When Juicing Goes Wrong

Dietary Hyperoxaluria Caused from Juicing

Juicing has become a popular health trend and marketed as a great way to start a weight loss program. Juice blends can provide plenty of nutrients from fruits and vegetables being consumed. It all sounds good but somehow juicing and juice cleanses have caused adverse health effects for a few people.

The discovery of self-induced dietary hyperoxaluria from juicing too many high oxalate foods has occurred. Unfortunately, this has lead to permanent kidney damage and even a few deaths. How could something so good for you go so wrong? This is startling information under the medical research microscope for better clinical awareness and treatment for those suffering from self-induced dietary hyperoxaluria.

A Case of Oxalate Overdose

Two glasses of wild herb smoothie with apple, banana and lime juice
Juicing Can Cause Oxalate Overload. Westend61 / Getty Images

Sometimes we can get into the 'more is better' thought when it comes to juicing. Many people have given over their diets completely to juice cleansing or fasts for extended periods of time.

The case reported in the American Journal of Medicine referenced a male patient who had participated in a juice fast for six weeks. He consumed 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. The patient's dietary juicing habits started a toxic oxalate overload leading to permanent kidney damage.

Eating and even drinking blended fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy food plan. When taken to an extreme is when the body can respond with adverse effects. Oxalate overload in this medical case is a prime example of the ‘more is better’ philosophy gone wrong. Toxicity could have been prevented if the patient had been made aware of the dangers of juicing too many high oxalate foods.

What is Oxalate?

Detox Juice
Greens are High in Oxalic Acid. B.Aa. Sætrenes / 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 toxic compound. Oxalate is metabolized through the liver and kidneys and excreted in our urine and stool. Normally a small percentage of oxalate is not a problem for the body to process and remove but in high amounts can become a problem.

Vitamin C in high doses also metabolizes into oxalate. The International Journal of Nephrology published a medical case diagnosing a 72-year old man with “Vitamin C-Induced Oxalate Nephropathy” or kidney failure. Research indicated his illness originated from changing his eating habits within the past year to include more leafy vegetables rich in oxalate combined with high doses of vitamin C.

If sufficient amounts of calcium are absent from the diet as with juicing cleanses, oxalate remains in a soluble form and absorbed by the body rather than excreted. Continual oxalate buildup occurs and creates a toxic environment beginning a cycle of disease. Illness typically starts with kidney stones, calcium deposits in the kidneys, urinary tract infections and ultimately leading to chronic kidney disease and end stage renal failure.

Juice Smart!

Portrait smiling woman drinking green smoothie in kitchen
Juice Smart for Health. Hoxton/Tom Merton / Getty Images

It's important to understand juicing can be a great and healthy part of your life. Anything taken to an extreme can have adverse consequences. Although self-induced dietary hyperoxaluria is rare, it does exist and has affected people with good health intentions.

Food is our medicine and ensuring we're eating and drinking the right amounts will be essential for maintaining a healthy body. The common end discussion of all research was “clinicians should be aware that an oxalate-rich diet may potentially precipitate acute renal failure in patients” and the importance of further research on “the effects of chronic ingestion of high doses of oxalate on renal function.”

Sources:

American Journal of Medicine, Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona Kidney Disease and Hypertension Center, Tucson, Yeong-Hau H. Lien, MD, PhD, 9/13

American Journal of Medicine, Oxalate Nephropathy Due to ‘Juicing’: Case Report and Review, Clinical Significance, Jane E. Getting et al., 7/8/13

World Journal of Nephrology, Nephropathy in dietary hyperoxaluria: A potentially preventable acute or chronic kidney disease, Robert H Glew et al., 11/6/14

World Journal of Nephrology, Primary and secondary hyperoxaluria: Understanding the enigma, Bhasin B et al., 5/6/15

International Journal of Nephrology, Case Report, Vitamin C-Induced Oxalate Nephropathy, Jorge Lamarche et al., 1/19/11

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