What is Hyperoxaluria Caused from Juicing?

When High Oxalate Foods Become Harmful

Juicing has become a popular health trend and marketed as an effective diet strategy to lose weight and detoxify the body. It’s also indicated to be a great way to add nutrients from vegetables and fruits many of us lack in our diet. Blending up leafy greens with fruits is fun, tastes good, and said to improve our health. 

Juicing, for the most part, is a great way to optimize our health, but just as with any diet, it requires an appropriate application. Unfortunately, some of us have experienced adverse health effects from juicing and juice cleanses. You may be wondering how something so good for you to be considered unhealthy? 

The problem seems to have occurred when individuals took juicing too far. Leafy greens and other common juiced foods contain oxalate and consuming an overabundance can actually become toxic. The American Journal of Medicine referenced a male patient who had participated in a juice fast for six weeks consuming high oxalate foods consisting of beets, collard greens, kiwi, parsley, spinach, and soy products. In addition to strict juicing, he also took high doses of vitamin C and low calcium which heightened his oxalate levels even more. His extreme juicing habits caused acute renal (kidney) failure.

 

What is Oxalate?

Man making a smoothie at home.
Ezra Bailey / Getty Images

Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring crystal found in plant foods like spinach, chard, watercress, leeks, okra, purslane, parsley, beets, cacao, certain nuts, and buckwheat. It’s also found in fruits such as starfruit, rhubarb, plums, figs, and most berries. When oxalic acid is combined with calcium and other minerals in the body it forms oxalate, an insoluble compound that is metabolized in the liver and kidneys and excreted in our urine and stool.

Our normal body functions can process and remove small amounts of oxalate but in high amounts can become a problem. Vitamin C in high doses also metabolizes into oxalate. According to a clinical report published in the International Journal of Nephrology, a 72-year old man was diagnosed with Vitamin C-Induced Oxalate Nephropathy or kidney failure due to changing his eating habits to include more leafy vegetables that just so happen to be rich in oxalate combined with high doses of vitamin C.

If sufficient amounts of calcium are absent from the diet typical with juicing cleanses, oxalate remains in a soluble form and absorbed into the body rather than excreted. Continual oxalate buildup occurs and creates a toxic environment beginning a cycle of disease typically starting with kidney stones, calcium deposits in the kidneys, and urinary tract infections. Without proper treatment, it can eventually lead to chronic kidney disease and end stage renal failure.

Clinical reports indicated several patients caused self-induced dietary hyperoxaluria from juicing too many high oxalate foods. A few deaths have been reported as well as permanent kidney damage. 

 

What is Dietary Hyperoxaluria?

Hyperoxaluria is a medical disorder characterized by an increase in oxalate in our urine. There are actually two different types of hyperoxaluria.

  • Primary hyperoxaluria is an inherited medical condition where defective enzyme function adversely affects metabolism
  • Secondary hyperoxaluria is caused by increased dietary ingestion of oxalate foods common with juicing. 

In order to reduce the risk of dietary hyperoxaluria, it’s recommended that physicians/clinicians better inform patients who are juicing of the potential for oxalate-rich foods to cause kidney problems. 

 

Should I Be Concerned?

Most of us can enjoy juicing as part of a healthy lifestyle and tolerate normal amounts of oxalate rich foods. It’s a great way to obtain extra nutrients especially if your diet lacks in fruits and vegetables. Juicing also offers another way for picky vegetable eaters to enjoy their greens. 

Dietary hyperoxaluria is actually uncommon but is indicated to be present in 20 percent of individuals with kidney stones. Also, if you suffer from gastrointestinal conditions such as gastric bypass, Crohn’s Disease, short bowel syndrome or other malabsorption disorders, it may be a good idea to discuss juicing with your doctor before adding it to your diet. 

A Word From Verywell

Juicing can be used as an effective nutritional strategy to improve your health. However, understanding anything taken to an extreme can be harmful. Juicing smart appears to be the best motto for blending our leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits. If you have any questions or concerns about high-oxalate foods, it’s recommended to discuss with your doctor. 

Sources:
Bhasin B et al., Primary and secondary hyperoxaluria: Understanding the enigma, World Journal of Nephrology,2015

Jane E. Getting et al., Oxalate Nephropathy Due to ‘Juicing’: Case Report and Review, American Journal of Medicine, 2013

Jorge Lamarche et al., Vitamin C-Induced Oxalate Nephropathy, International Journal of Nephrology, 2011

Robert H Glew et al., Nephropathy in dietary hyperoxaluria: A potentially preventable acute or chronic kidney disease, World Journal of Nephrology, 2014

Yeong-Hau H. Lien, MD, PhD, Juicing Is Not All Juicy, American Journal of Medicine, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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