One of my favourite foods as a kid on the farm was rhubarb. Strawberry/rhubarb pie, rhubarb jam… put rhubarb in it and I’m here for it. One of the first things we learned as kids on the farm was not to eat rhubarb leaves. No one explained the chemistry. We didn’t care to know. Just that the leaves are toxic. ‘Nough said. Go play in the stinging nettles behind the barn.
So, what’s up with lichen sclerosus and oxalates?
What makes those rhubarb leaves toxic? A high concentration of oxalic acid. Great for keeping insects away. Not great for people.
There are reports of those with LS finding relief by following a low oxalate diet. I am not a doctor. I can’t begin to tell you what will work for you. My focus (shared by my nutritionist) is to figure out why certain foods don’t agree with my body and then address any underlying issues so that I can enjoy a variety of good foods.
Lichen sclerosus and oxalates
What are oxalates? According to Urology of Virginia:
Oxalic acid or oxalates are very tiny molecules that bind minerals like calcium and form crystals. It is found in a variety of seeds, nuts and many vegetables. 1
So, what’s the issue with oxalates? The article continues:
Oxalates not only can cause kidney stones (calcium oxalate kidney stones) but also may be responsible for a wide variety of other health problems related to inflammation, auto-immunity, mitochondrial dysfunction, mineral balance, connective tissue integrity, urinary tract issues and poor gut function. 2
Before we go blaming foods high in oxalates for our troubles, let’s read on to discover a familiar key I mentioned in the sugar-free post. I warn you now, I dove down the rabbit hole of oxalates and geeked out pretty hard. This is a fascinating subject with many facets.
Having a damaged gut lining will increase your absorption of oxalates. An inflamed or damaged gut lining is a very common problem, thanks to frequent antibiotic use and the presence of a number of chemicals in our food supply, including glyphosate. Other plant compounds such as phytates and lectins (such as gluten) can worsen gut health and exacerbate the impact of oxalates. 3
Shut. The. Front. Door. Are you reading what I’m reading? It’s not so simple, is it? We return to gut health and the gut lining. It’s not about getting rid of oxalates. It’s finding out why some bodies can’t deal with them.
According to the Restoration Healthcare website:
Oxalates aren’t necessarily a cause for alarm. You may be able to eat foods high in oxalates without experiencing any health issues, while someone else — because of how their body processes oxalates — needs to be careful about what they eat. Because of our bio-individuality, our systems handle micronutrients and anti-nutrients differently. 4
This rabbit hole led me to Sally K. Norton, who has an impressive list of credentials and experience with oxalates. She has more to add to the oxalate debate:
- Your body makes it. Oxalate is a metabolic waste product in mammals
- Higher amounts are made when:
- Deficient in B6, or
- High doses of vitamin C are taken or injected
- Higher amounts are made when:
- Some fungi make it, possibly for mineral management, especially in soil
- Can be made by Aspergillus fungi living in the body. 5
Along with gut health, one of the other issues I often come across is mineral balance. Two peas in an autoimmune pod, I suspect.
If you want to investigate oxalates and how you respond to a low-oxalate diet, check the sources cited at the bottom of the article for more information.
According to my nutritionist, removing oxalates from your diet in one fell swoop can cause what’s known as oxalate dumping. This often makes matters worse. So, work with a professional or take your time in reducing these foods.
I’ve tried dropping chocolate cold turkey and let me tell you, there’s a lot of pain involved. 90% of it is emotional. 😉
So, what about oxalates and lichen sclerosus?
According to the Vulval Pain Society:
Dietary oxalate consumption does not appear to be associated with an elevated risk of vulvodynia. 6
The Hoffman Centre for Integrative and Functional Medicine, however, says oxalates can irritate the vulva:
Vulvodynia/interstitial cystitis and benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Both these conditions cause chronic pain in the vulva, which can be unbearable for female patients that are afflicted. Vulvodynia is a misunderstood disease, which was linked to oxalate by the late Dr. Clive C. Solomons. He identified that high levels of oxalate can irritate the epithelium of the vulva and cause pain if there was prior trauma in the area. Oxalate aggravates a pre-existing condition, but also irritates the glycosaminoglycan layer in the bladder. 7
You see… quite the rabbit hole. Before you identify oxalates as your issue, remember to not blame food. There’s a lot more involved than ingredients.
It’s not just about what we eat but how we prepare our food. Soaking and then rinsing nuts and seeds can decrease the total oxalate content. So can boiling and, to a lesser extent, steaming our food. Rather than expect our digestive system to work for us regardless of what we pump into it, we need to prepare food that assists our system in nourishing us. Let’s help our guts out.
Whew! That was a deep dive. I’m ready for a cup of tea. Thanks for being here with me.
Read the next post in the series: Lichen sclerosus and mental health
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**This blog is meant to inform, not diagnose or treat specific health conditions. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. Always consult your doctor or health care practitioner.