Happy New Year! I trust that this year will be a prosperous and joyous one. Let us kick it off with some nutritional advice.
Should this be the first you are hearing of oxalates let us get you all caught up before we proceed. Oxalic acid is an organic compound found in many foods of plant origin including leafy greens, nuts, legumes, grains and seeds and presents as a salt of oxalic acid. When bound to a mineral it forms an oxalate, for example calcium plus our good friend oxalate forms calcium oxalate.
They could easily take the trophy for being one of the most misunderstood and disliked compounds found in plant food sources. Associated with many diseases with kidney stones taking the lead, oxalates have been receiving a really bad rep in world of nutrition science. They have even been labelled as anti-nutrients.
But before I get into the trivial details of how oxalates and oxalic acid can reign havoc in the body, let’s start with the good news. The super power of these highly reactive nutrient villains is to impede the absorption of minerals by latching onto them. Say you consume a bowl of calcium filled spinach, the oxalates in it bind to the calcium and in the long run, you get none or trace amounts of the calcium. However, in a healthy gut – key word being a healthy gut – which is one populated by a horde of super hero microorganisms with health benefits whose super power is the breaking down of the oxalates, the oxalates are beaten hands down. These broken down oxalates are not absorbed into the blood stream but rather are flashed out and excreted in stool. This is where prebiotics and probiotics come in handy in building that super hero army in your gut.
There is though an unfortunate majority who lack or have an under population of these might gut army leaving the gut defenseless and open for invasions by whoever and whatever. For a person like this, the oxalates pass through the gut barrier and into the blood stream from where they freely roam around popping into an organ or the other at their own leisure. This would be okay because there are organs equipped for the job of clean-up crew which get rid of the extra and unwanted salts, i.e. the kidney and that whole system which excretes the oxalates in urine. But sometimes, the oxalate concentration goes above the charts and they overwhelm the kidneys. And just like the filter in your water dispenser and in your car, when it traps all that filth over a period of time, the concentration of impurities i.e. oxalates in the urine get higher and higher until it can’t be diluted anymore. So it stays in.
Subsequently with an oxalate accumulation the body comes up with a coping mechanism to lighten the kidneys’ load by getting some of the body organs to store the oxalates, one of them being the thyroid. This oxalate overload which leads to oxalate sensitivity can present with a cocktail of symptoms affiliated with kidney disorders (kidney stones), thyroid conditions (hyperthyroidism), micronutrient deficiencies and can trigger autoimmune disorders hence causing inflammatory reactions. It has even been associated with bed wetting in children.
Other conditions that have been associated with oxalate sensitivity include candida (in addition to plants and oxalates formed in the body, another source is fungus like candida. For this reason, high oxalate levels in those diagnosed with candida is not a rare find), fibromyalgia – characterized by muscle and joint aches and pains and at times with that comes chronic fatigue, brain fog, hormone imbalance, insomnia and headaches, vulvodynia – a disorder characterized by chronic inflammation and pain in the female genitalia.
Well, as is always the norm it’s not all doom and gloom so here’s what you can do to prevent and to manage a case of the oxalate overload and its consequent disorders.
  1. Limit the amounts of Oxalate rich Foods.
One way to limit the amount of oxalates in the body is the most obvious one, follow a low-oxalate diet. This necessitates a restraint but you can only limit that which you know. First get to know foods rich in oxalates which range from foods such as nuts and nut butters, chocolate, buckwheat, bran cereals and whole-wheat products, squash, sweet potatoes and potatoes, beans, green vegetables, egg plants, grapes, many kinds of berries and citrus peels.
Instead, focus on food sources with low to no oxalate concentrations including dairy, bananas, melons, cherries, lean meats, corn-based cereals, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, mushrooms and citrus juices.
This will call for your being intentional when planning meals, especially if you are prepping food for someone with a condition that renders them sensitive to oxalates. And don’t include large amounts of high oxalate vegetables when making a smoothie.
  1. Increase the amount of calcium on your diet.
This may sound like a very contradicting statement owing to the fact that high blood levels of calcium have been associated with kidney stones, but this neat trick uses the oxalates binding characteristic against it. Dietary calcium – which is what we should increase more of –  can bind to the oxalate in the digestive tract and keep the oxalates from being absorbed and keeping the stones from forming. Win win. Two to four servings of calcium rich foods and beverages every day to help neutralize oxalates. Or maybe try eating a calcium rich food at the same time as an oxalate rich food; add cheese to your spinach salad or have yoghurt with berries. Should you be taking a calcium supplement, one with calcium citrate is a safe bet.
  1. Drink the right amount of fluids every day.
Fluids are important as they flash out toxins, waste and excesses of nutrients that would otherwise flood and clog up our system. The goal should be 10-12 glasses of fluid a day with at least 5-8 glasses being water. With regard to oxalates, lemonade has some backing from studies which suggest that the citric acid in lemonade and other citric fruits may be helpful in reducing the risk of calcium oxalate stone formation.
  1. Limit the vitamin C content of your diet.
Since oxalate is an end product of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) metabolism, overconsumption of Vitamin C may increase the amount of oxalate in your urine. For persons with oxalate sensitivity who take a supplement, be sure not to consume more than 500 mg of Vitamin C daily.
  1. Get a load of Probiotics
Consumption of probiotics which encourage the growth and maintenance of healthy gut microflora is encouraged because as mentioned earlier this microflora is the army that contributes to oxalate degradation. Yoghurt and most fermented dairy products such as some types of cheese are rich in probiotics.
Remember, unless you have a condition that is linked with oxalate sensitivity, with a healthy gut oxalates shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. So your main focus should be on getting your gut in good shape.
Written by:
Ababach Tamiru
Nutritionist/ Dietician
C & P Health Centre
The Oxalates Debate

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