In conversation with Sally Norton: what are oxalates, and how can they be harmful to our health?


This is an excerpt from Muscle Intelligence podcast episode 122: All About Oxalates with Healthy Agriculture Advocate and Former Vegetarian Sally K. Norton. This excerpt has been edited for clarity.


[0:14:51.8] Sally Norton: Okay, so what are oxalates?The parent compound of these family of compounds called oxalate is oxalic acid, which is a little tiny acid with only two carbons. It has four oxygens and technically, two protons, but the protons fall off because it’s an acid and it releases those hydrogens, those are the acid molecules.

Then it has this charge that makes it really reactive. It can dissolve in water and it can recombine with positively charged things, which are minerals, calcium and all kinds of other minerals, magnesium and so on will connect with oxalic acid and create various types of oxalate, so you have sodium oxalate, potassium oxalate, lithium oxalate, magnesium oxalate.

…We actually eat oxalic acid, oxalates, because some plants are great at producing them. They use oxalic acid and combine it with calcium. This is the way it’s most commonly found in nature, in soils and rocks and in plants is calcium oxalate. In the body, calcium oxalate is a calcification or a stone, often called calcium kidney stone. They left out the word oxalate, so everyone’s been blaming calcium for what oxalate does.

Basically, all kinds of pathologies involving calcium, loss of calcium, low calcium in the body, calcium traces left behind, calcified arteries, problems with heart function, problems with kidney can be related to oxalic acid and its oxalate family, because if you’re eating a lot of the oxalates that break up easily, like the sodium oxalate and potassium oxalate, they become calcium oxalate in your blood, by taking calcium out of your blood and cells and disrupting the electrolyte balance and starting to reduce calcium levels in the body. It’ll do it in the food. It’ll do it in the gut as you’re digesting your food. It will capture calcium in ways when you don’t absorb calcium from food.

Ben Pakulski: It removes calcium from food and it attaches onto things. I’m thinking calcification of the arteries, the oxalates are contributing to the calcification. In some way, they’re taking the calcium from somewhere else and binding it in particular places. Is that right?

SN: Yeah. Basically, calcium gets kidnapped by a bad guy and becomes a bad guy.

Injured tissue is a place where oxalate gets hung up. Then in that same tissue, we have regenerating cells. Okay, we’ve got to replace the dying cells and the damage. We come in and we make new cells. Regenerating cells have a heavy stickiness, because on those proteins, what the oxalate is sticking to on the proteins is the glycoprotein part. Glyco is the sugar molecules that are on the outside of these proteins. Like my frizzy hair, there’s this stuff sticking out of the cell, these little fingers of sugars and that creates – You can think of it like seaweed hanging out there and that’s where the oxalate gets trapped.

This is your regenerating cells in your injured tissue where you start to interrupt your healing, and the healing is never complete.

BP: It sounds almost like someone who’s got injuries and is unhealthy to begin with may be more predisposed to these negative symptoms. It sounds like a slippery slope. The worse you are, the worse that’s going to contribute to negative health.

SN: Exactly. Think about it. Now people recognize where oxalates are coming from and foods that we think now are healthy are quite high in this oxalate. You wouldn’t want to give it to a little child, or someone in the hospital, or someone in a nursing home, or an elderly person. You wouldn’t want to give them something that has a nasty toxin like oxalate. In fact, since spinach is so popular right now, we’re quite content to leave spinach on the salad bar, at a nursing home, or a daycare center and all these vulnerable populations are not being protected.

BP: Let’s talk about what foods are most abundant in oxalates.

SN: All the animal foods are, more or less from a nutritional standpoint, free of oxalate. We’re only talking about plant foods, and only certain ones.

If we start in the produce department, the big problem is the spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, sorrel purslane. Everything else, like all the lettuces, are low in oxalate. The cabbage family as a group is another one that doesn’t make a lot of oxalate and doesn’t sequester a lot of this calcium oxalate. Even kale is not too bad in oxalate. All of them are quite fine in reasonable quantities.

it’s a dose problem: if you really jammed in enough kale chips and lived on them, you could get into oxalate problems with kale chips, but the problem is we have salad mixes with these bad oxalate greens masquerading as lettuce and they’ll buy these mesclun mixes that are full of baby beet greens and baby Swiss chard greens, because they have that pretty red; that red Swiss chard is one of the highest foods in oxalate that normal people are eating.

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Ben Pakulski

Since first lifting weights as a teenager, Ben has been on a mission to do whatever it takes… …to become the most muscular man on the planet! On the eve of The Arnold Classic, he confronts the dark realities of bodybuilding… And his own future! Follow him on his journey…

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