Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Month: April 2010 (Page 1 of 4)

The Low Oxalate Diet

Many people have reported relief from pain, inflammation, and a range of disorders on a low oxalate diet. If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 of this series –  High oxalate foods can trigger pain and inflammation –  to learn about oxalate and its link to a variety of conditions from fibromylagia to IBS to thyroid dysfunction in susceptible individuals.  This is Part 2, where we explore the low oxalate diet and reliable resources for obtaining information about the oxalate levels in food.   I will also provide a  synopsis of my own experience having been on the diet for a year.

Oxalate levels in food

Oxalate occurs in low to high amounts in a wide range of plant foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, spices, herbs, and almost all nuts and seeds.  Meat, dairy, and eggs contain negligible amounts of oxalate. Many people are able to process oxalate in their body without any problem whatsoever, but others absorb too many oxalate which can then link to calcium and form into sharp crystals that lodge in almost any tissue in the body causing or contributing to pain, inflammation, and other conditions.  The amount of oxalate in a particular food can vary depending upon the soil in which it is grown, the climate, how it’s cooked and other factors.  Despite this caveat, a good amount of useful information has been garnered in recent years on oxalate levels in foods using more reliable testing methods.  This data serves as a guide for trying a low oxalate diet.

Here are a few examples of high oxalate foods:

  • Almonds
  • Tahini
  • Sesame seeds
  • Beets
  • Beet greens
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potato
  • Swiss chard
  • Soy milk
  • Miso
  • Starfruit
  • Rhubarb
  • Figs
  • Potato
  • Tomato
  • Quinoa
  • Most grains
  • Most legumes

Reliable resources for oxalate content

Inaccurate information on the oxalate content of food abounds on the internet.  It is often based on outdated analysis techniques and typically has not been revised as new information has emerged.  This can include information provided on medical sites for dealing with calcium oxalate kidney stones or even information from a medical provider if they have not updated their materials.  Finer methods of content analysis have evolved in recent years and these provide much more accurate data.  In addition, several patient groups who are using the low oxalate diet compile and share their knowledge and experience in online forums.  If a low oxalate diet did not work for you in the past, it may be due to not having accurate information or not implementing the diet correctly due to lack of proper instructions.

These are the most reliable resources I have found:

  • The Low-Oxalate Cookbook, Book Two, The VP Foundation – This “cookbook, ” published by the Vulvar Pain Foundation, is a vital resource for anyone trying the low oxalate diet.  In addition to  comprehensive food lists with tested oxalate levels plus recipes, the book provides an overview of connective tissue research and treatment, guidance for implementing the diet, and answers to frequently asked questions.  Be sure to obtain the updated version—book two—which contains corrections to data contained in the first book.  This book incorporates the experience of many individuals with a wide range of disorders who have used the diet successfully.
  • Trying Low Oxalates Yahoo Group – This is a discussion group for those trying a low oxalate diet.  Susan Owens, M. A., researcher and list owner, regularly updates the forum with information on breaking research about oxalate and its effect in the body.  There is a wealth of useful information in the files section of the group and much to be learned from the experience of other members.  Susan also provides an overview of oxalate information and the diet at too.  The information there is excellent, however the food tables are not always as current as the information available in the forum.  The forum is an incredibly helpful resource for learning how to implement the diet correctly and thus avoiding potential pitfalls.

Both groups use data from testing done at the labs of Dr. Liebman, Ph.D., a professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Wyoming.  He is a specialist in oxalate research.

Implementing the low oxalate diet

The menu options on a low oxalate diet are numerous and varied.  The diet provides a good nutritional base as long as your eat an array of the available foods.

Implementing the diet requires study, counting numbers, and ongoing dedication.  A low oxalate diet generally means keeping your intake of oxalate from food and beverages between 40 and 60 mg. per day, depending upon your weight.  Some people find they need a very low oxalate intake, while others can tolerate more.  Each person needs to experiment and find their own level.  To use the diet correctly, you will have to count your daily intake and be cognizant of portion sizes.

It is also helpful to bear in mind that oxalate levels can vary dramatically due to growing conditions as well as cooking methods.  The lists provided are guides, not the ultimate truth.  While some foods routinely test low for oxalate and people rarely report problems with them, others do not.  Zucchini and green beans are examples of foods that test at different levels.  There may also be reasons other than oxalate content for why you react to a particular food.  Each person needs to experiment in order to find the foods they best tolerate, but having accurate low oxalate lists and support from others on the diet gives an excellent starting ground.

Meat, dairy, and eggs contain negligible amounts of oxalate.  However, eating large amounts of meat is not advisable as this can also contribute biochemically to increasing oxalate levels in the body.

Cooking and preparation methods influence oxalate content of foods.  For example, some vegetables have a lower oxalate content when boiled, although it appears there are different explanations for this.  One explanation is that the oxalate leaches into the water.  Therefore, you never want to drink or use the water in which your vegetables are cooked.  While boiling vegetables goes contrary to modern nutritional advice in terms of retaining the most nutrients, there are plenty of good nutritional choices on the diet.  Obviously, avid juicing is not part of the diet, although small amounts of specific juices can be used.

It’s also recommended not to make a dramatic shift to a low oxalate diet.  Most people begin by cutting out high oxalate foods and then over a period of time gradually reducing their intake of medium oxalate foods.  This gives your body time to adjust to the change. Some people find they can tolerate up to 2 servings of medium oxalate foods per day, as long as the remainder of their foods are low oxalate.  Others find they can only tolerate foods in the low and very low oxalate category and some can only handle very low oxalate foods.

There can be a short term increase in symptoms when the diet is started and symptoms can flare periodically while on the diet.  One theory is that during the low oxalate diet a chemical shift occurs at a cellular level from time-to-time causing larger amounts of oxalate to be released from tissue and therefore symptoms as well.  The term “dumping” has been coined to describe this feature.  Ascertaining whether symptoms are due to eating too much oxalate or simply a biochemical shift is not necessarily easy.  This is where support from others on the diet is really useful.

Both approaches to the diet provide a recommended list of supplements either for connective tissue stabilization or to help optimize the processing of oxalate in the body and reduce symptoms.

At times, people report very quick results on the diet, but others find it can take 6 months to see results.  According to Susan Owens, it can take 1-4 years on the diet for the stores of excess oxalate to leave tissues.

There’s much more to learn about the diet than can be provided in a brief article.  The best approach is to obtain the Low-Oxalate Cookbook from the Vulvar Pain Foundation and to utilize the information available from the Trying Low Oxalates Yahoo forum hosted by Susan Owens, which includes participation from people with a variety of conditions with autism being one of the main ones.

Remember, this is cutting edge research so it’s almost like participating in an experiment in process, rather than being an exact science.

My experience on the diet

I started the diet after my medical doctor found that I had numerous calcium oxalate crystals in my urine. He told me that I was absorbing too much oxalate via the gut and that this could be causing or contributing to my muscle pain, digestive distress, and other symptoms.

I’ve been on the low oxalate diet for a year.  After being on the diet for four months, I saw shifts in my blood work including positive changes in unconjugated Bilirubin (a marker for Gilbert’s Syndrome) , TSH, C-Reactive Protein, and Serum Tryptase.  I was also restricting, though not entirely, my exposure to toxic chemicals, so I can’t say for certain whether these changes were due to the diet or to limiting exposures or to both. Since chemical sensitivity contributes to my gut problems, the low-oxalate diet could not fully do it’s work until I was able to completely remove myself from chemical exposures.  This only took place about four months ago.

There have been significant symptom improvements since being on the diet in addition to the blood tests indicated above.   However, I still have a long way to go to heal my gut completely.   For most of us, multiple factors often contribute to our conditions and one remedy is usually not sufficient to effect full recovery.  Nevertheless, the low-oxalate diet has been and continues to be an essential piece of my health puzzle and recovery process.

If you suffer from any of the conditions listed in Part 1 of this series, you might consider exploring the low-oxalate diet.  Naturally, it’s important to consult with your health care provider before embarking upon any diet.  Since excess oxalate reduces glutathione, which is essential for processing many toxic chemicals that enter or are produced by the body, the low-oxalate diet may also be of benefit to those with chemical sensitivity or Gilbert’s Syndrome, especially if they have digestive problems as well.  In the case of Gilbert’s Syndrome, gluthatione is one of two pathways the degrade bilirubin.

There’s a learning curve when it comes to the low oxalate approach, but the efforts required are well worth it for those who achieve reductions in pain, inflammation, and other troublesome symptoms.

To read Part 1:   High oxalate foods can trigger pain and inflammation

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


High Oxalate Foods Can Trigger Pain and Inflammation

Foods high in oxalate may cause or increase inflammation, pain, and burning, irritate tissues and mucous membranes, and contribute to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones.

Oxalate is found in varying degrees primarily in plant foods including vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, spices, herbs, and almost all nuts and seeds.

When too much oxalate is absorbed into the bloodstream via the gut, it can team up with calcium to form sharp calcium-oxalate crystals.  These crystals can then wedge themselves into tissue almost anywhere in the body causing damage and/or exacerbating pain and inflammation.  Excess oxalate can also lead to oxidative damage and the depletion of glutathione.  The latter is essential for metabolizing many toxic environmental chemicals that enter the body.

How do high oxalate foods cause problems?

Most people are able to safely metabolize and process oxalate out of the gut through the stool. According to researcher Susan Owens, M.A., Director of the Autism Oxalate Project, a problem occurs when excess oxalate is absorbed through the gut due to intestinal permeability, poor fat digestion, inflammation, or prolonged diarrhea or constipation.  Overuse of antibiotics may also pose a problem since this can reduce or eliminate the oxalate-degrading bacteria in the intestines. In her overview of the scientific research, Owens says there may be a link between excess oxalate in the body and the following conditions:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Vulvodynia
  • Calcium-oxalate Kidney Stones
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Autism

Excess oxalate may be one among several factors like genetics and environmental triggers that contribute to these disorders and to other conditions reported by members of the Trying Low Oxalates Yahoo forum, started by Owens.

Oxalate and the Pain Project

Taking a slightly different twist, Clive Solomons, Ph.D., former director of research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, has explored the connection between excess oxalate, pain, and weakened connective tissue in his research, which is aptly called the Pain Project.   In addition to a low-oxalate diet, he recommends that a graded program of connective tissue stabilization, using a small number of supplements, also be employed to gain relief from symptoms and provide longer-term healing of connective tissue.  People who have participated in the Pain Project have reported recovery or improvement from a variety of painful conditions including:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Vulvodynia (vulvar pain)
  • Vulvar vestibulitis
  • Lichen sclerosus
  • Lichen planus
  • Dyspareunia (painful sex)
  • Nonbacterial prostatitis
  • Urethral syndrome
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction

Solomons has observed that almost every participant in the Pain Project with these diagnosis’ reveal periodic hyperoxaluria upon testing.  The term hyperoxaluria refers to excreting greater than normal amounts of oxalate via the urine at certain times of the day, but normal amounts at other times.

The Low Oxalate Cookbook, which explains Solomon’s research underscores:

“It is important to understand that the metabolic abnormality that causes pain is internal.  The amount of oxalate that appears in urine is determined not only by dietary intake of oxalate (food), but also by intestinal bacteria that are able to degrade oxalate, intestinal permeability (how easily the intestinal wall lets substances like oxalate pass through it into the body’s tissues), endogenous (internal) synthesis of oxalate within the body, and the handling of oxalate by the kidneys.

Foods and beverages high in oxalate content merely add fuel to the flame.  In addition, tissues are affected by exposure to chemicals in the environment such as chlorine and formaldehyde.

Although reducing dietary oxalate may only have a partial effect, any reduction in pain is a good thing.  Over 70% of patients in the Pain Project, who utilize connective tissue stabilization supplements in addition to the low-oxalate diet, have reported significant improvements or complete recovery.

If you have any of the above conditions, you may want to explore the potential benefits of trying a low-oxalate diet, after consultation with a medical professional.  Be forewarned that there is a great deal of incomplete and incorrect information about the low-oxalate diet on the internet.

Read Part 2 of this series on the Low-Oxalate Diet and resources for reliable information.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


Getting physical

Fess up!  Are you getting enough physical activity or are you chained, intentionally or unintentionally, to your computer all day and even evenings too?  Few of us are immune to the lure of cyberspace, however the addiction seems a growing danger among the young who are frequently introduced to computers before kindergarten.  Nowadays, you will find a bevy of talented 16-year olds who are professional bloggers and entrepeneurs, and most teens are gathering hundreds of friends on places like Facebook.

But with all this social networking, blogging, online marketing and sales, and other forms of online engagement for the young and old alike, is anyone getting physical too?  It’s not a question of ditching the computer or cutting the connection, but rather of creating balance in your life.

Do you need a physical routine?

Would you like to create a new habit of getting physical?  I’ve been mentally inclined all my life, but I’m determined to create a new way.  These are the activities that I am aiming for about 5 days a week.  I’m always sure to pace myself and not push beyond my personal limits.

  • Gardening and yard work – 30 to 60 minutes, sometimes more.
  • Chi Gong gentle exercise – 20 – to 30 minutes
  • Leisurely walk with my husband before dinner  – 20 to 30 minutes

You can create a new habit too.  Just choose one activity that you enjoy and give it a go beginning with smaller blocks of time a few times a week and gradually building up to a manageable maintenance level.  Many people find having a partner helps them stay with a physical routine.

Some benefits of physical activity

You can probably enumerate many more benefits from physical activity, but the ones that standout for me include:

  • Deeper respiration, not just during the activity but throughout the day.  My body starts breathing more dynamically on its own, bringing vital oxygen to all my cells.
  • Fresh air when activities are done outdoors.  Did you know that indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air these days?
  • Increased Vitamin D levels from outdoor activity when the sun shines.  Vitamin D levels can often be low in those with chronic or immune compromised illnesses.
  • Improved flexibility.
  • Breaking a sweat helps remove toxins via the skin.
  • An opportunity to practice mindfulness by simply paying attention to the activity at hand.
  • An overactive mind calms down, mood improves, stress is reduced.
  • A sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Physical activity and chronic illness or pain

Physical activity is not necessarily easy or even doable for those with chronic illness or chronic pain.  Naturally, you should always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine. The key is to always start with tiny amounts and increase very, very slowly.  ‘Tiny’ means starting with just 1 – 5 minutes a day or just moving your leg up and down in bed. Tune into your body and always respect your limits.  Get help from a physical therapist who understands your condition. When done properly and judiciously, physical activity can often bring improvement to chronic conditions.

Do you have trouble unleashing yourself from the computer and getting physical?  What solutions work for you?

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How to Write A Letter to Yourself

I enjoy offering support, encouragement, and perspective to others and try to do so in a gentle, thoughtful, and kind way.  Recently, it struck me once again that this is exactly what I need when the going gets tough!  How about you?

It’s easy to fall into unhelpful habitual thought patterns when assailed by troubled emotions, difficult people, challenging circumstances, or a flare of ill health. 

We each have our own well-worn ruts that we return to whether they be anger, impatience, hopelessness, fear, depression, blame, a feeling of victimization or any other one. Indeed, we tend to be quite predicable!  However, with practice, it is possible to gradually transform these patterns and become a new you.

Writing and keeping an encouraging letter to myself on hand helps me to wake me up and make a shift when trying situations occur.  You might like to experiment with this too.

This special note to yourself can placed in a journal, posted in a prominent place, put into a sticky on your computer desktop, or situated anywhere easily accessible.  The ‘letter’ can actually take any form from a full blown epistle to a phrase with a bullet point list, a poem, a photo, or a comic.  Choose any format that meets your fancy.

The main point is that you know yourself better than anyone else.  You know what is likely to irk you, get you down, or rev you up and what your typical  reactions will to it be.  In essence, the letter is your heart advice to yourself on how to work with difficulties when they arise.

Tips on Writing a Letter to Yourself

Use a gentle and loving tone if you tend to be harsh or judgmental with yourself.  A brisk, fresh, or humorous tone can also work if you have a strong personality.  It all depends on what typically helps you

Start with an inventory of your good qualities, the ones which seem to get easily lost in the fray!  Are you normally kind and compassionate?  Are you generally cool as a cucumber?  Are confidence and determination valued traits?  Don’t be shy or overly humble.  When the going gets rough we need to remember our goodness. 

Then enumerate whatever personal advice has helped you turn the tide in the past. For example:

  • This is just a negative pattern.  It’s not the real me!  I can change this.
  • I’m not alone.  Everyone has problematic encounters [insert emotion or circumstance: suffering, grief, trauma, tragedy…]  It will be OK.  This too shall pass.
  • What’s really eating me?  Is there something positive I can do about it?
  • Breathe!
  • These are the people I like to call upon for help [enumerate].
  • This anger [insert any emotion] is only harming me.  If I give myself some space, I’ll find a more constructive way to deal with this problem.
  • I know from experience that it’s best not to respond to this [insert call, criticism, attack…] right away.  It’s better to let it settle for both of us and approach it later from a calmer state.
  • Taking a walk, watching a movie, going to the gym [insert the activity of choice] always makes me feel better.
  • This would  help me to laugh, relax, let go [insert desired state] right now.
  • Putting myself in the other person’s shoes always gives me perspective and helps to bring a new perspective.  It often helps me see a better solution.
  • It’s not fair, but it is how it is.  I can find a way to work with this or decide to leave the situation.
  • I always feel hopeless [depressed, insert any emotion] when my pain flares.  I will feel better when the flare subsides.
  • Feeling emotionally raw, irritated, fatigued [insert state] is an early warning sign of a flare.  If I take care of myself now, I will feel better sooner.
  • I don’t like criticism, but it’s only my action being criticized not my true self.  I can decide for myself whether the criticism is relevant.  This criticism might be hard to hear, but it might help me become a better person.

Consider actually mailing the letter to yourself.  This can have a powerful effect.  There’s something about opening the envelope and reading the letter freshly, a few days later, that can create a strong impact and help you to remember to use it in the future.  Then just simply put the letter in a very accessible place.  Create a routine of pulling it out early on, if possible, before strong emotions have blown you away.

Have you ever written a letter to yourself?  What would you put in a letter to yourself?  

I’m grateful for your time and attention.  If you have a moment, please help me reach others by sharing this post.  If you’re new, please consider subscribing for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra

The health benefits of Epsom Salt baths

Highly relaxing, Epsom Salt baths also offer countless health benefits.  Magnesium and sulfate, the constituents of Epsom Salt, are beneficial substances for the body and are readily absorbed through the skin while soaking in a bath.

According to the Epsom Salt Council,

“Studies show these benefits from the major components of Epsom Salt may:


  • Ease stress and improves sleep and concentration
  • Help muscles and nerves function properly
  • Regulate activity of 325+ enzymes
  • Help prevent artery hardening and blood clots
  • Make insulin more effective
  • Reduce inflammation to relieve pain and muscle cramps
  • Improve oxygen use


  • Flush toxins
  • Improve absorption of nutrients
  • Help form joint proteins, brain tissue and mucin proteins
  • Help prevent or ease migraine headaches”

A 2004 study conducted by Rosemary Waring, Ph.D. has shown that sulfate and magnesium are absorbed through the skin while bathing in 1% w/v/ solution of Epsom Salt.  This is of special significance to those with digestive problems who may have trouble obtaining adequate amounts of these substances via food.  Sulfates are also essential to detoxify some prescription drugs and environmental toxins and thus Epsom Salt baths can be helpful to those with environmentally triggered illnesses.

How to use Epsom Salt

Epsom Salt can usually be found in the pharmacy section of most grocery stores and in drug stores.  The 4lb. container is often more economical.  Simply dissolve 2 cups of Epsom Salt in a regular bathtub and soak for a minimum of 12 minutes or use 1 cup in a foot bath.  This can be done three times a week.  Naturally, those who are sensitive should proceed cautiously starting out with smaller amounts at first.  I began with 1/2 cup and increased to 2 cups over the course of a week or two.  It is also advisable to use a bath ball filter when running any type of bath in order to remove toxins from water, which may also be absorbed through the skin.

Epsom Salt baths are an easy, enjoyable, and economical way to improve health, boost nutrients, and aid relaxation.  They are a regular part of my wellness plan.

Source:  Epsom Salt Council

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Chemical sensitivity is not psychogenic

Why do intelligent medical doctors continue to make the same mistake again and again?

In his book, Explaining “Unexplained Illness”:  Disease Paradigm for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Gulf War Syndrome, and Others, Martin Pall, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at Washington State University, reviews the history of false psychogenic attribution for these nine disease:

  1. Multiple sclerosis
  2. Parkinson’s disease
  3. Lupus
  4. Interstitial cystitis
  5. Migraine
  6. Rheumatoid arthritis
  7. Asthma
  8. Gastric and duodena ulcers
  9. Ulcerative colitis

As we now know, all these illnesses have been proven to have a genuine physiological basis.  The example of ulcers is of particular interest as for decades medical doctors believed and treated ulcers as though they were caused by stress.  Research conducted by two Australia doctors, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, revealed that in the vast majority of patients, ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection with Helicobacter Pylori.  Their research was ignored and even ridiculed for ten years, yet they were ultimately vindicated.  Ironically, these two persistent doctors were even awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine.

How can intelligent medical doctors justify being so wrong, so many times and continue to repeat the same error of psychogenic attribution simply because science has yet to reveal a physiological basis for a particular disease?  What is the basis for this collective amnesia?  Do they ever look back and feel remorse and regret for all the patients that received inadequate medical care and suffered in multiple ways due to their automatic response?  Understandably, doctors cannot act upon every single research study as results are not necessarily conclusive.  But they can demonstrate more receptivity, curiosity, and compassion instead of leaping immediately to a psychogenic explanation.

Chemical sensitivity is not psychogenic

Multiple chemical sensitivity is yet another disorder that medical doctors and psychological researchers adamantly claim as being psychogenic in origin.  Yet the scientific facts have consistently been stacking up against them.

In a report prepared for the The Canadian Human Rights Commission called The Medical Perspective of Environmental Sensitivities, these research points indicate the shifting tide:

“Although some researchers believe that environmental sensitivities may have strictly psychological origins, a 1994 review of psychological studies found methodological and logical problems in the then-current psychological research.”

“Recent research with better defined patient populations concluded that psychiatric symptoms are more likely to stem from, rather than to cause, symptoms of environmental sensitivities.”

“The balance of scientific evidence and experience indicates that environmental sensitivities generally arise from physiological causes, although there are many neurological and psychological consequences.”

In other words, some people with multiple chemical sensitivity also suffer from anxiety, depression, or panic disorder but science is now revealing that these conditions more often occur as a result of the biochemical disruption caused by exposure to toxic environmental chemicals.

Professor Martin Pall, Ph.D. also repudiates, in detail, the notion that multiple chemical sensitivity is psychogenic in origin and provides a scientific explanation of its cause as being disruption of the NO/ONOO – cycle mechanism. NO refers to nitric oxide.

A number of years ago I was diagnosed with microscopic colitis, but my GI doctor was unable to explain some of my other GI symptoms.  She told me this:  “I don’t know why you have these symptoms.  Medicine is not an exact science.  It doesn’t have all the answers.”

I look forward to the day when more doctors have the humility to make such a simple, honest statement instead of jumping onto the psychogenic bandwagon.

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