“How do I know I have an oxalate problem?”

I often have questions from people about whether oxalate could be affecting them. How would you know?

The simplest indicator of an oxalate problem is the humble (and profoundly painful) kidney stone. This is actually a pretty straightforward diagnosis for your doctor. Unfortunately, the incidence of these has been steadily increasing in the western world; new research indicates

… a worldwide increase [in kidney stones] has occurred over the past few decades. In the USA, for example, the prevalence of kidney stones has progressively increased from 3.2% in 1976–1980 to 5.2% in 1988–1994 and 8.8% in 2007–2010 (refs1,2). This increase represents a nearly threefold relative increase and a 5.6% absolute increase in the prevalence of kidney stones over a 30-year period.

Given that the incidence of kidney stones has been on the rise, is it possible that other kinds of oxalate issues are also on the rise?

Interestingly enough, research shows that there are other conditions that could be related to oxalate. Microcalcifications in the breast can be oxalate based. (See here.) Breast cancer itself may be triggered by oxalate! (See here.) But it’s not just our breast tissue that is at risk: it turns out that your joints can be a location of oxalate crystals as well. (See here.) Higher oxalate intake is even associated with higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. (See here.) And thyroid issues appear to have some association with oxalate too. (See here.)

But here is the thing: you don’t have to have an oxalate related diagnosis to see improvements in your health from reducing oxalate. Perhaps the most common hallmark among my clients is that they are doing “everything right” (especially with their diet), but they aren’t feel better. That has been my personal experience as well! Long before I stumbled into the oxalate rabbit hole, I had been a bit of a nutrition geek (even though I was not yet a nutritionist). I was gluten free; I was lower carb; I was focused on healthy greens with meals and nuts for snacks. Yet, I didn’t get better.

I was told to prioritize sleep. Yet I woke up every night in the middle of the night – and couldn’t get back to sleep. How could I prioritize sleep if I couldn’t sleep?

I found that I was more and more anxious, and yet my stress levels were not obviously increasing. My thyroid was struggling, as were my adrenals. Losing weight seemed impossible. I often had aching muscles; I recovered from exercise poorly. I seemed to catch every bug going around – and then I would take weeks to get better. I just seemed that I got more and more unwell, without any clear reason why.

Honestly, I thought I had a lemon for a body.

So what could be going on? After much thought on the matter, I have realized that our bodies don’t just need fuel; we need to have the raw materials to make our own replacement parts. The truth is that we are independently mobile manufacturing facilities. The quality of the food we eat is the quality of the parts we make. So what if the food we are eating is adulterated with a toxin that disrupts the function as well as manufacture of our tissues and also drives inflammation? What if it means we aren’t making the quality parts we need?

The analogy of food as fuel gives us the impression that food just burns off. Then we can just get rid of the “ash” that is left. But if the food we eat makes the tissues we will live with, then that is a whole other matter. If our tissues are adulterated with toxins – that is a problem.

It’s like having inferior replacement parts.

Here is where opinion becomes markedly divided; is oxalate really a toxin? I would argue that the answer is yes. In fact, case studies show that we can be actually poisoning ourselves with too much oxalate intake, even from supposedly healthy dietary approaches, including green juicing. (See here, here, here, here and here.) Poisoning from rhubarb leaves, while considered a mild problem, can result in sore throat, dysphagia, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and occasionally hematemesis. (See here.) And what if oxalate is accumulating? (See here.)

With all that said – are you really doing everything right? Are you focused on high oxalate foods that are supposed to be healthy – and not feeling better? Have you been eating a mostly plant based diet? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might want to consider a slow and steady reduction of your oxalate intake, to see if you might just feel better if you get the oxalate out.

Need help with tackling your diet? You can book an appointment with me on this site. Even if you have complex dietary needs and must lower histamine, salicylate, FODMAPs or allergens, I can help!