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Posts Tagged "bone broth"

Oxalate: Get to the Root of the Issue

Oxalate: Get to the Root of the Issue

Oxalate has been a subject of great interest for me for many years now.  It is an intriguing subject, and one that rarely gets the attention it deserves. Oxalate is my family’s one remaining issue at this point.  Or more accurately, one remaining “symptom”.  You can read my introductory article on oxalate here, and my articles about the relationship between oxalate and candida here and here.  I don’t want to rehash that science. In this article, I would like to focus on the possibility of solving your oxalate issue.

I have learned much of what I know about oxalate from studying the work of Susan Owens, oxalate researcher extraordinaire. Susan was really the first person to expand the study of oxalate clinically to outside the kidney. Nobody else thought it had any relevance outside of the potential for kidney stones. Susan discovered the relationship between oxalate and autism and confirmed that relationship in this study in the European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, which found that oxalates may be involved in the pathogenesis of ASD in children.  It was her research that got my kiddo out of pain, and living a healthy, happy life.  I owe her so much and I am eternally grateful for her work.

But I have to admit that I am troubled by some of the current thinking with respect to oxalate.

I do not believe that my daughter should be restricted to a low oxalate diet for the rest of her life.  Sure, I know oxalate is a “toxin”.  And we certainly do not thrive on the stuff.  But there are plenty of toxins in plant-based foods.  Are we to avoid all of them?  Avoidance of many foods puts us at risk of malnourishment.  And I really don’t believe food is the real problem in most cases.

I lived over 30 years of my life without symptoms from oxalate before they started to impact me.  And that happened overnight.  Not as in the slow accumulation of toxins, but as in the result of the trauma of a c-section, anesthesia, and antibiotics.  So these toxins in food didn’t interfere with my healthy, active life until these major medical interventions.

Yes, it is entirely possible to get yourself into trouble with oxalate with diet alone.  This happens quite often with health conscious people.  I meet people everyday who come to me for help with diet after making “improvements” to their diet that have made them far sicker, and oxalate is often the explanation.  Dr. Shaw from Great Plains Laboratory calculated the average intake of oxalate in the average American diet to be about 100 mg, whereas those eating just one green smoothie (prepared with 2 cups of spinach or the equivalent) were netting 15,000 mg of oxalate!  Shaw described oxalate as “probably the most important unrecognized medical factor that is going on today”. I completely agree with this statement!

Yet, my experience on this diet has led me to believe that my reaction to oxalate has significance beyond the mere need to avoid this toxin. There is a reason I have ill effects from oxalate consumption. And I am not eating the spinach smoothies Shaw describes; I suspect many people would react to that kind of oxalate consumption.  But there must be a reason I can’t “get away” with even a handful of almonds or a teaspoon of beets.

Endogenous production of oxalate occurs in the body under certain circumstances. Endogenous production of oxalate means that oxalate is being made in the body.  You can imagine that under these circumstances, food is only part of the oxalate equation.  It makes absolutely no sense to me to blame the oxalate in food when there is obviously something about my biochemistry that needs to be addressed.

And that, my friends, is why we have been working for several years on addressing the underlying issues.

I often have clients that have been eating ridiculously high in oxalate (usually in an attempt to be healthy!) and they improve when they slowly move toward a moderate oxalate diet.  But it is true unfortunately for my clients as well as my family, there is usually more to the issue than food.

There are so many roads to oxalate.  I can’t address them all in this article but I will address a few that I commonly see in my daily work with clients, and some of which we dealt with here.

As I stated above, foods contain variable levels of oxalate, from negligible to extremely high.  Additionally, there are foods that contain precursors to oxalate, that convert to oxalate under a set of circumstances.  For example,  bone broth contains hydroxyproline, which breaks down to glyoxylate and eventually oxalic acid when conditions are right (or should I say wrong!).  It did not matter how much bone broth we drank to “heal our guts” – it took stopping the broth and decreasing the oxalate in our diets to see improvement. Vitamin C can convert to oxalate, especially under certain circumstances, as in when there is high free copper or iron. Most people on a low oxalate diet have to be cautious with various substances in foods and supplements that can convert to oxalate.

The gut plays a large role for some people.  Leaky gut increases our absorption of oxalate.  Fat malabsorption can as well, by tying up our calcium that would otherwise protect us from absorbing oxalate.  When gut bacteria is destroyed by antibiotics and such, we can no longer put it to use degrading the oxalates from our food. A lack of the intestinal bacteria Oxalobacter formigenes has long been discussed as the potential problem.  And this makes sense in context with all the antibiotics we take (and get indirectly through food) that could potentially wipe out this darn near impossible to recolonize anaerobe. I have to admit that I once thought that when O. formigenes became commercially available as a probiotic (Trials are underway, but this stuff is not easy to package, people.  Again, it is an anaerobe.) we would all be cured of this condition.  But after having seen a couple years of my clients using the new version of Genova’s GI Effects which tests for this bacteria I think I can count on my fingers and toes the number of clients I have seen with below detectable levels of this bacteria. Quite often, people have moderate or high levels.  I can only assume in many people it is thriving on abundant amounts of oxalate.  It is possible that other strains of bacteria that also contribute in a large way to the degradation of oxalate are lacking and this is a factor.  Time will tell.

Minerals and oxalate have an interesting relationship. We have learned that most of our “oxalate” symptoms are actually mineral deficiency symptoms that are likely induced by the presence of oxalate.  Oxalate can effectively “chelate” some minerals from the body, such as calcium.  Since calcium in the diet protects us from absorbing oxalate, one has to wonder if casein-free diets could leave someone more vulnerable to oxalate problems.  Copper and iron dysregulation seem to relate to oxalate in several ways.  And these issues are not at all uncommon in the population I work with.  As I mentioned above, Vitamin C can convert to oxalate in the presence of high free copper or iron. But we are learning that while people may have high levels of biounavailable copper or iron, they may be deficient in bioavailable forms of these elements. And these minerals also play an important role in the antioxidant enzymes that are needed to mitigate oxidative stress.  This is a really big topic and will be the subject of another blog post.

I discussed the yeast and mold connection in depth in my articles shared above, so I will spare you a repeat of that discussion.

Deficiencies in B vitamins, particularly B6 and often B1 are associated with oxalate problems.  While these vitamins are often supplemented on low oxalate protocols nobody is talking about why they are so deficient in the first place.  Are there transport issues?  Trouble converting them to their active forms?  Lack of absorption in the gut?  Or are we just burning through them due to oxidative stress? Perhaps increasing our intake can help under some circumstances, but is it possible that these deficiencies are being created by gut bugs that are thriving on the B vitamins, leaving their host deficient?  Is adding B vitamins to this situation without getting to the underlying infections ideal?

Just based on the work I have done with clients, I have a strong suspicion that sulfur-reducing bacteria could be behind the oxidative stress and B6 deficiencies in many people.  After all, sulfur is needed to make glutathione, our master anti-oxidant!  I will have to elaborate on this in the future for risk of writing a novel here.

Many of my clients have Pyroluria, a condition where you waste your B6 and zinc.  Low B6 is a well-accepted cause of endogenous oxalate production, and low zinc can lead to high copper.  You can see where that could be a problem with respect to oxalate!

Don’t even get me started on Lyme and mold.  Most of my clients suffer from Lyme disease and mold illness!

For some people, this is a genetic issue.  As I explained in my article Oxalates: Plant Toxins on Your Plate, some people do have a genetic form of hyperoxaluria, and they produce oxalates endogenously (their body produces them) due to mutations in the genes GRHPR and AGXT.  There are other genes that are looking like they play a role, but we still have a lot to learn in this area.

While on the topic of genetics,  Dr. Amy Yasko lists a number of factors that may contribute to high oxalate levels in Chapter 4 of her latest book, Feel Good Biochemistry, including two polymorphisms both myself and my daughter have the misfortune of having.  While Susan Owens has dismissed some of these factors, there are several she has not yet addressed.  For my daughter, I leave no stone unturned.  I appreciate Dr. Amy’s attention to this issue.

In Dr. Amy’s wise words, “the issue of high oxalate is integrated into my larger concern about overall biochemical balance”.  YES.

The enzyme I mentioned earlier, AGXT which is involved in primary hyperoxaluria and protects us from making oxalate is B6 dependent, and this is why B6 is such an important intervention on the protocol. I think people with oxalate issues with high need for B6 should be asking why they have such a high need for B6.  Do they have poor absorption in the gut?  Are they burning through it trying to make glutathione due to high levels of oxidative stress?  Are parasites using it up? In many cases, while taking B6 in higher doses may help mitigate the damage with respect to oxalate, I fear that this treatment does not solve the underlying issues, which may fester and grow.

I have never met a single person who has healed an oxalate problem with B6.  And I don’t think high dose B6 is even appropriate for everyone.  You have to ask yourself why the high doses of B6 are needed in the first place.  What is placing so much demand on B6 chemistry?

Get to the root of the issue.

I know that there is no “quick fix” for an oxalate problem.  It is not likely to resolve easily.  It takes time.  We know this first-hand as we continue to work at reducing our oxidative stress.  But issues that are left undetected and untreated could cause more health problems down the road.  In my opinion, an oxalate issue that goes beyond oxalate intoxication from eating a high oxalate diet is a warning that there is an imbalance in the body that needs to be addressed.

If you have a problem with oxalate, I encourage you to find the underlying issues and address them. I hope this article helps you start to Peel Back the Onion Layers with respect to oxalate!

Healthy green smoothie with spinach in a jar mug against a wood background

Oxalate: Get to the Root of the Issue! #autism #autoimmune #foodintolerances


Candida and Oxalate: The Chicken or the Egg? Part II

Candida and Oxalate: The Chicken or the Egg? Part II

In my recent article Candida and Oxalate: The Chicken or the Egg? I explained the controversy over the relationship between candida and oxalate.  In that article, I explained a possible mechanism by which oxalate can underlie a perpetual candida problem. I also explained evidence shared by Susan Owens, oxalate researcher extraordinaire, that the use of antifungals may actually add fuel to the fire. In the interest of representing both sides of the story, today I would like to present the other side of the debate.

I explained the basics of oxalate and how “healthy” foods that contain oxalate contribute to various health problems in a previous article, Oxalates: Plant Toxins on Your Plate, so I won’t spend much time on that here.

In a recent webinar, Dr. Bill Shaw from Great Plains Laboratory not only provided some excellent background information on oxalate, but he also proposed an interesting new theory on how candida could potentially contribute to oxalate production. In this presentation, Shaw described oxalate as “probably the most important unrecognized medical factor that is going on today”. I completely agree with this statement! I have embedded the entire presentation entitled “The Green Smoothie Health Fad: This Road to Health Hell is Paved with Toxic Oxalate Crystals” below for you to watch at your leisure. But first, a little commentary from yours truly. 🙂

Oxalates are the primary cause of kidney stones and it is in the field of kidney and urinary health where oxalate gets the most attention, although oxalate is getting much-deserved attention with respect to chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, autism and many other health conditions now too.  Shaw aptly credits the fact that while urologists know to look for oxalate, most doctors are unaware of the role of oxalate in other tissues and diseases to the specialization of medicine.

The primary objective of Shaw’s presentation seems to be to bring awareness to the dangers of the consumption of green smoothies, which are often promoted for improving health.  Dr. Shaw explains that the amount of oxalate in a green smoothie made with just 2 cups of spinach would be 15 g of oxalate, which according to a MSDS Safety sheet would be a lethal dose of oxalate!  I have to assume the calcium in the spinach is somewhat protective or many of us would be dead.  Imagine if you were juicing it how much easier it would be to ingest – I juiced my share of spinach before I knew about oxalate!

It is interesting to note that Shaw calculated the average intake of oxalate in the average American diet to be about 100 mg, whereas those eating just one green smoothie (prepared as described above, with 2 cups of spinach or the equivalent) were netting 15,000 mg of oxalate! Know anybody who has gone on a healthy diet and grown SICKER?  That describes a good portion of my clients when they first come to me, most oblivious about oxalate and its impact on health.

As an aside, some of you may think that you are off the hook with respect to oxalate issues because you would never consume such an abomination as a green smoothie, but you are wrong. If you are eating a diet high in vegetables and/or nuts (which I see often in the Paleo or vegetarian/vegan populations), if you are consuming large amounts of bone broth, gelatin or collagen (eaten perhaps to excess on “healing” diets these days), or you are taking high doses of Vitamin C, oxalate should be on your radar. I know I just described most of my readers!  But food and supplements are not the only issues with which you may want to be concerned.

Shaw has been reporting for years that he believes candida to be a source of oxalate in the body, and that he finds that oxalate problems dissipate after anti-fungal treatment. Please note that this is pretty much the opposite of what Susan Owens has found and I shared in my article Candida and Oxalate: The Chicken or the Egg?.

In looking for a mechanism to explain his findings, Shaw found research that Candida albicans makes an enzyme that breaks down collagen, collagen being a protein which makes up about 30% of all protein in the body.  As explained in the video below, he believes that Candida can use this enzyme to break down collagen in the intestinal wall and elsewhere, and as that collagen breaks down to hydroxyproline, and eventually glyoxylate, that can convert to oxalic acid when conditions are right (or should I say wrong!)

This is the research paper Shaw shared on the collagenolytic enzyme produced by Candida albicans. 

Those of you that have been around the oxalate block know that having adequate levels of Vitamin B6 is important to protect us from this conversion to oxalate, as the enzyme AGT (which is deficient in a type of genetic hyperoxaluria), which is B6 dependent, can convert our glyoxylate to glycine (a precursor to glutathione!) rather than have it end up contributing to high oxalate levels in the body.  In this scenario, B6 can help protect our collagen from converting to oxalate but it does not protect us from that collagen loss in the first place!  

I must admit that the presence of yeast, loss of collagen and conversion of that collagen to oxalate certainly is consistent with certain conditions many of my clients suffer from (as did I), such as interstitial cystitis. Maybe this same process can help to explain some cases of leaky gut.

If Shaw is correct, dealing with Candida may be necessary to protect the integrity of our gut, our bladder, and perhaps more. But does that mean anti-fungal treatment is necessary or wise? We had very bad experiences with Nystatin as I explained in previous articles, and I do personally know others that feel that prescription anti-fungals pushed them into endogenous production of oxalate. But does that mean we cannot treat yeast? As described in my previous article, many people are using higher doses of biotin to keep yeast under control, myself included. We as well as many of my clients use Candex by Pure Essence Labs These enzymes are taken on an empty stomach to digest fungal cell walls without directly killing the yeast, but enzymes on an empty stomach as well as high dose biotin are not appropriate for everyone so ask your doctor if these things are appropriate for you.

I have had a few clients that swear that their reoccurring interstitial cystitis disappears when they use natural antifungals, which seems to support Shaw’s theory, but we still have a lot to learn. Basically, there is no easy answer here and this is definitely a decision for you to make with your doctor. Whatever route you choose, what I am advocating for here is a fully informed decision.

In Dr. Shaw’s words, “oxalates are a really big medical deal and so many people I think will have health benefits by addressing this particular problem”.  I could not agree more! But I think it is important to know the risks and benefits associated with treatment for yeast. So talk to your doctor about this issue and work together on a solution so that this is one more layer of the onion you won’t have to peel yourself! 🙂

NOTE: As you watch this video please note that the food lists shared in this presentation (and most food lists shared all over the web) are not accurate.  The only oxalate list that can be trusted can be found at the Trying Low Oxalates Yahoo Group.


This article was featured at Real Food Forager.
This post linked to Fat Tuesday.

The Food and Symptom Diary

The Food and Symptom Diary

A food and symptom diary is a priceless tool.  I study them for patterns to look for the physical and behavioral symptoms I associate with particular foods.  If you or your child experience symptoms you suspect are from foods, a food diary can be a useful reference to track possible food sensitivities.

Try noting how you or your child feel or behave before, during, and after meals and beverages.  Unfortunately, it is sometimes not as simple as what you ate but how much of it or in combination with what other foods. For example, you may find that you get headaches every time you eat pizza, or that you are fine with pizza until you add mushrooms on top, although mushrooms seem to be fine on a salad.  Sometimes it is the combination of things that puts you over your threshold for tolerance of a specific compound. Keeping track of quantity and any additional details helps.

It really is best to take it beyond food if you can. Supplement changes should obviously be monitored closely. Some supplements you might expect to see temporary symptoms from as part of a detox process. But sometimes it may not be detox but an undesirable reaction.  Your doctor will definitely want to know about these reactions.

Exposures to things like perfumes, pets and even temperature changes can have similar affects to foods, and sometimes in combination with chemicals in food you have crossed your threshold for tolerance. One mom reported that her child’s behavioral issues at school were finally traced to the perfume of his classroom aide. I recently heard from a mom that her children seemed to be reacting to grandma with histamine type symptoms. They probably are not reacting to grandma herself, but perhaps a product she uses.

The more detail you record, the more information can be discerned.  Keep track of symptoms that occur 24/7 for best results.

There are actually apps for this kind of thing.  Isn’t that cool?  Here is one I found online called mySymptoms. You can generate a report from this and show it to your doctor or health care professional.

Here are some examples of symptoms that you might list:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Headache
  • Shakiness
  • Pins and needles
  • Dyspraxia
  • Spaciness
  • Brain fog
  • Tantruming
  • Toe walking
  • Sideways glancing
  • Stimming
  • Red cheeks or ears
  • Hiccups
  • Heartburn
  • Reflux
  • Nausea
  • Excessive thirst
  • Salt cravings
  • Excessive hunger
  • Food cravings
  • Lack of appetite
  • OCD or compulsive behaviors
  • Perfectionism
  • High libido
  • Water retention
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Eczema
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Nasal allergies
  • Asthma
  • Agitation
  • Energized
  • Hyperactive
  • Focused
  • Rash
  • Tummy aches
  • Joint pain
  • Other aches and pains
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Headbanging
  • Self-injurious behaviors
  • Eye pain or eye poking
  • Posturing
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Sandy stools
  • Urinary pain or urgency
  • Night terrors
  • Restless legs
  • Bed wetting
  • Eye twitching
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Ringing in ears
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Weepy
  • Defiance
  • Rage
  • Anxiety
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Tachycardia
  • Feeling cold or hot
  • Humorous
  • Calm
  • Happy
  • Interested
  • Connected
  • Communicative

or any other symptoms you observe, good or bad.

If you are going to do this the old fashioned way as opposed to the app above, here is one format that you might use:

Keep in mind that reactions can occur up to several days later, so don’t necessarily expect to associate the symptoms you are experiencing with the most recent meal or exposure.  You do, however, want to keep track of when the reactions occur with respect to meals in order to look for patterns.

I hope this helps you to get to the bottom of any symptoms you or your children are experiencing.  These tools sound incredibly simple but when used properly they can have spectacular results!



This article was featured at Thank Your Body and Girl Meets Nourishment.

Could Histamine Be Sabotaging Your Digestive Health?

Could Histamine Be Sabotaging Your Digestive Health?

All This Talk of Histamine

There has been a lot of talk about histamine in the circles I run in lately. Could it be that Spring is in the air? In the Spring, it is not uncommon for people to have the sniffles or sneezes as the immune system responds to allergens in our environment by releasing histamine. Histamines in the diet can really become an issue this time of the year as we exceed our threshold for tolerance of histamines.

Histamine is really a rather complicated issue. Everyone has a threshold for the amount of histamine their body will tolerate, and this tolerance is determined by many factors. Our mast cells release histamines during allergic or inflammatory reactions. There are histamines released in response to our environment. There are foods that release histamines from mast cells, and then there are foods with actual histamine content. Chocolate, cheese, vinegars, wine and beer, mushrooms, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, citrus fruits, fermented foods, and bone broths are just some examples of foods that provoke a histamine reaction. Additionally, temperature changes, sunlight, stress, some medications and other factors can affect our histamine load.

Histamines can be an issue with any diet. I often see histamine issues with people on grain-free diets such as the Paleo Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet and GAPS. A diet higher in meats and certain vegetables and lower in grains could by default be higher in histamines. When we eliminate the lower histamine grains and rely on more nuts to replicate SAD (Standard American Diet) baked goods like breads, cakes and cookies, we do increase our histamine load. When we add some of the staples in traditional diets, such as bone broths and fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut we can really increase the histamine load. But I suspect that the connection between the grain-free diet and the histamine issue has less to do with the diet itself and more to do with underlying issues in those that are attracted to a grain-free diet in the first place, as I will explain in this article.

Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance:

  • headaches
  • dark circles under the eyes
  • hiccups, heartburn and acid reflux
  • other digestive issues such as stomach cramping and diarrhea
  • skin conditions such as eczema, itching, hives
  • allergy and cold symptoms like congestion, sneezing, runny nose and coughing
  • irritation or itching of the eyes
  • joint pain
  • frequent urination
  • hypotension
  • tightening of the chest and anxiety or panic attacks
  • tachycardia
  • fatigue
  • hyperactivity
  • mood issues, such as irritability and aggression
  • compulsive behaviors
  • perfectionism
  • high libido

and more!

So What’s The Deal With Histamines?

Everyone has a different tolerance for histamines. Some have serious mast cell disorders and need to be extremely vigilant about histamines in the diet. Some people need to restrict histamines in their diet to avoid migraines and terrible insomnia. Others just need to watch their histamine load to avoid crossing their threshold and feeling a little cranky or noticing a decline in their digestion. Whatever your tolerance, you may find your tolerance change as Spring rolls around each year.

Two mechanisms are often talked about with respect to the histamine problem. The first is a lack of the enzyme DAO, or Diamine Oxidase, which can be supplemented by purchasing Histame or similar products. These enzymes are expensive and while they do seem to help many people they don’t seem to get at the root of the problem for most. Another mechanism often discussed is a lack of function by the enzyme histamine N-methyl transferase, which since it requires a methyl group, could be lacking in those of us with methylation cycle polymorphisms such as MTHFR, or a toxic load that interferes with methylation. It has been said (and although it is really an oversimplification) that “undermethylators” run higher in histamine. I suspect this is the root of the issue for many people, but it takes time and effort to correct this situation. Quercetin is a supplement often recommended for histamine reactions as it stabilizes mast cells and can therefore reduce histamine release, but perhaps the main reason quercetin is effective is the fact that it is a methyl donor. Another approach used by Dr. Amy Yasko is the supplement SAM-e, which is the universal methyl donor in the body. Both of these supplements are methyl donors and can therefore provoke detox, particularly in those that are deficient and they are also contraindicated for some people so discuss these options with your doctor.

Chris Kresser wrote a great article on this topic rather recently in which he talked about the role of gut bacteria in histamine intolerance. A fabulous clue to histamine issues that he shared in his article is that “reacting to fermented foods is a classic sign of histamine intolerance, especially if probiotic supplements are well tolerated”. I do think gut bacteria imbalances are a huge factor in histamine issues as it is known that some bacteria produce histamine and other bacteria degrade it.

The Missing Piece?

One aspect of histamine intolerance that is not being discussed and inspired me to write this blog post is the connection between histamine and amylase. You may be familiar with amylase as an enzyme that breaks down starch. Well, it has another role. It is released by the body in response to histamine because it has a role in anti-inflammatory reactions. It is possible that running high histamine over time, we can deplete our amylase, and then don’t digest starch well. Does that explain why there is so much talk of histamine in the grain-free world lately? Could that explain some of the improvements people experience when they go grain-free? Histamines can affect the digestive system in many ways, but can it be that those that have found their way to a grain-free diet may be those very people that have depleted their amylase as a result of an underlying histamine issue? Allerase is a product that contains amylase and is designed to be taken on an empty stomach to balance out the high histamine/low amylase seasonal issues. You can discuss this option with your doctor as well.

Final Thoughts

I always caution people not to get too far out of balance when implementing a special diet for themselves or their children. Usually I recommend adhering to a traditional diet, as it is time-tested, rather than, for example, relying too much on nut flour and coconut flour to replicate baked goods on a grain-free diet. But in the case of histamines, you may find that even certain traditional foods are not your friends. For some people, and I suspect this is more common than understood, too much bone broth and too many fermented foods can actually cause digestive issues! Too often people are encouraged to push through reactions as if they are just “healing crises”, or the temporary effects of “die-off” or detox. But sometimes you just need to listen to your body. In our modern world, toxins in the environment affect the function of enzymes in our bodies and prevent them from working ideally. This does not mean that healing is hopeless, but that we have to be patient and work with our bodies as we may heal at a slower pace than desired.

I hope this article gives you something to think about and discuss with your doctor, and while you are addressing the underlying issue perhaps your doctor will feel that Allerase or Histame can help. I hope this information helps you Peel Back another Onion Layer toward vibrant health!



This post was featured in Real Food Forager’s Sunday Snippets, Family Table Tuesday at The Polivka Family, and Nourishing Joy’s Thank Goodness It’s Monday.


Excitotoxicity:  When Nourishing Foods Do Harm

Excitotoxicity: When Nourishing Foods Do Harm

Bone Broths. Ferments. Mushrooms. Peas. Tomatoes. Cheese. What do all of these foods have in common? Glutamates. Yes, the very foods we value as some of the most nourishing foods available to us are full of glutamates.

What Are Glutamates?

What are glutamates? Glutamate is an amino acid that occurs naturally in foods and some supplements. And it is an excitotoxin. An excitotoxin is a substance that binds to specific receptors in the brain and the body and causes the death of neurons. Now that sounds unpleasant, doesn’t it?

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, contributes to glutamate levels in the body. Its use in food is controversial because it is known for its adverse effects. There are other excitotoxins that are abundant in the Standard American Diet, such as aspartame, otherwise known as NutraSweet. You may be familiar with its reputation and health consequences associated with it.

What They Do

What are some of the symptoms associated with elevated glutamates? Headaches, insomnia, anxiety, mood swings, ADHD-like symptoms, problems regulating our appetite, leaky gut, elevated eosinophils, bedwetting, problems focusing eyes, stimming, seizures, schizophrenia, and unfortunately, the list goes on.

Glutamate acts as a neurotransmitter in our body, along with GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid, to regulate neuronal excitability. GABA is important for muscle tone, speech, and has many other important roles in the body. GABA calms the nerves while glutamate excites them. Balance between these two neurotransmitters is what we are looking to achieve to avoid neurological inflammation and damage.

Excitotoxins like glutamate cause problems because they allow high levels of calcium into the cell, essentially exciting the cell to death. This is why it is said that “glutamate is the gun, and calcium is the bullet”.

Glutamates are not completely unhealthy. Some will argue that they are just toxic, but they do serve some important functions in the body, such as in learning and memory. Having high levels of glutamate receptors in order to handle excess glutamate is believed to explain the very high levels of intelligence we see in people with autism.

Dr. Russell Blaylock is a neurosurgeon and expert on this topic. His book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills is a great resource for more information. Much research has been done since he wrote it. Recent research has found that the glutamate receptors that bind glutamate and modulate excitatory and inhibitory transmission are not just in the brain. They are in all organs and tissues. Our entire gastrointestinal tract contains glutamate receptors. They are in our heart, lungs, reproductive organs, adrenals and even bones. So the balance between glutamate and GABA has a resounding effect throughout the body. It can even affect the permeability of the blood brain barrier.

Glutamate receptor dysfunction is associated with autism, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and more. There are now suggested links to chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia too.

Glutamates in the Diet

A low glutamate diet is a crucial piece of the work Dr. Amy Yasko, who specializes in autism and other forms of chronic neurological inflammation, does with her patients. I have found this to be a big piece of the puzzle for many people. Sometimes removing just one food or supplement can have a very dramatic effect over time.

Many different foods and even supplements contribute to the glutamate load in our bodies. In addition to the foods I have already mentioned there are many other foods high in glutamates, such as soy, seaweed, and yeast. Some supplements are naturally high in glutamate and others contain substances that convert to glutamate, or pair up with glutamate to cause damage. Fortunately, there are also supplements that help us to achieve better balance between GABA and glutamate.

Glutamate and GABA imbalances are less of a risk in healthy people. They were likely a non-issue for people years ago on traditional diets that consumed broths and ferments in healthy amounts. In this age, unfortunately, when our body is affected by our increasingly toxic environment, these factors become more problematic. When the body cannot properly regulate glutamate it can build in the system. For example, the GAD enzyme, which converts glutamate to GABA is inhibited by lead. So someone with a high body burden of lead may have difficulty regulating the balance between glutamate and GABA. Mercury can also cause this glutamate “trapping”. And aluminum has an adverse effect. So I do believe the root of the problem is environment, not diet, but unfortunately all of these factors accumulate and affect our tolerance for food.

So in conclusion, as always, moderation is the key with diet. Glutamates are something to keep on your radar in this age of environmental toxicity. As for me, I do notice when I over consume glutamate containing foods my sleep suffers. I do, however, consume bone broths and ferments in moderation. I just watch my intake of pizza and other high glutamate foods and I never eat processed food with MSG, aspartame, or other excitotoxic additives. If you or your child are not tolerating high glutamate foods and are seeing some of the symptoms listed above I hope this information will help you to fine-tune your diet with the help of your doctor to achieve the results you want. This is how we Peel Back the Onion Layers to achieve better health!

For more information:

Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, By Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.

The Role of Excitotoxins in Autistic Type Behavior
by Dr. Amy Yasko



This post was featured at Thank Your Body Thursday.

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Is a Grain-Free Diet Right For You?

Is a Grain-Free Diet Right For You?

Grain-free diets are getting more and more attention these days. Many people rave about their benefits for autism, allergies, autoimmune diseases and various digestive disorders. Here is a brief explanation of three of the most popular grain-free healing diets.

Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was explained in Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, published by the late Elaine Gottschall, the mother of an eight year old daughter with “incurable” ulcerative colitis. Her daughter’s condition was continuing to deteriorate after years of conventional treatment when her new doctors shared the details of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet with Elaine. Elaine’s daughter was symptom free within 2 years and returned to eating normally a few years after that. The basic idea behind this diet is to starve out microbes so that the gut can heal by eliminating disaccharides and polysaccharides. This means that only very specific carbohydrates that are easy to digest are consumed along with proteins and fats. This diet forbids grains, starches and refined sugars and allows many healthy proteins and vegetables, most fruits and nuts, honey, certain beans, and certain forms of dairy. This diet is known to treat irritable bowel, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, chronic diarrhea, ADHD, autism and schizophrenia.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS)

The GAPS diet was designed by Natasha Campbell-McBride and explained in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It was based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, but as a Neurologist and the parent of a child that is now recovered from autism, Dr. Campbell-McBride focuses in her book more on the physiology and the psychology and the connections between the brain and the body. This diet allows and excludes almost exactly the same foods as SCD. One very notable exception is that on GAPS cocoa powder is allowed (once digestive symptoms have subsided and as tolerated). The GAPS diet emphasizes Weston A. Price/Nourishing Traditions principals such as homemade bone broths and fermented foods. This diet is recommended for all forms of autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases and conditions. GAPS is a little more liberal with supplementation, allowing probiotics containing bifidobacteria and other strains of bacteria that are forbidden on SCD.

Paleo or Primal Diets

Paleo or Primal Diets are big in health and fitness communities these days. This diet is also known as the caveman diet, the stone age diet and the hunter-gatherer diet. The basic idea is to eat the way Paleolithic man ate. They eat fish, pasture-raised animals, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. They exclude grains, legumes, sugar, processed oils, and (usually) dairy. There are disputes over whether certain foods, such as butter and potatoes are truly “paleo” within the community. This is a good option for clients that want to remove the harder to digest grains but keep some starchy vegetables as well as some wiggle room (as this tends to be a more flexible lifestyle without the strict rules of SCD and GAPS). Keep in mind that SCD and GAPS tend to be better accepted as effective within the IBD and autism communities for starving pathogens, but Paleo might be a better fit for your family. There are variations on this diet referred to as “autoimmune paleo” that many people use and report great results.

Potential Problems with Grain-Free Diets

All diets have their potential problems and grain-free is no exception. Excessive protein could result in ammonia problems in susceptible people. Long-cooked broths and fermented foods contain glutamates which some predisposed people may react to. There is also the potential to overdo high oxalate foods, usually by trying to recreate typical SAD (Standard American Diet) baked goods with a lot of nut flour. Like any other diet, there is also the potential for salicylate or phenol reactions. A grain-free diet can be a wonderful tool but it is worth mentioning from the beginning that it is important to consume as wide a variety of foods as possible and not to overdo any one food in order to avoid these issues. As explained in my post Diets that Heal, any diet as written in a book may allow foods that are not suitable for all. Careful observation of physical and behavioral symptoms and food detective skills can go a long way toward personalizing the diet to achieve the results you want.


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Diets That Heal

Diets That Heal

I probably don’t have to convince you that diet is integral to health. If you are here you already know that. Nutritional deficiencies are extremely common in autism, ADHD, allergies and autoimmunity. And any condition that affects the gut will create even further deficiencies. Deficiencies in the very nutrients we need to heal. So we will ultimately need to flood our bodies with nutrients. But there are so many diets purported to heal. Where do we start?

There really are many diets out there and trying to find the right one can be a little overwhelming. Today I would like to address the basic concepts behind the most popular of these diets and discuss some of the underlying factors and common themes.

Keep in mind that often one has to combine these diets or incorporate aspects of other diets into their primary diet in order to achieve full healing. You have to find what works for each individual. For some, the gluten-free casein-free diet completely turns their lives around. Others have to do a little more work and eliminate other troublesome foods or ingredients.

Here are some of the most popular healing diets:

• The Gluten-free Diet (GF)
• The Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet (GFCF)
• The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) or Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS)
• The Low Oxalate Diet (LOD)
• The Body Ecology Diet (BED) or other anti-candida diets
• The Weston A. Price Diet (WAPF) or Nourishing Traditions Diet
• Paleo or Primal Diets
• The Failsafe Diet or other diets low in additives, salicylates, amines and/or glutamates
• The Feingold Diet
• Diets low in fructose
• The FODMAPS Diet
• Low ammonia diets
• Elimination or Rotation Diets

What are some common themes in these diets?

“We must never forget that what the patient takes beyond his ability to digest does harm.”

~Dr. Samuel Gee.

The foods, chemicals and/or additives we are taking in that we are unable to digest or process affect us physically and/or neurologically.

And this manifests differently in different people. This may look like inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, allergies, asthma, ADHD, autism, or more. Food intolerances manifest in many different ways.

Whatever diet you choose, you want to remove the burden on the digestive system, immune system, and detoxification system. We want a strongly anti-inflammatory diet that is extremely dense in nutrients and feels like a good fit for your family.

Lack of Research

I have seen several recent attempts at funding studies to determine the effectiveness of specific healing diets for autism and autoimmune disease. The problem is that nobody wants to fund these studies because there is no money to be made (and there is the potential for a lot of money to be lost) if we know we can heal ourselves with food. So the research is scanty, but the anecdotal evidence is tremendous.

A recent study at the University of Massachusetts gave me hope for the future of research in this area. They used a diet similar to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease and had very positive results:

As an illustration of the power of diet over autism, the Autism Research Institute collected the following data in “Parent Ratings of Behavioral Effects of Biomedical Interventions” .

Just imagine how much more powerful dietary intervention can be when the diet is personalized. For example, a child goes on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and experiences many improvements in digestion, but then incorporates some aspects of the Feingold Diet and behavior improves. Sometimes special attention must be given to specific compounds in foods that are interfering with progress, rather than just adhering dutifully to one diet. Another example, a child on the gluten-free diet could still have physical and behavioral difficulties if she has trouble with oxalates and her favorite glutenous foods are replaced with higher oxalate substitutes. A mother laboriously making ferments and broths for her child on the GAPS diet could be oblivious to the fact that glutamates in those healing foods are causing headaches and/or insomnia. Or, a reliance on a high meat diet could be producing excess ammonia and symptoms such as brain-fog or stimming.

When you read the instruction books on these healing diets they just don’t mention the potential pitfalls. With an understanding of how each diet can go wrong, you can avoid these potential problems. With a little observation, you can individualize the diet to meet your needs or the needs of your child.

Gluten & Casein

Gluten and casein free diets are commonly used in the treatment of autism. Gluten is a protein that comes from wheat and several other grains. Casein is a protein that comes from dairy products. These proteins have become ubiquitous in the Standard American Diet, found in everything from chicken nuggets to salad dressing. We often hear that removing gluten and casein from the diet is an excellent start toward healing. But why is this important? Gluten and casein are difficult to digest. They are common food sensitivities. And when they are improperly digested, peptides remain called gliadorphin (or gluteomorphin) and casomorphin, which react with opiate receptors in the brain, mimicking the effects of heroin and morphine. They can affect speech, cognitive and auditory processing, and decrease the ability to feel pain. These peptides also become addictive. This can be an issue in autism, ADHD, celiac disease, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression and more.

Beyond Gluten and Casein

What about the other diets? Do they have advantages? You bet! Many people do not heal just from removing gluten and casein. Where there is chronic diarrhea and/or constipation and gut inflammation the Specific Carbohydrate Diet or GAPS have been known to take healing to another level. Where there is pain, and especially urinary symptoms, the Low Oxalate Diet is a favorite.

There is no one diet that works for everyone. It is important to respect our individual differences. We are all very different biochemically. One man’s food is truly another man’s poison. Some of us thrive on meat, and others produce too much ammonia when they consume it. You really have to listen to your own body or use your parent’s intuition and do what feels right. Some will need the convenience and flexibility of just a GF/CF diet. Others will pursue more gut healing with SCD/GAPS. Some may go for nutrient density without removing any foods by preparing foods with special methods to enhance their digestibility according to Weston A. Price principles. There is no right way, just the best way for you.

So step by step, let’s start peeling back the onion layers with the diet that resonates with you.


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