The problem with the low oxalate diet
The yahoo group trying_low_oxalates is an experimental group promoting an experimental diet that is low in oxalates for a variety of symptoms, in particular for Autism spectrum children. The group has only been in existence since the August of 2005, and is only two years old.
I admire the trying_low_oxalates group in that the people there are focussed, systemised, and highly technical (one could definitely say ‘aspie’). The quality of the posting is much higher than the stuff on the WAPF groups and almost as high as the quality on the orthomolecular/Yasko/autism groups. Many of the people there have been through the wringer trying to cure themselves or their children and are highly familiar with orthomolecular medicine. On top of this their theories aren’t too wild and outlandish as so many aspie theories tend to be. I think that because the talk on the trying_low_oxalates group is so systemised and technical, it tends to attract aspies, rather like flies into a big sticky spider web. Whee, thinks the aspie, I like this; technical language, orthomolecular medicine, smart people like me, and lots of complicated theories!
However, being very aspie, they are also prone to demonstrating the cracked and warped logic that aspies are prone to. They don’t take account for all of their variables, and they pattern spot when there is no pattern. They don’t account for false negatives and false positives or retest what they think they have observed in the past. The difference between science and superstition is the ability to tell the difference between real patterns and false ones, and not to cling to the false ones. Apsies aren’t innately good at this, it has to be something we are trained into whether by ourselves, or by others.
On top of that, once aspies spot patterns, they will become attached to those patterns and believe whatever theory they want to believe regardless of how logical it is or how many flaws you point out. You can tell the average aspie ten times over that you must/must not do this or that to control your variables, and you will be talking to a brick wall. This is because in addition to becoming attached to underlying theories, aspies tend to have a lot of self-belief and a superiority complex and think that no one else could possibly have been through this before them and that they always know better about their bodies than anyone else.
Aspies also don’t like change. Someone, possibly Max Planck, once said “science advances, funeral by funeral.” As the entire scientific establishment seems to be run by mild aspies (‘geeks’) of various extremes, if there is something wrong with scientific progress in general, it is what is wrong with aspies. Aspies hate change. Aspies will build theory upon theory and castles in the sky to explain what does not fit in with their observations.
Back to the point. The major faults with arguments used on the low oxalate group are:
- Oxalates are in all of the same foods that are high in salicylates, amines and glutamates with a very few exceptions.
- Oxalate content of food varies wildly depending on how it is grown, so none of the charts are reliable and accurate and many contradict.
- Oxalates allegedly “cause” the same set of symptoms that people experience to salicylates, amines and glutamates, yet diets low in these chemicals are well documented to resolve those symptoms.
Based on this, it is impossible to regard a low oxalate diet for autism as scientific unless you first control your variables. It is therefore impossible to determine if you have an actual problem with oxalates unless you are first fully on the failsafe diet.
Not many people on the trying_low_oxalates group are on the failsafe diet. A fair proportion of the people there don’t even know what the failsafe diet is. As a result, there is virtually no controlled evidence to support the theory that people’s symptoms are caused by oxalates, since they are still eating salicylates, amines and glutamates. In addition to this, virtually every time I see people complain that they are having a reaction to a food, that food is typically a food that is very high in salicylates, amines or glutamates. Like chocolate or fruit, or a mysterious reaction to ‘protein’. But the people on the group do not see this and are attributing their reaction to oxalates.
How do people get to the trying_low_oxalates group?
People seem to arrive there having done GFCF and having seen only minor changes in themselves or their autistic/ADHD children. At least they have got this far: some people do GFCF and continue to blame every little problem with their health on tiny invisible bits of gluten or casein in their diet (“I/my child ate gluten-free, casein-free ice cream and have had a funny reaction, therefore it must still contain gluten or casein,”) is a cry I have heard several times over, and it’s one that can lead to hysterical levels of paranoia and amusing hidden gluten-hunts when people have reacted to GFCF processed foods – containing reactive ingredients that are usually obvious to an outsider, like tartrazine, artificial flavourings like vanillin, or sulphites that are routinely added to gluten-free flours.
Other people seem to arrive there having done the Feingold diet and also seen only small changes in themselves or their children. This is because the Feingold diet is outdated. The Feingold diet was an attempt in the seventies to cut out or reduce the salicylates and additives in salicylate-sensitive individuals’ diets. At the time not much was known about the salicylates in foods, and no connection had been made to the amines and glutamates in foods. The Feingold diet does not cut out all salicylates, some foods very high in salicylates remain, and it does not cut out amines or glutamates at all. Had Dr Feingold lived, I am sure he would have updated his diet, but unfortunately he died just as the Failsafe diet was being born. I don’t know why the Feingold organisation keep promoting Feingold and keeping quiet about failsafe, it’s embarrassing and rather shameful and probably the single most damaging thing to Feingold’s legacy. The Feingold diet regularly has the critique thrown at it that “this didn’t work for my kid/this only works for a small number of children/I did the diet and it didn’t work for me.” Whether the Feingold diet helps you or not largely depends on how you perform it. If for example you drink lots of Feingold-permitted pineapple juice (high in salicylates and amines), you are not going to see any improvement in your health and it may even worsen.
So some people arrive because GFCF has failed to work for them, and they go on the low oxalate diet, which involves cutting out most high-chemical fruit, vegetables, nuts, and chocolate. And they see a dramatic improvement! Sure, they aren’t perfect. Sometimes they have bad days as well as good days. These may well be days where they have eaten some chemicals, but not knowing it they assume these bad days are a sign that the oxalates are low enough in their blood stream that they are “dumping”, that is, the oxalates are decrystalising and leeching out of their muscles and into their bloodstream. “Dumping” oxalates is rather like candida “die-off”. It’s a great way to explain otherwise unexplainable symptoms in the context of retaining a firm grip on your pet theory.
Other people arrive to the group when the Feingold diet fails to work for them, deciding that they are “not” salicylate sensitive, because they are still eating salicylates, glutamates and amines and the Feingold diet has made no difference. Then they go on the low oxalate diet, which involves cutting out a more comprehensive range of high-chemical foods than Feingold. And they too see an improvement! Which is not surprising at all.
Others still have actually done failsafe. Now we are almost approaching true science. They arrive at the low oxalate diet having never reached baseline. When I see what they are eating or putting on their skin, most of the time I am not surprised they could not reach baseline and sometimes they will reveal mistakes when quizzed. In addition to this is the sad fact that some people are just so sensitive to chemicals and have so many disruptions in their methylation cycle that they will never properly normalise on failsafe. These are the people who really need to go out and spend a lot of money on Yasko’s protocol.
Another very important thing you need to do to reach baseline is sort out any underlying infections, whether fungal or bacterial. Food chemical sensitive people are prone to infections per se. It is well known in the medical literature that certain types of people – for example those with asthma and eczema – are prone to particular types of skin/stomach/ear/nose/throat infection. Food chemicals make these people more prone to infection, but removing food chemicals does not automatically clear up the infection.
Something amazing that I see people doing too, is blaming failsafe for health problems that suddenly appear when they go on the diet.
For example, they may have previously eaten a diet that is gluten free because they have spotted a problem with grains in the past. Though failsafe is quite clear that you should not reintroduce foods that you suspect are a problem, when people go on the diet, they will suddenly decide that they can now eat gluten grains or oats again (‘yippee…’). By doing this they are not controlling their variables. People who are food chemical sensitive seem to have problems, major or minor, with opioid-like peptides, and can also be more sensitive to the lectins in beans and grains and the solanine in potatoes. It is not surprising then, that these individuals suddenly become ill in different ways when they go on the failsafe diet. I have known people to go from a GF oat-free celiac-style diet to suddenly eating almost nothing but oat bran and taking all kinds of dodgy supplements in an impatient effort to ‘cure’ themselves of ‘vitamin deficiencies’ – then suffering all kinds of symptoms of ill health as a result and turning around and blaming the failsafe diet. See what I mean about cracked aspie logic?
Others still never notice a problem with grains before they go on the diet. They can have apparently normal digestion, but a multitude of other symptoms. When they go on the failsafe diet, their symptoms change. It is perfectly normal for symptoms to change when you go on the diet. Suddenly new and different symptoms emerge when you have infractions. Old symptoms disappear and don’t come back unless you commit a more extreme infraction. A person who may not have ever noticed a problem with grains in spite of their other symptoms, suddenly discovers they get an upset stomach when they eat grains once they are failsafe. In reality, the person has always had a problem with grains, but that problem was never noted, or expressed itself differently, for example with headaches, cravings or brain fog instead of stomach upset. It may even be that the grains are being eaten differently, for example the person has changed from using sourdough bread to regular bread to reduce amines, unfortunately resulting in an increase in lectins, hard to digest long-chain starches, and gluten opioid peptides. Either way the answer is not to blame the failsafe diet, it is to reduce these extraneous factors.
If you have been through all of this, controlled your variables properly, exhausted these options and you are still not at baseline, then you can start to clarify whether you have an issue with oxalates.
By this time you are probably about to complain that you have already incidentally cut out all oxalates from your diet, so how could you possibly prove your problem is oxalate related? Well, I never said life was easy, but it is possible to vary the quantity of oxalates you eat on the failsafe diet.
- If you have oxalate-based kidney stone symptoms, or start to pass little bits of grit in your urine, you probably have an oxalate problem.
- If you have an officially recognised oxalate-related problem, like gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or vulvodynia, you should see an improvement and if you do see an improvement you probably have an oxalate problem.
- Vitamin K MK4 dissolves oxalate crystals. Try yourself on small quantities over a few weeks and see what happens. Megadoses are likely to induce clotting, which may feel to you a lot like oxalate “dumping”, so it is important to be sensible and think about what you are doing and feeling. Other supplements like citrates and malates may also be helpful.
- If you have accounted for all of the variables mentioned above, and you are eating a low-salicylate, low-oxalate diet and have not improved over the timescale of a couple of months, you probably don’t have a problem with oxalates.
- If you have tried taking out and adding back in failsafe vegetables to your diet and this makes no difference to how you feel in general, try eating some of the very few high-oxalate, low-salicylate vegetables, versus some of the low-oxalate, low-salicylate vegetables. This should make an easily discernible difference to how you feel if oxalates are an issue. If it does not, you do not have an oxalate problem.