The Damaging Effects of Oxalates and Their Role in Inflammation and Disease
Oxalic acid is an organic acid formed in cell metabolism and is the most acidic organic acid in the body. It is also referred to as “oxalate”. When not made by the body, oxalate is commonly found in plants which include leafy greens, berries, fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Oxalate is thought to be made by plants as a defense mechanism to preserve proliferation and to deter their consumption by animals and humans—think the bitter tastes, or the way in which many seeds are not able to be digested without sprouting and/or soaking. Once ingested, oxalates bind to minerals to form compounds, including calcium oxalate and iron oxalate. Binding usually occurs in the colon, but sometimes occurs in the kidneys and other parts of the urinary tract. Most people eliminate oxalate compound easily in their urine or stool. While it is common to have some oxalate in a normally-functioning system, too much can lead to several negative effects or health symptoms which will be discussed here.
Oxalates can be formed in the body through three primary sources:
- Cell metabolism
- Chronic exposure to fungal and yeast organisms
Why Are Oxalates Problematic?
Oxalates are so acidic, that they are capable of impacting many soft tissues resulting in chronic and debilitating pain. Here are a few conditions in which oxalates should always be considered as reason for causality:
- Kidney stones. There are several types of kidney stones, the most common of which is calcium. However, oxalic acid kidney stones are not uncommon, and are the result of the accumulation of oxalates in the kidneys. Oxalate stones can become very large and deeply imbedded in the kidney tissues, often referred to as staghorn kidney stones. Patients who have these stones may have a genetic disorder predisposing them to accumulate oxalates when foods high in oxalates are ingested.
- Muscle and connective tissue pain. Oxalates can accumulate in these tissues, as well as in nerve tissue, leading to chronic pain and mobility issues. If you have a muscle or tissue injury that never resolves or chronic foot pain, often, oxalates can be to blame.
- Interstitial cystitis and vulvar pain. These are extremely painful, debilitating, and aggravating conditions, many times mimicking acute urinary or vaginal infections. If this type of pain plagues you, and your doctor fails to culture bacteria in your urine, rest assured that you are not losing your mind! Most frequently, this particular condition results from oxalate accumulation from chronic yeast or mold exposure. If this is the case, of course, the underlying cause (mold) must be treated by eliminating the exposure and detoxing the body.
While those symptoms listed above are a few of the more common manifestations of high oxalates, other manifestations, which include those that have been noted in children, are as follows:
- Sandy and grainy stools
- Eye Pain (eye poking in some children)
- Body aches, Fibromyalgia-type muscular pain
- Moodiness, irritability, and aggressive behavior- often seen in autism
- Tendon pain, trigger point tenderness, increased tension in muscles with movement
Diagnosis of Oxalate Issues
While there is some importance in determining if high oxalates are primary (genetic) or caused by other factors, such as foods, the main takeaway is that they be identified, and reduced in all cases. The biggest difference is that foods that are high in oxalates should be continually avoided in primary cases, whereas in those situations caused by fungal/yeast overgrowth, these particular food avoidances may be temporary.
Currently, the best and most affordable test to do to determine if oxalates are a problem is the urinary organic acids tests. Not only will this show the levels of oxalates, but it will also show if, indeed, there is yeast/mold overgrowth going on in the body. Extremely high levels of oxalates in the urine are more consistent with genetic tendencies.
High Oxalates, Mold Exposure and Candida/Yeast Overgrowth
Not much has been directly studied in regards to high oxalate levels and mold exposure, but there are significant testing correlations between mycotoxin accumulation in the body and oxalate issues. As a matter of fact, some molds produce mycotoxins that then produce oxalates which directly affect the kidneys—namely ochratoxin which is a metabolic byproduct of Aspergillus and Penicillium, molds that are indicative of water damage when found in indoor spaces. Ochratoxin affects kidney function by inhibiting protein synthesis, disrupting DNA and RNA, and inhibiting enzymes in the kidneys. Thus, if high oxalates are found to be plaguing your health, one of the easiest next steps is to test your environment to see if the air you are breathing might be contributing to that issue.
Oxalates levels increase with Candida and yeast overgrowth as well. Candida messes with the tight junctures in the small intestine creating “leaky gut.” Leaky gut in turn allows more oxalates contained in food sources to accumulate in the body, rather than be metabolized and excreted. Candida has been found surrounding the oxalates within kidney stones. Additionally, studies on autistic children with high oxalates have shown lowered levels when antifungal treatments were used and when Candida is specifically addressed.
Treatment of high oxalates, once found, involves several steps:
(Note: It is recommended that very high levels be treated slowly, as too rapid breakdown can lead to an oxalate “dump” which can actually increase pain and symptoms.)
- Getting rid of the mold and yeast in the body. If the environment is problematic it MUST be addressed. If Candida is present, that also must be treated.
- Reducing foods high in oxalates in the diet. There is a huge list of these foods, and while taking them all out may be very difficult to do, we recommend removing those on the very high end of the list and to avoid eating multiple foods daily with moderate levels. Some of these high-oxalate foods include soy, almonds, spinach, kale, and dark chocolate. A complete list of high oxalate foods may be found on the Great Plains laboratory website.
- Boiling or cooking high oxalate foods such as spinach, chard, and sweet potato to help reduce the soluble oxalates by up to 50%. This may not be enough reduction to help in severe cases.
- Supplementing with Vitamin B6 on a daily basis. B6 helps the enzyme that breaks down oxalates. Dosages may vary, but for the intent of this function, I would go with a moderate dose of 10-25 mg daily. Pure Encapsulations B6 in the form of P-5-P is a good one.
- Supplementing with Calcium Citrate, balanced with magnesium, to help avoid oxalate accumulation. There are easily-administered chewable forms available for children, with dose ranges from 125 to 500 mg. This should be taken before meals using higher doses if foods higher in oxalates are being consumed. Both Carlson’s and Kirkman’s make the chewable form. For pill form, Klaire Labs and Ecological Formulas are excellent.
- Staying properly hydrated. Drinking purified water, at least half of your body weight in ounces daily, reduces oxalate accumulation in tissues.
- Taking probiotics. While these are a part of an anti-yeast program anyway, they should never be missed when addressing oxalates. Therabiotic Plus by Klaire Labs and Orthobiotic by Orthomolecular Products are good choices. Additionally, a prescription probiotic, VSL #3, contains a particular type of organism called oxalobacter formigenes. This bacteria lives in the colon and relies solely on oxalate for energy. Therefore, insufficient oxalobacter is thought to encourage elevated oxalate levels. Supplementing with VSL #3 can be used to help reduce levels.
- Taking Epsom salts baths. I suggest 2 cups of Epsom Salts in bathwater. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes, and rinse off afterwards.
Successful adherence to an antifungal regimen (air and diet), low oxalate foods, and good supplemental scheduling can make a remarkable difference in pain levels and your body’s ability to function optimally to excrete oxalates.
Did you find this article helpful? Please comment below or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find or purchase any of the supplements listed above, please go to Wellevate.com/susantanner. All mold testing products can be found at Micro Balance Health Products.
I’m going to try this. I stumbled across oxalates while looking for supplements for hyper mobility/EDS. Magnesium helps, apparently, but not when oxalates are high. I’m lactose intolerant so I don’t get calcium from dairy, I thought I’d be getting it from leafy greens! I have a morning smoothie which contains almond milk, raspberries, spinach, a chocolate flavoured vegan protein powder and flax. I thought I was being super healthy but turns out this smoothie could be the real cause of joint & muscle pain, not just hyper mobility. Thank you for the tips. Here goes!
Good luck! If you are sensitive to oxalates and start consciously eliminating them, you should feel a real difference fairly quickly. Spinach is probably one of the highest oxalate containing foods, so just taking that out of your daily rotation should help. There are some low-oxalate greens powders–I know Dr. Cowan’s Garden makes a good one. That may be a safer option for your smoothies.
The ingredient list for VSL #3 doesn’t appear to list oxalobacter formigenes. Does it have it?
Has VSL #3 manufacturing changed (is it still a good product)?
I will check on it. There is a Rx ONLY formula and one available without a Rx. The RX formula is the one that contained the correct bacteria for oxalates.
Not sure if you’ll see this, Julie, but you are correct. The developer and patent owner of the *formula* for VSL#3 has “parted ways” with the company. He retained the rights to the formula, but not the product name. He’s started his own company and is selling the original formula (the one that had been extensively tested) under the brand name Visbiome (in North America), with a different name in Europe (Vivomixx?).
If you do an internet search on ‘VSL#3 changed formula’, or search on Visbiome you’ll find plenty of articles.
Can this condition make you have hairloss dark circles under eyes ?
The most common symptoms are:
pain in the body
burning with urination (interstitial cystitis)
burning with bowel movements
That is not to say that hair loss and dark circles are NOT caused by oxalate build-up, but they are not generally obvious signs. It has been shown in many studies that people with hypothyroidism suffer from oxalate build-up, though, and distinguishing signs of hypothyroidism can be hair loss and extreme fatigue.
Nancy, I found your comment while searching for ‘Oxalate dumping hair loss’. I’m in the midst of extensive oxalate dumping and seem to be losing hair at an alarming rate, and my scalp has become noticeably visible. I never believed this would be possible, as every hairdresser I ever saw (when younger) said I had enough hair for three people. I’ve always had dark circles, so I can’t say whether this is oxalate related, but there for sure seems to be a connection with hair loss. I’m hoping against hope that once I turn around the oxalate issue my hair will stop thinning so badly.
Thanks got the info.I’ve never heard of oxalates
Thanks for the great information. These articles have been a wealth of knowledge for me. As I regain my life back from a 5 year mold exposure. I appreciate the wisdom and insight. Thanks for sharing.
Some of the foods you have listed are wrong. Blueberries, for example, are Low Oxalate. Ditto for zucchini.
As far as the reduction – there is a difference between 30% and 50%. A 30% reduction is what the testing labs have been reporting. Since an item like spinach can have oxlates in 4 digits – a reduction of 30% will not reduce them down to a ‘safer’ level – which is under 50 MG of oxalates for an item.
Berries are not low oxalate foods, but it is up for debate about whether they are high or moderate. Tufts Medical Center and the Oxalosis and Hyperoxaluria Foundation classify blueberries and blackberries as moderate-oxalate fruits, while the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center counts them as high in oxalate. Zucchini are also classified high oxalate by Tufts in that they contain over 10 mg per serving. You are correct in the fact that some foods are reduced more than others with cooking. Cooking is always better than raw. Boiling spinach seems to be the most helpful way to reduce oxalate levels, but the water retains the oxalate, so it should be discarded. The article definitely only scratched the surface and we hoped it would make people curious to learn and explore more. Great Plains Labs is an excellent source of information on oxalates if anyone would like to dig deeper.