoa have in common? All of these foods contain high amounts of a substance that can drive up pain and cause other metabolic imbalances.
While most people are completely unaware of this substance, these healthy foods can be a problem for an increasing percentage of people. I know it’s hard to believe, but even “super foods” like chia seeds, legumes, beets, and citrus can actually be driving up pain and inflammation.
What all of these foods have in common is that they are very high in a type of molecule called oxalate.
~ Over the next few months I will be posting some of the different foods and naturally occurring substances that can cause problems for people. This month I am focusing on oxalate.
What is an Oxalate?
Oxalate is a molecule. It links up with calcium and crystallizes under some conditions, including when it encounters damaged tissues. The crystals formed this way can be quite irritating and painful to tissues where they cause or increase inflammation. These crystals can be especially painful if they lodge themselves in places where they get in the way of the movement of other things through tight places.
Some examples of how oxalate’s drive up pain are the formation of kidney stones. When oxalic acid combines with calcium and iron it forms crystals. These oxalate crystals are then excreted in urine as minute crystals. Oxalates can form larger kidney stones that can obstruct the kidney tubules. An estimated 80% of kidney stones are formed from calcium oxalate. Those with kidney disorders, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or certain forms of chronic vulvar pain (vulvodynia) are typically advised to avoid foods high in oxalic acid.
Who might be susceptible to foods high in oxalate?
- Increased joint muscular pain
- Suffer from RA or OA
- Have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
- Have GOUT
- Increased urinary pain such as interstitial cystitis or kidney stones
- Suffer from vulvodynia
- Suffer from increased intestinal pain
- Experience burning or tingling in hands or feet
- Suffer with foot pain or Planter Fasciitis
- Experience muscle weakness
- Notice cloudy urine and or increased frequency of urination
- Experience headaches
- Suffer from depression, anxiety, brain fog
- Experience on going fatigue and lack of energy
This is just a partial list of possible symptoms related to possible oxalate overload.
Dietary load, nutrient imbalances and health dangers
How much and how often you eat certain foods (I like to call them trigger foods) is referred to as “dietary load”. Visualize dietary consumption like filling up a bucket. The bucket only holds so much until it overflows.
~ I think at least a couple of reasons we are seeing oxalates become such a problem is because more people are substituting nut milks for dairy and due to the increase in popularity of green smoothies and diets that are grain free or low carb.
Another concern is that oxalates bind up many other important nutrients like magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, manganese and over time our body struggles to obtain the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
When unbound to calcium oxalate impacts the cell membrane by lipid peroxidation and oxidation. This interferes with the master anti-oxidant, glutathione. In the mitochondrion it impairs many enzymes that furnish the energy for cell life.
~ Taking 150 – 300 -500mg of calcium citrate :30 minute before meals helps bind up excess oxalate.
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Allowing this to go on long term puts our health in real danger because food reactions ultimately impact the balance of healthy flora in our microbiome and causes significant tissue damage which increases leaky gut. Our microbiome is largely responsible for protective natural immunity. So once the microbiome is unbalanced we are more likely to move from chronic illness to more serious, acute disease states.
Eating foods high in oxalate isn’t the only way for oxalate to get high in cells and blood. Our bodies make oxalate on their own, especially when certain enzymes aren’t balanced in their activity because of genetic differences or because someone has deficiencies in enzyme cofactors like vitamin B6, magnesium or thiamine. Oxalate also can be generated in the body when someone is getting high doses of vitamin C or consuming high levels of fructose.
Reducing oxalate in the diet
If you’ve read up to this point and are thinking you need to stop eating foods with oxalates – not so fast!
If you stop eating all high oxalate foods at once you may experience your symptoms worsen due to dumping of excess oxalate. My advice is to go slowly and begin by removing those highest in oxalate foods first like spinach, almonds and quinoa. Reducing oxalates safely can take several months and for some up to a year.
Remember dietary load and the bucket visual? One way to think about reduction of oxalates is to keep this in mind as you select foods considering their oxalate content.
Be advised that there is not a great deal of research on oxalate. And to most medical doctors oxalates are practically an unheard of molecule. What is taught to MD’s is mainly focused on measurements in urine and hyperoxaluria. It’s important to remember that oxalates can enter and be an overload in our blood too. To date; and my knowledge there is not a blood test to measure oxalate in blood.
I have spent the last seventeen years studying and learning about the impact of specific foods, food groups and naturally occurring substances that can both negatively and positively impact health. What I have learned has transformed my own health and that of many of my clients.
Oxalates are but one of many food groups that can be a root cause of chronic health problems and disease. Keep in mind that many symptoms listed here overlap and present in other food sensitivities. so it is a good idea to work with a trained nutrition professional to help you assess exactly what foods may be problematic for you. I will be posing about some of the other, lesser known food substances that can be a source of health problems in the coming months.
Click to download my PDF: Oxalates In Common Foods List