Body Pain, Bladder/Vaginal Irritation & Burning Gut? The Oxalate LinkNov 09, 2022
What does body pain, bladder and/or vagina irritation and burning gut have in common? They are all common signs of oxalate sensitivity.
What even are oxalates?! I hear you say!
Not a lot of people know about oxalates. But guess what? You most likely eat them every day. Oxalates are endogenously made from, and form a component of, plants. All your lovely leafy greens - yep, most of those contain a good dose of oxalates. Your body can also produce oxalate on it’s own, and can even metabolise and convert certain nutrients, like vitamin C, into oxalate.
Common Symptoms Associated with Oxalate Sensitivity
If all is well in the body, your body will eliminate excess oxalates via your wee and poo. However, if imbalances in the body occur, oxalates can build up in your system, causing a sensitivity to the compound. Common symptoms of oxalate sensitivity include:
- Kidney stones
- Joint pain and body pain
- Burning urethra, bladder, vulva
- Burning with bowel movements
- Bloating and/or gut pain (often feels like “fire” in the belly)
- Gum inflammation
- Poor circulation
- Irregular heartbeat
What Are The Root Causes of Oxalate Sensitivity?
There are a few key factors that can lead to an excessive build up of oxalates in the body:
- Candida Infection - candida is a yeast or fungal microbe that naturally lives in/on your body. Candida and other yeast microbes make oxalates. It’s all fine and dandy UNLESS it starts to overgrow. If this is the case, you can quickly develop an excessive buildup of oxalates in your system, making you sensitive to oxalates in foods, supplements, and symptomatic in general.
- Mould Exposure - like candida, mould is a fungus. Moulds such as aspergillus also produce oxalates. If you are or have been exposed to a lot of mould, you could be breathing in a bunch of oxalates. Also, mould spores can get stuck in your fat tissue, causing mould (or mycotoxins) to constantly spit out excessive amounts of oxalates into your system.
- Microbiome Depletion - High oxalates can also be due to a loss of the bacterial species Oxalobacter formigenes, which helps to break down oxalates in the GI tract. Often this bacteria gets wiped out with antibiotics (even “daily” antibiotics like hand sanitisers, pesticides and preservatives in foods, toxins in cleaning and skincare products etc). Even things like high stress, low fibre diet, sedentary lifestyle or over-training can affect your microbiome.
- Detox Issues - Your liver is part of the process that clears oxalates from the body. If your detox pathways aren’t working very well, this can lead to oxalate build up.
- Bile Insufficiency - The liver also produces bile which is stored in the gallbladder and squirted into the intestines when you eat foods - especially fats. Bile helps to break down fats. Now, you need fat to breakdown efficiently in order to clear oxalates from the gut, because of the nutrient calcium (stay with me here!). Calcium is a nutrient that binds onto oxalates so that you can excrete oxalates from your body. If fats aren’t being broken down properly (due to insufficient bile) it will cling onto calcium and draw it from the gut. This means that your gut will have less calcium available to bind onto the oxalates. Not consuming enough calcium could also cause oxalates to build up in the system.
- Nervous System Dysregulation - I’ve left the most important (and deepest root cause!) to last. None of the previous body system imbalances could occur unless the nervous system has become dysregulated. There are TWO reasons why the nervous system becomes dysregulated. One is systemic inflammation (i.e. the points above). And the other reason is deep-seated dysfunctional beliefs. Beliefs like: I can’t heal, I’m not good enough, my body’s weak, I’m broken, I’m unlovable, I’m incapable, etc, etc. It is often these deep-seated beliefs stuck in our subconscious state, right back from when you were a little girl or boy, that have led to your body burnout in the first place. Until this side of the nervous system dysregulation is healed, it will be extremely difficult to fully heal physically. And if you do, the results will likely only be short-term.
How can you resolve all this?! It might seem very complex, if not impossible. But guess what? I know a functional medicine health practice that has created an effective method to address all of this holistically. Any guesses who?! Lol.
Is Eating Foods High in Oxalates Bad?
You might’ve noticed I didn’t mention foods high in oxalates as being a root cause. That’s because I believe a healthy body should be able to eat all healthy foods (including foods high in oxalates) without any issues. So no, eating foods high in oxalates is not “bad”. In fact, soooooo many beneficial foods are high in oxalates.
However, if you have an oxalate sensitivity, you will do better on a low-oxalate diet for a short time, to reduce your load and reset metabolic processes, while underlying root causes are addressed.
How To Use A Low-Oxalate Diet For Therapy
If you’re expecting that you may have an oxalate sensitivity, or you know you do, here’s a quick-guide for how you can use a low-oxalate diet for either a “test” to see if oxalates are an issue, or therapy (if you know you have a oxalate sensitivity).
It’s important to reduce oxalates very slowly, over time. It can take weeks to months to determine the daily amount of oxalates your body can tolerate. It is important that you do not remove oxalates all at once - instead, reduce oxalates 5-10% per week.
Start with reducing foods higher in oxalates first, as this may give you quicker symptomatic relief. If no change after reducing the high foods, also take out foods with a medium-level of oxalate.
Unlike other chemical-sensitivity elimination diets like the low-histamine diet where I have seen clients’ histamine symptoms reduce dramatically within a week or two, symptomatic improvement is often slower when it comes to using a low-oxalate diet for therapy. Because of the slow reduction, and the body eliminating oxalates, it can take a few months to assess if you are reacting to oxalates. If you don’t want to wait that long to see if you have an oxalate sensitivity, we can run a functional medicine urine test to see if oxalates are an issue for you, and whether this diet is actually needed.
Below is a list of the foods highest in oxalates (please note, this is not an extensive list, but it’s a good place to get started - even if it’s eye-balling high-oxalate foods and linking them to your pattern of food sensitivities):
Foods High In Oxalates
- Vegetables - Beets, Carrots, Celery, Leafy salad greens, Green beans, Kale, Rhubarb, Russet potato, Spinach, Sweet potato, Swiss chard.
- Fruits - Citrus and citrus peel, Figs, Goose berries, Guava, Kiwi, Pomegranate, Raspberries/ blackberries, Starfruit.
- Nuts & Seeds - Almonds, Peanuts, Pecan, Hazelnuts
- Grains & Legumes - Amaranth, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Most beans and legumes.
- Herbs & Spices - Allspice, Cinnamon, Clove, Cumin, Ginger powder, Onion powder, Turmeric.
If you’re wondering what the heck you can eat? Never fear! We’ve created a bunch of diverse meal plans and recipes for the low-oxalate diet and many other short-term healing diets, which can be accessed in our Ending Body Burnout Method.
After you have avoided oxalate-rich foods for a few months, if you feel NO difference, bring them back in - if there are no flare-ups in symptoms, you are likely NOT oxalate sensitive, and can continue eating those foods. If, however, you have improvements on the diet, or you have a flare-up of symptoms when you start eating the foods again, you should remain on the diet while addressing underlying causes.
I’d also highly recommend working with a practitioner to help address underlying causes, so you don’t get “stuck” on a restrictive diet long-term. If you need help, feel free to book in for a free discovery call. Or if you’re a keen-bean, you can jump right into a “Connect The Dots” Initial Consult with me here.
Filipa Bellette is Co-Founder of Chris & Filly Functional Medicine. She is an accredited Clinical Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is also a Ph.D. thought-leader, award-winning writer, and regularly published as a guest blogger & in the media. Together with her husband Chris Bellette, Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burnout clients in the last 10+ years, and specialises in producing healthy, balanced, and happy Mums & Dads...or as she calls it, a Power Parent! Filipa’s own passion for producing high-performance Power Parents came from her own personal experience of Mummy Burnout, after having babies and juggling the demands of business, family, and her failing health.
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