Lately I’ve struggled with pain in my spine. At opposing ends. Along with other aches and pains in my joints: my knees, shoulder blades, and hips.
This is surely aggravated by long hours on the computer, but the other day, after a painful flare up spread throughout my body, I started to wonder if there was more to it.
The first thing I always consider are my recent food choices. My body is sensitive to so many things. What have I been eating?
Then a light bulb went off. Oxalates.
What Are Oxalates?
Oxalate and its acid form oxalic acid are organic acids in your body. They come from your diet, from Candida, and as a byproduct of your body’s metabolism.
Your cells convert other substances into oxalates too. This includes vitamin C.
Oxalates are present in plants, grains, legumes and nuts. Their purpose is to protect the plant from being eaten, so they form into sharp crystals that can tear up the teeth of insects and bugs.
Oxalates are indigestible. So, in theory, they should pass through your digestive tract unabsorbed. Your liver should help eliminate them and healthy microbes in your gut should break them down so that they are safely released in your stool.
There is a limit to how much your body can process and if your detoxification systems are off then you may not excrete oxalates properly. Especially if you have leaky gut.
Oxalates & Leaky Gut
With leaky gut (a commonality, I believe, with endometriosis) oxalates break through the delicate lining of your intestines, and wander out to cause havoc in your body.
If your body is unable to regulate these oxalates then they are reabsorbed into your bloodstream where they bind with calcium and form into sharp crystals.
These crystals are either removed through your urinary system, or if there are too many oxalates to excrete, then your body stores them in your tissues and muscles.
Oxalates have rough edges and have been compared to shards of glass. So, if they get stuck in your body, eventually they are going to cause issues.
Oxalates get stored in your body similarly to the way that heavy metals are stored. There is a limit to how much you can store before it starts to spill over. This is your body’s breaking point, when symptoms are unavoidable.
Oxalates and Inflammation
If oxalate levels rise too high in your body then they become crystals that are very hard for your body to dissolve. This causes an inflammatory reaction.
Oxalates can be a hidden source of chronic pain and fatigue. They are often an overlooked piece in the chronic disease puzzle.
Oxalates can deposit in your brain, lungs, blood vessels, joints and bones causing dysfunction in your body.
Oxalates impact your urinary tract. Your kidneys are super sensitive to them. They have a tendency to cause kidney stones, which generally consist of calcium oxalate.
Oxalates are connected to bladder and urinary pain and interstitial cystitis (IC), a common sister condition to endometriosis.
Oxalates also rob your body of calcium, leading to bone degeneration.
Additional conditions commonly connected to oxalates in your body include thyroid disease, fibromyalgia, joint pain, insomnia, hormonal imbalances and chronic Candida.
Oxalates, Sulfates & Estrogen Metabolism
This whole topic of oxalates came back on my radar when an interesting article from Dr. Rostenberg landed in my newsfeed. He wrote about the oxalate, gut and kidney connection in regards to genetic markers and your methylation process.
The methylation cycle plays a big role in healing as it helps to break down bad estrogens and removes toxins from your body.
Oxalates create biochemical problems that impact your methylation cycle. This is because of their direct relationship with sulfate.
When oxalate levels are high, sulfate levels drop.
The sulfate molecule plays a key role in your liver’s daily detoxification tasks. If sulfate levels drop, then your body cannot use the proper pathway to detoxify. This cascades to other issues including hormone imbalances and excess inflammation.
High oxalate levels impacts your body’s ability to breakdown growth-promoting estrone and estradiol, that in excess levels, feed endometriosis.
This becomes even more of a concern with genetic mutations in play with SULTs (Sulfotransferases), which are responsible for estrone and estradiol sulfation. Highest SULT activity happens in your liver.
In review of my 23andme genetic results, I do have two heterozygous mutations with SULT1A1 & one homozygous mutation with SULT2A1. From this I gather that, as with most things, my body is more sensitive to oxalate overload. And this could very much be the culprit behind my joint pain.
Oxalates, Candida, B6 & Endometriosis
As I mentioned, oxalates can also arise in your body from Candida overgrowth.
Candida is a yeast that is naturally found in your gut. It becomes a problem when it grows out of balance with other microbes in your gut. It also becomes a problem in situations of leaky gut, where it escapes and gathers in other parts of your body.
If you have Candida overgrowth for long periods of time then your body probably has high oxalate buildup in your tissues.
Oxalates also deplete your body of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 plays a role in degrading oxalates in your body and has been shown to reduce oxalate production.
Vitamin B6 helps to regulate hormone activity, including excess estrogen in your body.
Are you seeing the connection with oxalates and endometriosis? And all the side effects that come along with this chronic condition?
Higher Oxalates in Food
Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Foods that contain higher amounts of oxalates are some of the healthiest foods, including things like berries, sweet potatoes and leafy greens like kale, spinach and swiss chard.
Almonds, cashews and peanuts all contain a good amount of oxlates, as do beans, seeds and most grains. Additional sources include cocoa and chocolate (oh no!).
As I was re-examining these pain flare-ups and what I was eating, I recognized that I was taking in more of these higher oxalate foods on a regular basis. My two biggest offenders are nuts and chocolate.
Now, it’s not practical to completely eliminate all oxalates from your diet, especially considering the fact that many of these foods provide additional nutritional benefits, however, it is good to be aware of when you’re over doing it.
Don’t stress too much about this (stress causes a host of other issues). Just be aware that oxalates could be a trigger for pain, then re-evaluate to see if you are eating a lot of foods with higher oxalate levels.
Also, it’s good to rotate your food choices. Try not to eat the same thing all the time.
If you decide to cut off oxalate foods then you should pace yourself and not cut them all out at once. If you reduce intake too quickly you could cause your body to release too many stored oxalates at once and cause a negative reaction that could last several days to weeks.
You can find a list of foods with low oxalates here.
Address Your Digestive Tract
Now, rather than stress about eliminating all oxalates from your food, the better route to resolve the oxalate issue is to address breakdowns in your digestive tract.
Your gallbladder releases bile that helps fend off the negative effects of oxalates. When your gallbladder is not working properly and releasing enough bile then we start to absorb more oxalates.
If you are consuming excess fats and have bile deficiency then this can cause elevated oxalate levels if the fatty acids are poorly absorbed.
To help keep bile flow going it’s best to avoid excess sugar and processed foods. Here are some more suggestions….
Natural Ways to Increase Bile Flow
- 15 – 20 minutes before a meal have a large glass of water — this buffers your stomach lining so that it is hydrated and stimulates stomach acid production, signaling your body to produce more bile and enzymes to neutralize
- Eat ginger before or during a meal — this triggers bile flow
- Ghee helps stimulate your liver to make new bile
- Beets, carrots and cinnamon also get bile flowing
- The Ayurvedic herb Triphala stimulates bile secretion
- The herb Coptis – stimulates your body’s natural bile flow mechanism
- Gold Coin Grass (GCG) – helps breakdown stones in your liver and gallbladder to improve bile flow
- If you feel brave then you can try doing a liver and gallbladder cleanse
As long as our digestion is working correctly, producing stomach acid, releasing enzymes and bile, then oxalates should not be a problem.
Unfortunately, this is not usually the case if you have a chronic condition like endometriosis, which commonly comes along with gut-destroying activities like prescription pain pills, NSAID’s and birth control pills. Because of this, you will likely need to supplement to support your digestive tract.
In a nutshell, if you’re going to eat something that is high in oxalates, it’s a good idea to add in digestive support. This is not something that I’ve been doing lately, and wonder if that’s the reason behind the painful flare ups.
Other Ways to Support Oxalate Removal
One of the best strategies to keep oxalates from leaking out of your gut is to take calcium-citrate with meals. This releases calcium into your gut to help bind up extra oxalates. This also helps prevent the calcium and oxalate from binding inside your kidneys.
And as mentioned, it’s good to supplement with B6 or eat more foods higher in B6, since excess oxalates deplete your body of this essential vitamin.
On the Positive Side?
I had a lot of Ah-Ha moments as I was researching and writing this post.
During the process, I accidentally hit the notes section on my computer and what popped up was the connection with endometriosis, sulfate and SULT genes. This was for a post I wrote in the past, that I forgot about.
Sometimes I feel like the universe presents me with information just at the right time 🙂
This really helped me put together the connection between oxalates and endometriosis…. and gives further clout to the notion that in order to heal, you MUST address the health of your digestive tract.
I write more about this in my book.
I hope that you found some value in these tidbits and become more aware of why your body may be reacting with pain. Why your joints are aching. Why you feel tired, even though you just ate what seemed to be a healthy meal.
Is this the first you’ve heard of oxalates? Have you done more reading on the subject?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.