If you are struggling with joint pain, muscle pain, urogenital pain, headaches, burning feet, and/or general, unexplained inflammation, you may be suffering from oxalate toxicity. Oxalates are a crystalline substance found in plants, that can accumulate in our tissues, causing pain and dysfunction. Our bodies also metabolically produce oxalates. If we consume foods that are high in oxalates, and/or we have a compromised digestive system, we may run into problems.
In the latter half of the 19th century, oxalate poisoning was a well known condition, that seemed to worsen during the spring and summer months when high oxalate foods were in abundance. Unfortunately, that knowledge has been forgotten, and the only medical acknowledgement of oxalate issues is in patients with chronic kidney stones. Furthermore, the current health food movement has promoted the use of some extremely high oxalate foods as staples in large quantities, e.g. spinach smoothies and almond flour baked goods.
There are many lists available with information regarding oxalate levels in foods. Unfortunately, there are many discrepancies, which can create confusion. A good place to start is reading through this abbreviated list of exceptionally high and very high oxalate foods, which are mostly agreed upon.
Exceptionally high oxalate foods: spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, soy, rhubarb, almonds, plantains, buckwheat, amaranth, sesame seeds, cashews, peanuts, chocolate, and carob.
Very high oxalate foods: beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, blackberries, figs, kiwi, adzuki beans, black beans, pinto beans, white beans (cannellini, navy, great northern, etc.), quinoa, teff, most nuts, chia seed, hemp seed, poppy seed, and green and black tea.
Decreasing oxalates in the diet
If you eat foods that are listed above, and you have pain symptoms, you may want to consider decreasing or avoiding consumption of these foods. If you notice a change in your symptoms, then you have your first answer.
It is important to exercise caution when reducing oxalates, however. If reduced too abruptly, after a few days of feeling better, you may start to experience oxalate dumping side effects. These symptoms are very similar to over consumption of high oxalate foods, i.e. pain, inflammation, headache, etc.
There are many factors that can set someone up for struggling with oxalates more than others. These include:
- Antibiotic use: antibiotics can kill off the natural gut flora that help to break down oxalates.
- Yeast overgrowth: Yeast produces oxalates and converts collagen (the main structural protein in connective tissue) to oxalates.
- B vitamin deficiency: Certain deficiencies can cause the body to produce more oxalates.
- Magnesium and calcium deficiency: These minerals bind to oxalates and carry them out through the stool.
- Fat malabsorption: If fat isn’t being fully digested, it binds with calcium, leaving the oxalates unbound, and free to be reabsorbed.
- Hyper-permeable gut (Leaky Gut): This allows the oxalates to get into the blood stream, and increase their absorption.
Beyond the diet
A low oxalate diet is the primary and most complicated part of treating oxalate toxicity. That said, it is also important to reduce the body’s production and absorption of oxalates. This is accomplished with strategic use of supplements.
The long haul
There is nothing fast about the oxalate detoxification process. It can take 2-3 years to fully get on top of the condition. It also requires strict diet management.
As with everything, each person is unique. Some may experience extreme symptoms, while others only mild symptoms, and some, none at all. You may be a person who only needs to avoid spinach, almonds, and cashews, while others have to be extremely strict. No matter what, it is helpful to better understand what your body tolerates and what it doesn’t, and adjust your diet the best you can.
If you suspect that you may be struggling with oxalate overload, and want to explore your options further, I would be happy to work with you. I have a special interest in this topic, as it has proven to be the key to the majority of my health complaints. It is an ongoing process, but I am happy to say that I continue to see improvement over time.