The list of foods that scare us seems never-ending, and the sole treatment still seems to be to avoid those foods like the plague. When I started practicing medicine in 1979, I saw a lot of patients with hypoglycemia and allergies. Eating every 2 hours to keep the blood sugar up and avoiding suspect foods seemed to be the best available treatment options.
In my Naturopathic courses I learned about lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity, histamine intolerance, oxalate overload, and the long lists of foods that patients had to avoid. My previous medical training paid no attention to food allergies. To this day, there isn’t a Nutrition specialty in medicine.
I recently took another look at oxalate sensitivity include reviewing a new book called Toxic Superfoods by Sally Norton. I was intrigued because I quickly realized I had been chowing down on a lot of oxalate foods lately and was noticing some interesting foot pain. So, I dove into the topic.
What Are Oxylates?
We have unconsciously overloaded ourselves with oxalates, and moderation may be all we have to do to fix the problem.
Oxalates are organic acids primarily found in plants, but some can be synthesized in your body. High levels of oxalates are associated with countless sins. They can disrupt mitochondria, which interferes with energy production; deposit in soft tissues throughout the body causing pain and tissue damage; deplete minerals, which leads to countless mineral deficiency symptoms.
So, why did God and Nature create something so horrible? Oxalates are part of the plants’ protection against being eaten. Animals find high oxalate plants relatively unpalatable and avoid them. Humans, to avoid the bitterness of some oxalate plants cook them, which reduces the oxalate load.
However, our more recent craze to drink 40 ounces of green juice a day may have tipped our oxalates very much out of balance. Vegetarians, vegans and raw food faddists eat a tremendous amount of plant food that can increase their oxalate burden. Keto dieters who switched to high oxalate almond flour for baked goods added to their oxalate load.
And chocolate – especially the non dairy cocoa/cacao kind can give you an oxalate high.
Problems With Modern Cooking + Our Diets
Does the ever-popular microbiome play a role in oxalate overload? It turns out that it does. Oxalobacter formigenes is a gut bacteria the digests oxalates and renders them harmless. With our incredible overuse of antibiotics this and many other good bacteria once found in our digestive tracts have vanished. Also, we’ve abandoned traditional cooking and eating methods that would naturally reduce oxalates in certain foods (soaking, fermenting, etc.) In NYC during a seminar I asked how many participants cooked their meals from scratch. Nobody raised their hand. One woman commented that she stored her shoes in her oven.
Being Aware Of What You’re Eating
I had been eating spinach, beet greens, beets, peanuts, cocoa (dark chocolate), and star fruit. I did cut back on these foods and my feet did feel different. I had thought the food problem was that my high foot arches were listing to the outside, so I began to wear orthotics in my sneakers that seemed to help. But my feet felt even better after lowering my oxalate intake. All-in-all, it’s very useful to know if you are eating a high oxalate and experiment to lower your intake and see if you notice any changes.
- Cocoa powder
- Sweet potatoes
- Star fruit
- Beets/Beet Greens
- Swiss chard
- Turnip Greens
People with inflammatory bowel disease have an increased risk of developing oxalate kidney stones. This is partly because they are unable to regulate the amount of oxalates they absorb through a leaky gut. Similarly, elevated levels of oxalate have been found in the urine of people who have had gastric bypass surgery because they have excess undigested fat that absorbs oxalates. Most practitioners would say that people who have taken antibiotics or experience gut dysfunction may benefit more from a low oxalate diet. But I would say to treat yeast overgrowth and improve the microbiome to stop excess oxalate absorption. Actually, that’s my health philosophy in a nutshell. Instead of stopping a food, take nutrients to help your body naturally “digest” that food. And there are ways to treat oxalate sensitivity.
There’s another important fact about plants that can explain the oxalate challenge that we are now going through. In nutrition and herbology classes I learned that for every toxin in a plant, there exists the antidote. Oxalate is rendered harmless by binding to calcium, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. However, since the soil is depleted of all these minerals, except calcium, the oxalates are allowed to roam free in our body depositing their crystals where they may. Calcium oxalate, when trying to exit the body in excess, causes kidney stones. Thus, high oxalate plants are getting a bad rap because we don’t have the necessary minerals to take care of their toxins.
Looking At Our Structures For Answers
The medical treatment of people with high oxalates is to take calcium supplements when they eat high oxalate foods to help bind the oxalates. But it’s likely that the excess calcium can cause calcium carbonate stones.
Any many people have reported success with additional magnesium supplementation to bind oxalate, and remove it from the body through the stool. At the same time, magnesium directs excess calcium to the bones and teeth. Thus you don’t have excess calcium and oxalates meeting in the kidney to cause stones.
Effects of Imbalanced Oxalate Intake:
- Oxalates bind with the body’s mineral stores, depleting them or interfering with their actions and roles in the body.
- Alter the cell membrane, affecting the flow of substances in and out the cell
- Interfere with mitochondrial function, and otherwise impairing the cell’s energy, metabolism, and ability to detoxify. Note: this interference can be ratcheted up if you are also magnesium deficient.
- Can lodge in the tissues causing pain, discomfort, and /or (further) or prolonged inflammation
- Can enter the nucleus of cells, possibly modifying transcription
- May be deposited in different organs of the body (kidneys, eyes, muscles, etc.) with a preference for inflamed tissue which may set us up for autoimmune conditions.
It amazes me how much the various conditions like fibromyalgia, food allergies, leaky gut, brain fog etc., overlap. When I discovered these associations when I worked with autistic kids, I realized that the ultimate treatment had to be supplying the body with absorbable minerals and vitamins so that the body could take better care of itself than we could with our fad ideas and theories.
Be aware that these symptoms have been identified in people who have a genetic condition called hyperoxaluria. Also, people without this genetic condition can take excessive amounts of oxalate foods and develop similar symptoms. However, I would have to say that these extreme symptoms are rare. I’ve been practicing medicine since 1979 and I haven’t seen patients or customers with the following extreme symptoms. Nonetheless, I’m writing this blog to make you aware of oxalates and that you can modify your intake if you feel you are eating too much and might have mild symptoms of oxalate overload.
- Pain (uro-genital, fibromyalgia, joints, arthritis). Note: My personal findings on fibromyalgia and joint pain show are they commonly are tied to magnesium deficiency and yeast overgrowth
- Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), allergies. Note: Asthma’s tightening and inflammation could suggest a magnesium deficiency. COPD and allergies both could benefit from natural minerals like silver, and improvements to your gut health should be considered.
- Depression, anxiety, brain fog. Note: These symptoms can be related to yeast overgrowth, magnesium deficiency, and B-vitamin deficiency
- Poor sleep (insomnia, night waking) commonly associated with magnesium deficiency
- Brain fog that commonly starts from yeast overgrowth.
- Urination problems (frequency, bedwetting, urgency, pain, cloudiness, powdery, kidney stones, cystitis). Note: Oxalate crystals can cause physical pain and signs.
- Vulvodynia (vulva irritation). Note: I would start by treating yeast overgrowth.
- Urethral syndrome (irritation). Note: I would start by treating yeast overgrowth.
- General digestive troubles: Note: I would address yeast overgrowth first.
- Unusual stools (loose, constipated, fatty, green, yellow or orange or white, burning or not, having black or white specks, being “sandy”). Note: Fat can bind with a high oxalate diet causing these symptoms.
- Leaky gut. Note: I would start by treating yeast overgrowth.
A Low Oxalate Diet allows between 40-60 mg of oxalates a day, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Most people start releasing (dumping) oxalates well before getting down to that level. It’s important to reduce oxalate foods gradually and to continue to eat a healthy diet so you don’t release your stored oxalates too fast, which can cause symptoms.
You should begin substituting with similar but lower oxalate foods (use for example, bok choy instead of spinach). Continue lowering your daily oxalate until you finally reach a low oxalate diet of about 40-60mg per day on a 2000 calorie diet. If you have oxalate overload, like any other detox – you can feel worse before you feel better. When you treat yeast overload, you can feel worse with all the yeast byproducts as yeast dies off. When you stop eating excessive amounts of oxalates, your body starts dumping oxalates and you can feel those symptoms as the oxalates leave through urine and skin.
Common Questions About Nutrients:
Does Ascorbic Acid Make Oxalates?
This is a question that comes up constantly in the discussion about oxalates. It’s true that oxalate is a breakdown product of ascorbic acid and since oxalate ends up in some kidney stones, the theory is that high dose ascorbic acid can cause these stones. However, it remains a theory. I’ve interviewed doctors who have been using IV ascorbic acid therapy for decades and they have never seen a kidney stone in their patients. Also, high dose Vitamin C studies trying to prove this theory have failed.
Oxalates and Magnesium
Taking calcium foods with oxlate foods apparently stops oxalate absorption and lessens risk of calcium oxalate stones. But to be on the safe side, I say, magnesium is the preferred mineral for oxalate binding. Oxalates have two negative charges and magnesium ions have two positive charges, so if oxalates are present they deplete magnesium. The population is already deficient and the oxalates make it worse. People have said to me that they are wasting their magnesium if oxalates, or calcium or stress etc., are going to use it up. But that’s silly talk, it’s the opposite, you need to take more magnesium to help deal with the oxalates as well as take care of the 80% of metabolic functions that require magnesium. Perhaps another clue to oxalate overload is a low RBC Magnesium blood test in spite of regular magnesium supplementation.
About The Author
Dr Carolyn Dean MD ND is the author of over 50 books including best seller The Magnesium Miracle and other noted publications. Dr Dean is committed to helping anyone understand more about nutrients, their requirements in the body, and ways to promote health and vitality in a proactive manner.