I have seen over and over again how one man’s superfood may be another person’s poison. Fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts are without question staples of a healthy diet. But did you know that some of these highly nutritious foods might be poisoning your body and sending your defense mechanisms into chronic overdrive? Nature’s weapon of choice in this matter is a compound called oxalate.
What are oxalates?
Oxalates are molecules that appear as sharp crystals in the body, found mostly in plant foods as part of their immune system and defense mechanism. In humans, the jagged edges of these crystals cause pain, irritation, and distress.
Health Dangers of Oxalates
In a healthy person’s gut, oxalates typically bind together with minerals and are later eliminated in the stool. While this inhibits absorption of nutrients, it ensures they are excreted rather than crossing the gut into the blood stream and causing cellular distress and damage.
Oxalates may react with these minerals and bind to calcium to form crystals. They can also inhibit the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals, which may lead to mineral deficiencies.
Unbound oxalates make their way into cells where they damage mitochondria and cause fatigue. Once cell metabolism is affected, many chronic systemic symptoms can develop including stone formation, digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, and neurological conditions.
Since oxalates lodge in tissues, the pain or complications can present themselves in various ways.
Common Symptoms Associated with Oxalates
Bladder, kidney, urinary tract: kidney stones, frequent urination, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia
Pain and inflammation in joints and muscles (fibromyalgia or arthritis), headaches, eye pain
Stabbing pain in lower extremities, burning sensations in the feet
Low bone density
Fatigue, insomnia, cortisol disturbances
Mental/emotional: depression, anxiety, brain fog
Yeast overgrowth, intestinal pain
Skin: rashes, hives
How do we get oxalates?
Oxalates stem from two main sources: exogenous (outside the body; from dietary intake) and endogenous (produced within the body,; cell or tissue).
Exogenous oxalates from dietary intake
Ingested oxalates account for about 20% of total oxalate load
High Oxalate Foods
Vegetables - spinach, swiss chard, beets, okra, sorrel, rhubarb and cruciferous vegetables (i.e., kale, cauliflower, and broccoli), Potatoes and Sweet potatoes
Most legumes, soy and soy products
Nuts and seeds - almonds and cashews, chia, sesame, poppy and mustard seeds
Berries – raspberries
Chocolate and black tea
Endogenous oxalates produced within the body, cell or tissue
If ingested oxalates only account for about 20% of total oxalate load, then what contributes to the other 80% endogenous production?
Compromised gut health: Hyperoxaluria (high oxalate in urine) can be a byproduct of leaky gut.
Dysbiosis: Low levels of good bacteria and high levels of bad bacteria
Antibiotics and medications can destroy strains of bacteria that are able to degrade oxalates ex. oxalobacter formigenes
Genetic SNPs: Some people produce a high amount of oxalates. Testing for this SNPSs and supporting metabolic pathways is part of an overall approach.
Fat malabsorption: Undigested fat in the gut tends to bind with calcium, making calcium unavailable to bind with oxalate, or unavailable for absorption.
Yeast and fungal overgrowth: These organisms can trigger the formation of oxalates. Environmental exposure to mold can also contribute.
Minerals: Minerals interact with oxalates in a feedback loop. Minerals bind with oxalates and carry them safely out of our bodies, or you could say that oxalates bind with minerals making them unavailable for absorption.
Excess and/or deficiencies: excess Vit C, glycine (in bone broth), collagen (also in bone broth), fructose, yeast, and xylitol and/or deficiency in Vit B-6, Vit B1 and magnesium are also ideal circumstances for increased oxalate synthesis.
Sulfate and sulfation: Insufficient sulfate inside the kidney tubule cells may interfere with the ability of the kidneys to remove oxalates from the blood and excrete in the urine.
A Strategy for Lowering Oxalate Levels
There are several ways to determine how much oxalate damage you might have or how well you process oxalates in general, but each poses their limitations. It’s also hard to correlate oxalate consumption with symptoms (one may be asymptomatic with insidious accumulative damage that doesn’t present until a serious event like kidney failure, or symptoms may only arise after you stop eating oxalate foods).
Oxalate damage is caused by toxicity. It’s not a food sensitivity or allergen. Therefore, reversal of oxalate toxicity is a 2-step process: stop eating oxalate producing foods and excrete stored oxalates.
Supplements like Oxalate Scavenger or Oxalate Balancer, which work to correct micronutrient deficiency and support genetic metabolism, are an important tool, and it might make sense to begin a program with that support before lowering the amount through diet.
Reducing dietary intake is also very important, however changes to dietary patterns should be slow and gradual. Dumping large amounts of oxalate can damage organs and tissues. Clearing oxalates from the blood allows the body to dump them from tissues. A low oxalate diet does not directly lower body burden, but it enables the body to clear them. At the same time, eating a small amount of high oxalate food may sometimes be necessary to slow down the process.
Boiling high oxalate foods in water can reduce the oxalate concentration by a third. The soluble parts of oxalic acid that haven’t yet crystalized can leach out into the cooking water.
Taking minerals, such as calcium citrate, before meals binds up oxalates in food and stops food from adding to the burden. Correct dysbiosis and use specific strains of probiotics to break down oxalates. Yeast and fungi overgrowth need to be addressed as well.
Oxalate Scavenger is available to purchase here.
Oxalate Balancer is available to purchase here.
As there are many interactions with genetics and micronutrients, and individual oxalate absorption, Dr. Charny can work with you to address your specific issues and shape your diet for your individual wellness. Make an appointment today: 310-553-4242 or online here.