After my first and hopefully last calcium oxalate kidney stone, I started researching oxalates and its impact on humans. My findings have shed light on my own health issues that I had chalked up to simply “getting older.” Some of those issues relate directly to my vision and eye health as I’ll get to later in this post.
I had never heard of oxalate before my diagnosis so of course, I asked —what are oxalates and how do they affect my body?
Oxalates are crystals that we absorb by eating oxalate rich foods like spinach, beets, nuts, and black tea among many other foods. These oxalate crystals are normally small enough to be passed in urine, but when you have an excess of oxalate in your blood, they can bind with calcium and form a larger mass of crystals called a kidney stone. Look at the below picture of a calcium oxalate kidney stone and imagine that passing through your ureter—its painful.
Oxalates cause more problems than kidney stones
Turns out that oxalates cause many more problems like gout and rheumatoid arthritis, and can cause eye problems since oxalates build up in body tissue.
There are no enzymes in the human body that can break down oxalate. Oxalate must be excreted from the body through urine. The excess crystals then collect in other parts of the body, accumulating first in the blood, then the eyes, bones, muscles, blood vessels, heart and other major organs. If untreated Oxalosis can lead to death.Oxalosis – Rare Metabolic Condition that Affects Children’s the Kidneys and Liver | St. Louis Children’s Hospital [Internet]. Stlouischildrens.org. 2016 [cited 7 April 2016]. Available from: http://www.stlouischildrens.org/diseases-conditions/oxalosis
The above quote was a revelation to me. This build up of oxalates in our tissue can cause nerve damage, and I’m confident that it contributed to inflammation and narrowing of the drainage channel in both of my eyes, which led to laser iridotomy as a first line prevention of glaucoma. According to my doctor, if I didn’t have the surgery, nerve damage to my eyes would occur and I would have glaucoma.
Further evidence exists in autistic patients. Many have excess oxalate in their eyes, leading to scratching and eye poking (Source). Autistic patients are usually put on a low oxalate diet.
Low oxalate diet and results
As an adult, I have tried to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, but am now on a low oxalate diet along with a bit more calcium rich foods (the calcium in these foods binds to oxalate and passes harmlessly in the stool). I loved all of the things that were overloading my system with oxalate and making me sick: spinach, beets, peanuts and other nuts, black tea, and I even prepared rhubarb occasionally. I was a victim of the green juicing trend. Learning that I was poisoning myself really made me feel stupid, so if you’re at the feeling stupid phase, its normal! But I’m glad my doctors figured it out for me and life goes on.
Results I’ve had since being on a low oxalate diet:
- Reduced inflammation in my fingers
- Broken thumb started to heal
- Reduced back pain
- Deeper sleep
- Better bowel movements
Of course, talk to your doctor about all of this. I’m simply sharing my experience and some research findings.
All of this brings some questions to mind, so I hope the community can help out here:
- Can oxalates trigger autism?
- Does the rise in eating more “healthy” foods, or the juicing trend, correlate to a rise in kidney stones, oxalate poisoning, or autism?
- Can yeast introduce oxalate in fermented foods and drinks like kombucha or sauerkraut (I know that black tea is oxalate rich, and to be avoided as a base for kombucha)?
Thank you, and please share your thoughts.