If you've ever tried any diet before or tried to lose weight at any point, you know that if you try and change everything about the way you eat all at once, the chances of sticking to it are very slim. For this same reason, it’s important to implement a low oxalate diet in phases and not try to do things all at once.
It's no different with a low oxalate diet. And it's probably even more so the case because of how annoying the diet can be. It's better to make slower changes — ones that you'll be able to stick to — at a pace that's comfortable for you. This is so much better than immediately going super low oxalate and sticking to it only for a few weeks or months, only to go back to everything that you had been eating beforehand. The best changes you can make are the ones that you will actually stick to.
What is Oxalate Dumping?
While we're on the topic of the importance of easing into it, I felt like this would be the best place to address the idea of “oxalate dumping.” You may have read that it's potentially a concern or something you should at least watch out for. This is really only applies to a limited subset of the people that want to be on a low oxalate diet, so I just like to count it as another reason why slowly tackling the diet one step at a time can be a good idea.
Oxalate dumping is something that has been observed in a few patients with genetic disorders of the kidney and the liver — they have specific mutations that don't allow them to properly eliminate oxalate in the urine.
The inability to eliminate oxalate in the urine causes a buildup of oxalate in the bloodstream, and a subsequent storage of oxalate in the tissues of the body. When these people receive organ transplants, they are able to eliminate oxalate properly, so it gets filtered out of the blood like usual. Then when their blood oxalate is low enough, oxalate that's been stored in the tissues (because of their previous inability to get rid of it), is released back into the blood so that it also can be filtered and excreted in the urine.
Patients in this situation will have urine oxalate values that continue to be high post-transplant, sometimes for months, until all the oxalate that got stored in tissues initially is released into the blood and then filtered out by the kidneys and into the urine.
Somewhere along the way, this reentry of oxalate from the tissues into the blood started getting referred to as oxalate dumping, and people who do not have the genetic disorder and haven't received kidney or liver transplants began saying that they had also been storing oxalate in their tissues. They attribute it solely to the quantity of oxalate they are eating, not to any sort of problem filtering it out like in the transplant patients with genetic disorders.
So, Are You Dumping Oxalates?
There tends to be a lot of confusion around this, so I'm going to try and explain it very carefully. I’ll start by saying that oxalate dumping, or the release of stored oxalate from tissues into the blood, definitely has occurred and definitely does occur. The thing is, though, that it's only been documented in people with the genetic disorders who have also received liver and kidney transplants.
Some people are really convinced that because they've been eating so high oxalate for so long, that they have also built up stores of it in their tissues, even though they have no genetic issues that would lead them to not be able to filter it out. While this is possible in theory, there’s really only anecdotal evidence right now of this happening in the general population, and I hesitate to even refer to it that way, because the word evidence implies some sort of systematic analysis, as opposed to conjecture based on general, otherwise unexplained symptoms.
They believe that their body started “oxalate dumping”, or releasing the oxalates stored in tissue back into the bloodstream, after a sudden decrease in their oxalate intake from food. Again, also possible in theory — and oxalate is being studied in association with irritation and different effects on specific areas and tissues in the body — but there's no definite evidence of this, and no reason to assume their bodies couldn’t filter it out in the first place.
At the moment, we only have the anecdotal evidence, or personal stories of how it's potentially affected people. That doesn't mean that it doesn't happen, but it also probably means that it doesn't happen as often as people think.
It also doesn't mean that if you are having symptoms of what you think might be oxalate dumping, that what you’re feeling isn’t real. It just means that there is much more speculation than evidence at this point.
Either Way, Just Ease Into A Low Oxalate Diet
The moral of this long story is that if this is something that you're worried about, all you have to do is be careful about lowering your oxalate intake, and just do it slowly over a long period of time. This is good news, because that’s the exact best way to ensure you’re able to stick to the diet long term anyway.
The only potential issue with attributing how you’re feeling to “oxalate dumping” is substituting self-diagnosis for proper medical care. So, if you're having any weird or new symptoms, just go and see your doctor to rule out anything serious. In the people with genetic disorders, the reason oxalates are being stored in the first place (for a subsequent dump or release into the bloodstream) is that the body's unable to get rid of it. In most people, this isn't the case and they can in fact get rid of it.
If You're Worried, Ask a Doctor
Long story short: if you have a specific issue where you think oxalates are affecting a certain part of your body, this might be something to consider. But please only take it into consideration after you have double checked with an MD or two so that you can eliminate the possibility of any serious issues. The chances that this will affect you is slim, especially if you're following the diet for kidney stones.
But it is another potential reason why lowering your oxalate intake or easing into the diet is a good idea — wanting to stick to it long-term should be good enough, but if you need one more reason, let this be it.