At Home With Nature

The Totally Unexpected Way I Reduced My Inflammation: A Low Oxalate Diet

A year ago today, my body was so inflamed, it seemed like everything hurt: my back and my joints in particular. I felt like my body was attacking itself and wondered if I had developed an autoimmune disease, which is why I tried the AIP diet. (AIP was not what I needed, it turns out.)

Today, I can look back at my symptoms and say, yep, that’s gone now, and that’s gone too. It’s a huge relief. Checking in on my symptoms tells me I’m on the right path.

Although adopting a low histamine diet reduced my allergy-like symptoms, and getting a SIBO diagnosis helped my GI issues, it was discovering an additional problem that allowed me to reduce my inflammation.

That problem was oxalates.

I only stumbled across oxalates as a potential problem while taking a class about SIBO. The class included info on food chemical intolerances that sometimes occur with SIBO, including histamine intolerance, oxalates, and salicylates.

Adopting the Low Histamine Bi-Phasic diet (which eliminates problematic foods for both histamine intolerance and SIBO) gave me a huge amount of relief, but I felt that there was still something else going on.

I had developed some strange symptoms – gout in my toes, a tingling in my back that came and went, and bladder pain. I also frequently had burning stools but wasn’t eating any peppers at all at that point.

Another symptom that made me think I was having a food reaction was that the skin on the backs of my hands would flare up, becoming red, angry, and extremely rough. If it had been in the full swing of spring and summer, when digging in the dirt dried my hands out, I might have explained it away. But it was in the middle of winter and I always wore gloves while washing dishes.

I compared my hands with those of my husband, whose are generally much rougher than mine. The skin on my hands was like sandpaper next to his. I would also get little sores on my hands that had no apparent cause. You can see one of those sores on my middle finger in the photo above.

So, I started experimenting with reducing oxalates, and then increasing them again. Bingo! I could feel a direct correlation with my hands, my toes, and my bladder pain.

Soon after adopting a lower oxalate diet, I happily had no more gouty toes! And my bladder pain had improved enormously. It’s now been several months, and I noticed recently that the uncomfortably tingling in my back has finally vanished.

However, not all of my symptoms have entirely vanished. While eating a lower oxalate diet has eliminated some of my symptoms, I still have issues processing the amount of oxalates I’m eating. This is because my body is not breaking down oxalate sufficiently.

See, plants produce oxalates for structure and as a defense chemical. Oxalates are sharp and hurt the mouths of the pests who try to eat the plants. If you’ve ever felt your mouth hurt after eating kiwi, that’s the oxalates you’re feeling.

We humans have gut bacteria that help us break down oxalates – but if our bacteria populations are compromised, so is our ability to break down oxalates. Our bodies can’t detox them through the liver, so they get stored in our body tissues.

And with a sharp, crystalline form, oxalates cause a lot of pain when they get stored.

Surface of a kidney stone made of calcium oxalate. Photo by Kempf EK. CC BY-SA 3.0.

I did some testing and found that some of my bacteria populations are indeed extremely low. Also, after learning about the differing oxalate levels in foods, I realized I had previously been on an extremely high oxalate diet, which certainly made matters worse.

So these days I stick to a low oxalate diet (50-60mg per day), take specific supplements, drink 80 ounces of water a day, and try to improve my gut bacteria with probiotics, all to help with this issue.

Taking a bigger picture view, oxalates are just one example of the many ways plants try to defend themselves.

A grasshopper chews on a cosmos flower, which, yes, also contains oxalates.

Although our evolutionary history has enabled us to find a work-around so that we can eat plants despite their oxalate content, our modern lives may be ruining these adaptations. Antibiotics can kill beneficial gut bacteria, sometimes permanently.

While there were certainly many factors influencing the state of my gut microbiome, I have to take a short and a long term approach now – working on healing my gut for the long term, as well as eating a low oxalate diet every day to preserve my keep my inflammation low. This has also helped with my histamine intolerance.

One of my favorite low oxalate meals, beef and rice with lettuce and herbs.

If you have inflammation too and are trying to reduce it, you might experiment with reducing your oxalate intake, particularly if you are eating high oxalate foods such as spinach, almonds, beets, beet greens, swiss chard, buckwheat, or sorrel.

However, the pros only recommended reducing 5-10% per month, to keep oxalate dumping symptoms under control. But more on that fun subject later!

In the meantime, here’s to lower inflammation for all of us!

Want to see what a low oxalate garden looks like?

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