Ouch! Oxalates and Pain

We eat “healthy” foods assuming they’re strengthening our bodies, but what if these nutrient-dense foods are debilitating us?
Picture sitting down to a meal of mixed greens with sliced beets, roasted sweet potato chunks and almonds, drizzled with a tahini dressing. Healthy, right? Maybe for some, but for others this whole foods meal is high in oxalates and could be the root cause of pain and inflammation.
Oxalates are natural substances found in plants, animals and in humans, but with no apparent benefit to the body (at least not one that has been identified). These “shards of glass”, as they’re called, generally pass through the body unabsorbed without causing a problem – IF we have the right bacteria. A healthy gut replete with all the right bacteria can break down the oxalates and excrete them right out. However, if we have leaky gut or are missing those gut microbes designed to break down the oxalates, such as oxalobacter formagenes, these sharp and pointy molecules can cause a lot of problems.
What kind of problems? Kidney stones, for one. Kidney stones are the most common result of oxalate buildup. One chemical name for a kidney stone says it all… calcium oxalate. A kidney stone is our body’s attempt to correct an imbalance, an ultimate red flag: Out Of Balance Here!
In addition to getting broken down by the Oxalobacter formagenes, oxalate excess is excreted by the detoxification pathways through the liver, lungs, and skin. However, oxalates also deplete glutathione, which is the key nutrient player in the detoxification process. So, in a revolving door kind of way, oxalates break down the very system we need to break down the oxalates and other toxins in the body. As a result, excessive oxalates also increase the body’s toxicity and, therefore, susceptibility to other diseases.
We can be diagnosed with a condition, and never make the connection to high oxalates because oxalate build-up can go unnoticed. Hyperoxyluria is a term used when high oxalates are found spilling in the urine, but our bodies can also be high in oxalates but have normal urine tests. This stealth molecule in high amounts can “ignite the immune system’s inflammatory cascade” without us even knowing it.
More and more disease states point to excessive oxalates, and more and more doctors are asking the question, “Could this condition be from high oxalates?” Pain is one of them. High oxalates are associated with Fibromyalgia, Joint Pain, and Chronic Fatigue.
Sadly, as we age, we lose the amount of oxalobacter formagenes, which makes it more difficult for us to break the oxalates down.  On top of aging being our enemy in the mission of oxalate breakdown, antibiotics also destroy our friends, the oxalobacter formagenes. So, oxalate buildup can begin even after a single round of antibiotics.
In spite of what appears to be a challenge in getting rid of oxalates, there are some things we can do to help the process.

  1. Repair the gut – Replenish the bacteria that degrade oxalates. In addition to oxalobacter formagenes, Lactobacillus acidophilus and bacillus break down oxalates.
  2. Choose arugula over spinach and pumpkin seeds over sesame seeds, but GO slowly. A cold-turkey approach to eliminating oxalates from the body can create more problems. The body can release oxalates from storage too quickly so take your time.
  3. Boil your veggies. Boiling high-oxalate foods greatly reduces the oxalate content, much more than steaming or baking.
  4. Nourish detoxification pathways – We need the detoxification systems running smoothly. Do a detox program, which will also help restore the gut, or consider adding a glutathione supplement to support your detoxification pathways.

Remember pain can have many root causes. Let’s make sure that gut is working well, and scratch high oxalates off that list.
Here are a few examples of high oxalate foods:

  • Almonds
  • Tahini
  • Sesame seeds
  • Beets
  • Beet greens
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potato
  • Swiss chard
  • Soy milk
  • Miso
  • Starfruit
  • Rhubarb
  • Figs
  • Potato
  • Tomato
  • Quinoa
  • Most grains
  • Most legumes

Download you healing foods checklist at www.drjoetatta.com.
In health
Dr. Joe Tatta, DPT, CCN

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