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Is Healthy Eating Causing Your Fatigue? Maybe, Says Experts

See how you can reverse the damage.


If you’re tired often, you’re not alone — there’s a reason coffee is such a popular beverage in the morning. But if you’re excessively tired most of the time, you may feel concerned. Take a look at your diet: you’d expect to feel chronic fatigue if all you ate was junk food, but if you eat a steady diet of healthy foods like leafy greens and legumes, you may be thinking, what gives? Aren’t these foods supposed to give me energy? Not always. A lot of healthy foods are high in oxalates, which, in excessive amounts, may actually cause more pain and fatigue. Keep reading to see if you’re suffering from high oxalates, and learn what you can do to feel better.

What are oxalates?

Oxalates, sometimes called oxalic acid, are natural plant compounds. Our bodies can make them, but we also get them from eating certain foods, such as:

  • Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Spinach
  • Almonds
  • Dates
  • Raspberries
  • Navy beans
  • Soy

Many foods high in oxalates are also high in other important nutrients. However, because oxalates bind to calcium, high levels may hinder your ability to absorb certain nutrients, put you at a higher risk for kidney stones, and cause other health issues. So even though oxalates occur in healthy foods you should be eating, they’ve been deemed an “anti-nutrient” for their ability to cause problems in high amounts, say researchers from Harvard.

What are the dangers of high oxalates?

As previously stated, they may increase your risk of developing kidney stones — but they may also cause other problems. Oxalates can circulate in the bloodstream and build up in tissues, triggering tiredness, pain, and brain fog. “Make no mistake, every human being on planet Earth is sensitive to oxalates above a certain level,” says Ken Berry, MD.

Complicating matters: Oxalates have been called “the great pretender,” explains Dr. Berry, because “the inflammation they trigger can mimic rheumatoid arthritis and IBS, even anxiety and ADHD.” What’s more, David Perlmutter, MD, says, “Oxalates steal calcium in the body, weakening women’s bone health.”

How can I tell if I have high oxalates?

If you’re experiencing persistent discomfort, talk to your doctor. In the meantime, there are some things you can look for at home.

Blood testing often doesn’t reveal oxalate accumulation. Instead, look at your morning urine. Chronically cloudy, smelly urine may be a sign of oxalate crystal overload. Want to know about the other things you should look for? Take the quiz below to see if your symptoms might indicate too-high levels of oxalates.

High oxalate symptom quiz, screenshotted from First for Women magazine, based on text by Lisa Maxbauer
Courtesy of First for Women Magazine

What do I do if I have high oxalates?

Diet changes help. Limiting intake of high-oxalate foods (like almonds, spinach, beets, and potatoes) allows the kidneys to flush oxalates, says Dr. Perlmutter. Tip: Cut back slowly to avoid detox flare-ups, or “dumping.”

Also key: Oxalate overload demands more B vitamins, so experts advise supplementing. Ask your doctor about trying B vitamins, like Klaire Labs Active B Complex (Buy from NHC, $31.99). And taking calcium citrate can mop up oxalates in the body. See if your doctor recommends calcium citrate, like Nature’s Way Calcium Citrate (Buy from Amazon, $11.99).

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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