Do you experience pain from oxalates…guess where they come from? Uh, well, nooooo…not an ox. But, if you have joint pain, other pain, kidney stones, or autoimmune disease, you may want to find out if your pain is from oxalates and read the rest of this blog.
Oxalate or oxalic acid is a naturally occurring substance found in plants, animals, and people. They come both from eating certain foods as well as your body produces them. Your body also produces them inside your cells or when substances convert to oxalates under certain condition, such as being low in certain nutrients, like vitamin B1 or B6.
Oxalic acid in high doses if very acidic and chelating and can be toxic if ingested. As a organic substance, it actually is used commercially in laundries as an acid rinse because it removes rust and ink stains as well as a scale remover from automobile radiators.
Most individuals do not have oxalate issues and only absorb 1-2% of available oxalates. However, under certain conditions, individuals can absorb way more oxalates, leading to issues of accumulation. Oxalates are crystals that look like shards of glass, so you can imagine if they are deposited in your muscles, bones, and tissues, that it can get painful.
Individuals who have issues with oxalate accumulation may experience inflammation and pain. Several factors can make an individual not tolerate oxalates very well including:
- Antibiotic use
- Overconsumption of high oxalate foods
- Fat malabsorption (fat binds with calcium and calcium cannot bind the oxalates, so they float into circulation and tissues)
- Genetic mutations
- Leaky gut
- Microbiome in the gut does not contain sufficient bacteria needed to digest oxalates.
- Micronutrient deficiencies
Oxalates affect your energy system, those tiny mitochondria, which are the powerhouse manufacturers of energy in your body. As mitochondria are throughout all your body’s systems. High levels of oxalates inside cells can damage mitochondria, leading to diseases associated with mitochondrial dysfunction such as seizures, obesity, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and others.
High oxalates can also lead to oxidative stress which can lead to inflammation and pain due to the accumulation of these spiny oxalates in tissues. They can also deplete antioxidants and glutathione in the body, which are important in protecting the body and eliminating free radicals, and in managing oxalates.
Oxalates bind to minerals in your body, particularly calcium and magnesium, and iron which makes them unavailable. Therefore, sometimes they are referred to as anti-nutrients. No wonder why it’s used in laundries to remove iron rust stains!
Sulfation is a process needed by the body for many digestive processes, gut integrity, and neurodevelopment. Low sulfate in the body can result from high oxalates or actually cause it. Low sulfates in the kidney can lead to kidney stones due to not having enough sulfate to remove oxalates through the kidneys.
Hyperoxaluria is a condition where oxalates when they accumulate are found in high levels in the urine. This is one of the primary reasons for kidney stones. But, it’s not just about the kidneys. So, here are other signs or conditions potentially associated with oxalate issues:
- Brain fog
- Burning feet
- Cloudy urine
- Digestive issues (gas, bloating, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis)
- Frequent headaches
- Kidney stones (calcium oxalate kidney stones are when oxalates bind to calcium)
- Autoimmune Disease (such as hypothyroidism)
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Histamine issues (rashes, hives, allergies)
What foods are considered high oxalate foods? Here are some examples:
- Berries such as blackberries and raspberries
- Grains such a quinoa, buckwheat
- Legumes such as pinto beans, navy beans, black beans
- Nuts and nut flours
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Swiss Chard
How can you find out if you have an oxalate issue? Urine testing such as an Organics Acid Test (OATs) measures oxalic acid metabolites in the urine. Interestingly, if you have an issue with yeast or mold such as candida or aspergillus, these also produce oxalate metabolites that may show up in your urine.
What can you do about a high oxalate condition? You can try a low oxalate diet. However, it is extremely important to not go “cold turkey” eliminating all oxalates if you’ve been on a high oxalate diet, or you may start dumping excessive oxalates stored in your body which can lead to complications. A great resource site is the Nourishing Hope blog.
Also, consider taking calcium to bind with excess oxalates, drink plenty of water, and limit sodium and sugar intake which may contribute to kidney stone formation. Individuals with high oxalate issues should also avoid high vitamin C intake.
So, in summary, don’t think of an ox, when you think oxalates. Oxen are animals, and in general, animal foods are low in oxalates, so not the oxalate culprits. If you think you have inflammation and pain from an oxalate issue, or you have been diagnosed with an oxalate-related condition, a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner can help you test, not guess how if you excessive oxalic acid metabolites in your urine, as well as help you with a diet including appropriate amounts of dietary oxalates, as well as micronutrient supplementation as indicated.