If you know anything about oxalate, you probably have heard of it because of a friend with kidney stones.
However, new research is showing that oxalate could be behind many common conditions, from fibromyalgia to asthma, with its negative effects far more pervasive than previously understood.
Oxalate is a substance that is primarily found in plant foods. That means that your favourite fruits and veggies will generally contain some level of this chemical. In small amounts, this is not a problem. Your body detoxes all sorts of natural substances from your food every day! However, in larger doses, oxalate becomes a serious problem. At issue is that oxalate is a toxin: it is 3,000 times more acidic than the acetic acid in common household vinegar! This makes it a significant toxin – and your body will do whatever necessary to move oxalate out of your blood stream. However, that might mean that this serious toxin is stored in your tissues – including the muscles, nervous system and respiratory system.
Oxalate is a systemic poison – your body could be hiding it almost anywhere. Wherever it has been stored, you’ll end up with symptoms developing.
This is where the link to fibromyalgia becomes particularly interesting. What if the combination of body pain, nervous system symptoms and low energy could all be explained by one substance that is a slow poison? Research is now pointing directly to this very explanation, showing that fibromyalgia patients improve (sometimes dramatically) by reducing oxalate in the diet. A UK doctor made headlines in the past year by publishing an article which points directly to oxalate in foods as the underlying cause of fibro symptoms.
Note that this same doctor now avoids many “healthy” foods, in order to lower oxalate in her diet. In effect, the trade off between high oxalate and other nutrients means these foods are more overall negative than our current nutritional advice implies. The analogy that explains this phenomena would be a well known plant – tobacco. Tobacco is one of the best sources of vitamin K in the plant world, but no doctor would recommend that you take up chewing tobacco to get your vitamin K levels up! The reason is that we know there are too many anti-nutrients (toxins) in this plant so the benefits do not outweigh the negatives.
Does this mean that you have to eat all “unhealthy” foods and avoid all fruits and vegetables? No! The best way to eat while lowering oxalate is to pick foods that have a good nutritional profile and are low in oxalate. While this can be complex initially, once you are aware of the many lower oxalate alternatives, the diet becomes much easier.
Other research is pointing to oxalate as a factor in both autism and asthma. The prevalence of these conditions has been steadily – and alarmingly – increasing. Could it be our modern diet that allows us to eat high oxalate foods on a daily basis? Research points in that direction – showing a link between autism symptoms and a high oxalate diet. With 1 in 88 children now being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, understanding how oxalate influences neurological symptoms is an important piece of a growing puzzle.
Another interesting link has been identified between oxalate and asthma. Many people report that they experience asthma symptoms and respiratory issues when detoxing from high oxalate diets. The implication is that we could see multiple sites in the body where oxalate can be excreted (lungs as well as kidneys, liver and skin) and that oxalate toxicity could be leading to the alarming increase in asthma in our population.