In summer, we are actually consuming lots of (healthy) foods that are high in oxalates and salicylates.
Why is this a problem? It might not be an issue for you, but high-oxalate and high-salicylate foods can trigger certain symptoms and can also trigger histamine intolerance in our body. Let’s have a look at what oxalates and salicylates are and what to do about them.
What are oxalates?
Oxalates are naturally occurring molecules in many plants and also in the human body.
There are two kinds of oxalates: the external ones that we consume via food and from our gut microbes (exogenous) and the internal ones that our body is producing itself (endogenous) Our body’s capability to create oxalates depends on our genetics and nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in vitamin B1 and B6 can increase oxalate production. So it is very important to reduce the risk of deficiencies in these vitamins.
Oxalates are found in most plant foods, but some are especially high and are best to be avoided for people being sensitive.
High-oxalate foods include:
Swiss chard & kale
Almonds and almond flour
Beets & beet greens
Because oxalates help to get plants to dispose of extra calcium, many plant foods are high in oxalates. That’s also what they do in our body: in our intestines they bind to minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium and other mineral build-ups and are then excreted via urine and feces. If we have a compromised fat digestion, the excess undigested fat floating around in our gut can bind to calcium, which makes the calcium unavailable for oxalate binding, causing free oxalate to absorb into the body.
A healthy gut will not absorb many oxalates, but if our gut is leaky (meaning that our gut lining is compromised and will let through small food particles and proteins), they are absorbed and will end up in our blood, urine, and tissues.
We actually have a specific bacterium in our gut (oxalobacter formigenes) that helps decompose the oxalates in the foods we consume, but also the more known lactobacillus is an oxalate-degrading bacterium. I see these depleted in almost all of my clients by the way.
Why are these bacteria depleted? There can be several reasons:
If we are consuming antibiotics, or antibiotic-like substances like pesticides from non-organic food or if we are regularly using NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol), that will kill this bacteria and therefore leave us vulnerable to oxalates.
If we are eating a low-nutrient diet or a struggling with nutrient deficiencies (due to diet or maybe absorption issues)
If our liver or kidneys are overworked or compromised
If we are eating too many high-oxalate foods, and our gut/microbiome is compromised, it can lead to a build-up of oxalates in our body and that will result in poor mineral absorption, inflammation, a compromised immune system, oxidative stress, poor mitochondrial function (aka fatigue), cellular and tissue damage, and histamine release. Kidney stones is the most common issue linked to excess oxalates, but others include:
Headaches, depression, anxiety and brain fog
Chronic pain: joint pain, arthritis, muscle pain and burning
Itchy skin, rashes, and other skin issues
Candida (bacterial yeast overgrowth on the skin, intestines or genitals)
Insomnia and sleep troubles
Urinary or pelvic pain and bladder irritation
What are salicylates?
Salicylates are a group of chemicals derived from salicylic acid (typically found in over-the-counter products like Aspirin and Pepto-Bismol, but also in lots of beauty products like shampoo, moisturizers, acne products, perfume etc). They also occur naturally in plant foods. Like other « anti-nutrients » I talked about before such as phytic acid and saponins (read more here on a recent blog post), salicylates are the plant’s natural protection against insects.
High-salicylate foods and products don’t cause issues for everyone, but in some, they can lead to salicylate intolerance that causes specific symptoms and health issues as a result. In a healthy body, our liver helps detoxify excess salicylates, however, sluggish liver function can increase our risk of salicylate intolerance.
The situation is similar to the one with oxalates: if our body reaches a high salicylate load and is unable to break down the excess salicylates, it can lead to inflammation, a compromised immune system, oxidative stress, poor mitochondrial function, cellular and tissue damage, and histamine release and we can experience symptoms like:
Bed wetting or urgency to urinate
Sore, itchy, puffy or burning eyes
Memory loss and poor concentration
Swelling of hands, feet, eyelids, face and/or lips
Sinus infections, stuffy nose, asthma or nasal polyps
Gas & bloating
Hives and skin issues, especially red cheeks and ears
Headaches and migraines
Insomnia and poor sleep
Salicylates are found in most of the summer fruit, but also in other foods:
Most melons including watermelon
Red bell pepper
Cucumbers and pickles
Tomatoes and tomato sauce
Zucchini (with peel on)
Most herbs & spices
If you have salicylate intolerance, it is important that you pay attention to these and the beauty products I mentioned above as well.
Now you might be wondering, how would you know if you need to pay attention to these foods?
My advice is to pay attention to your body when you consume them: do you notice any of the listed symptoms when consuming these foods or maybe beauty products? Do you see your symptoms get worse in summer?
How about if you remove them? Do your symptoms get better?
Working with a functional medicine practitioner, like myself, can help you navigate this and uncover what might be causing your symptoms and heal the source of your problem to eliminate your symptoms.
Ultimately, you will probably have to improve your digestive health and microbiome balance in order to get symptom-free.
What else could you do on your own?
eat an anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense diet (check out my nutrition 101 course to learn the basics of a healthy diet and digestion)
pay attention to foods high in histamine, oxalates and salicylates and see if they might be causing you symptoms by removing the high category foods for a minimum of 2 weeks
when removing high oxalate foods, pay attention to decreasing your oxalate intake gradually. Removing all high-oxalate foods and lowering your intake too quickly can lead to increased symptoms, because oxalates are exiting your body too quickly.
eliminate toxic personal care and cleaning products as well and use organic, natural, or homemade products instead
support your liver: it is critical for supporting the elimination of excess histamine, oxalates, and salicylates (you might want to join my next Cleanse program coming up in September)