The Low Oxalate Diet for Autism
The low oxalate diet consists of consuming a diet low in oxalates. It is a newer diet for autism that came about from the work of Susan Owens and the observation from parents that foods high in oxalates were problematic for their children.
While this is a newer diet, there is a lot of science that helps explain what might be going on for some children with autism. Oxalates are sharp crystals and are the same ones responsible for certain forms of kidney stones. Oxalate crystals can be inflammatory and damaging to a child’s delicate biochemistry and the low oxalate diet reduces these compounds. In cells, oxalates can lead to oxidative damage, depletion of glutathione, pain associated with urination, and inflammation related to the immune system. Glutathione is important for immune function, inflammatory regulation, detoxification, and antioxidant status. Levels of glutathione are often low in children with autism; therefore oxalates could exacerbate challenges for some of these children.
Normally, a healthy digestive system will not absorb too many oxalates that are found in various foods in a child’s diet. Oxalates pass through the digestive tract and they are metabolized by the good bacteria in the gut or bind to calcium and are excreted in the stool. When the digestive system of a child with autism is diagnosed as leaky, oxalates are absorbed and high levels end up in the blood, urine, and tissues – specifically damaging tissue. Once the oxalates are in the tissue, they create inflammation and pain in your child’s body. It is also theorized that oxalates contribute to further inflammation in the intestines and more profound leaky gut, and may be the reason that some children have trouble healing leaky gut and yeast overgrowth; although, more study on oxalates and the low oxalate diet needs to be done.
Parents whose children respond positively to the low oxalate diet, report that high oxalates in their children affected: recurring body pain, urinary tract infections, skin sensitivity, irritable bowel/diarrhea and yeast/fungal overgrowth.
Oxalates in Foods
A parent cooking for a low oxalate diet will typically limit and/or omit the following from a child’s snacks and meals: spinach, all nuts especially almonds and peanuts, beets, raw carrots, rhubarb, buckwheat and millet, sweet potato, most beans, kiwi, strawberries, chocolate, red raspberries, blackberries, cocoa powder, and soybeans.
A comprehensive list of oxalate levels in foods can be found in the Nourishing Hope for Autism.