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How Oxalates Impact IBS

Oxalates are a natural compound that is found in many types of food such as nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. These are typically considered healthy foods. But for some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), oxalates may trigger IBS symptoms or cause other problems.1,2

What are oxalates?

Oxalates are compounds that are naturally found in foods. They are also naturally created in the body. Oxalates can bind to certain minerals, like calcium and magnesium. This can reduce the amount of oxalates the body absorbs. Oxalates also produce salts. In some people, this salt can crystallize and trigger kidney stones.1,3

Foods that are high in oxalates include:1,3

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Soy products
  • Almonds
  • Whole grains
  • Potatoes
  • Beets

For many people, foods that contain oxalates are part of a healthy diet. But people with IBS may have problems eating a diet that is high in oxalate-rich foods.1,4

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What is the link between oxalates and IBS?

The research on whether oxalate-rich foods can trigger IBS is limited. Oxalates may also be part of other diets that can potentially trigger IBS, like high FODMAP. One study did find that eating large quantities of oxalates may trigger symptoms. After the participants reduced the servings of these foods, the IBS symptoms went away. But this study was small and does not prove a link.1,2

Scientists understand more about the link between IBS, oxalates, and other health problems. High levels of oxalates can cause kidney stones. For most people, their bodies can process the oxalates and diet does not cause kidney stones. But people with IBS are more likely to develop kidney stones. This is because people with IBS are more likely to be dehydrated.3,4

Also, people with IBS may have low levels of certain bacteria in their gut. These bacteria process and break down oxalates. If oxalates are not broken down, it can lead to high levels in the body. This can also make kidney stones more common.3,4

Other ways to get the health benefits of oxalates

Not everyone needs to avoid oxalates. Most kidney stones are not caused by oxalates from the diet. Ask your doctor if they think you should avoid oxalates to prevent kidney stones. You can also try increasing your water. The best way to prevent kidney stones is by drinking more water.1,3

There are ways to lower the oxalates you eat while maintaining a healthy diet:3,5,6

  • Choose vegetables that have lower levels of oxalates. These include avocados, corn, cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
  • Look into ways of cooking or soaking your food to lower the oxalate levels.
  • Eat foods with calcium, magnesium, and iron to lower the impact of oxalates. These minerals bind to oxalates.

What are the risks for oxalate nephropathy?

In some rare cases, high levels of oxalates can cause serious health problems. Oxalate nephropathy (ON) is a rare but serious form of kidney disease. If it is not managed, it can cause kidney failure.6

ON is typically caused by the body not processing oxalates correctly. It is very rare that a diet can lead to ON. But it is possible if your diet is extremely high in oxalates.6

Talk with your doctor before making any major changes in your diet for IBS. Your doctor can help suggest what changes may be safe or helpful over time.1,6

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