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Oxalates and Autism

Happy 2020 Everyone!

For this month’s blog post, I thought I would discuss something that may not be that well known when it comes to investigating and treating those with autism – the effects of oxalates. Many are familiar with the benefits of those with autism going on gluten and casein-free diet to help their digestive and nervous systems, but oxalates may potentially be a large component of their symptom presentation. Oxalate is a salt of oxalic acid that binds to minerals in the body such as calcium to form oxalate crystals. These crystals can be damaging to the body creating inflammation and pain. In a healthy gut, these oxalate crystals are broken down by good gut bacteria and excreted in the stool. When the gut is leaky or damaged as is common with autism, these crystals cannot be processed and end up in the blood, urine, and tissues, creating further damage. High oxalate levels can increase oxidative damage, decrease glutathione levels (for detoxification, etc.) and decrease immune function. Common foods high in oxalates are as follows:

  • Spinach – spinach, kale, parsley
  • Nuts – peanuts, almonds, cashews
  • Beans – soy, tofu, white beans
  • Grains – wheat, kamut, spelt
  • Fruit – berries, grapes, plums
  • Vegetables – celery, green beans, leeks
  • Other – cocoa, chocolate, black tea

How do you know if your autistic child has an oxalate issue? You perform an organic acid (OAT) test. Organic acid testing is something I have written about in the past (see previous RHC post). This is a urine test that provides comprehensive information about bacterial overgrowth, neurotransmitter levels, nutritional deficiencies, detoxification, and oxalate levels.

Many parents will try to incorporate greens into their child’s diet for better nutrition which is generally a good idea. If the child has an oxalate issue however, you are only compounding the problem. The same holds true for berries and chocolate, which are common in kid’s diets. In studies on oxalates, 84% of autistic kids had oxalate levels outside the normal range as compared to normal. These elevated levels were shown to not be genetic but rather from an external source. It has been identified that oxalate issues and yeast issues often go hand in hand with these patients. In fact, it is theorized that the body’s challenge with high yeast levels sets the stage for challenges with oxalates. I have also previously written about yeast (candida) concerns with autistic kids.

Some common symptom improvements reported by parents of autistic children who go on a low oxalate diet includes:

  • Improvements in gross and fine motor skills
  • Improvements in speech
  • Better receptive and expressive language
  • Increased imitation skills
  • Increased sociability
  • Speaking in longer sentences
  • Decreased rigidity
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced self-abusive behavior
  • Improved cognition
  • Loss of bedwetting
  • Loss of frequent urination

So, what to do? Data and information are often the best place to start. I would recommend an OAT test if not previously performed and from there, an individualized treatment plan can be crafted for your child based on the reports. Autism is such a complex issue with many factors at play. The more information we can have on factors affecting each individual patient, the better we can be at removing the obstacles for improvement.

In Health,
Dr. Cameron McIntyre, ND

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