When you first join the Trying Low Oxalates group, one term you’ll see bandied about quite a bit is “dumping.” But what exactly is dumping, and why do you need to be concerned about it? This article outlines the good, the bad and the ugly about oxalate dumping signs and symptoms, as well as making a couple observations about what has worked for the author, who is an old hand at dumping.
The 30,000-Foot View of Dumping
Simply put, the word “dumping” is a sort of catch-all term for the body’s process of detoxifying oxalates. Dumping symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may not even be noticeable, depending upon the an individual’s chemistry. Dumping usually occurs when someone’s oxalate intake drops below a certain threshold and stays there for a few days (or longer). This threshold for oxalate intake differs for each person. Likewise, each person’s experience of dumping will differ depending upon their stores of certain vitamins, minerals and of course oxalates.
In the Beginning
For people who suddenly lower their oxalate intake, the low oxalate diet (LOD) often starts off with what is called a “honeymoon period.” Because so many folks who come to LOD are suffering terribly with the effects of oxalate buildup in their system, starting the LOD “cold turkey” as it were (lowering oxalate intake suddenly and drastically) can result in the body having its first chance in months (or even years) to breathe a sigh of relief. For neurotypical adults like myself, this can mean an abrupt decrease or even disappearance of aches and pains, relief from gastrointestinal symptoms, and sometimes even a sudden lifting of the brain fog. For autistic children, it might mean abrupt and marked gains in motor skills, verbal skills, or the ability to relate emotionally to others.
Unfortunately, as those who choose to go the cold turkey route soon learn, this honeymoon period is short-lived – generally no longer than a week, and sometimes only a day or two. This is why I so often (and loudly!) encourage people to lower their oxalate intake gradually. While this may not produce such a sudden and clear reversal of symptoms, it will also prevent an abrupt onset of severe dumping, which can be painful and, on the whole, quite detrimental to the health of the individual.
What Does Dumping Feel Like?
Since oxalates bind readily to minerals (especially calcium and magnesium), a great many of the symptoms associated with dumping are the same as symptoms of low calcium and low magnesium – muscle aches, twitches, cramps and spasms for example, or headaches. The B vitamins are also often heavily taxed by dumping, as is the body’s alkaline buffer system. What do low B vitamins or alkaline levels feel like? That’s where it gets difficult…it seems everyone reacts differently. For example, when my alkaline buffer is overtaxed, my lips peel (exfoliative chelitis) and I get migraine-like headaches, among other issues. My symptoms for low Bs are less well-defined, although one good indicator of adequate B6 is the ability to recall dreams.
Of course, these are not the only things taxed by detoxing oxalates; merely some of the most common. Since so many systems are affected, dumping can feel like any number of things. Personally, I’ve had the aforementioned low mineral issues, as well as itchy histamine flares, all-over feelings of cold, fevers, week-long sinus drainage, and many other seemingly random symptoms. One of the gals on the TLO (Trying Low Oxalates) group goes so far as to say “it’s oxalate until proven otherwise!” and I tend to agree.
Because symptoms are so individualized, it is impossible to say what specific symptoms any particular person will experience. And thanks to the huge variability of personal chemistry, as well as the comorbidity of other conditions in conjunction with oxalate issues, symptoms may vary not only from person to person, but also from one dumping episode to the next, within the same individual!
Another problem is the fact that some of the oxalate dumping symptoms are such common aches and pains, it’s difficult to say for certain if they truly are the result of oxalate dumping, or caused by something else. This is especially true if the symptoms are mild and transitory. And if your low oxalate dieter is a non-verbal child or infant, it can be difficult enough just to ascertain whether there is pain, much less determine for certain if dumping is the source of the issue.
What Does Dumping Look Like?
In addition to symptoms, which may be difficult or impossible to determine in non-verbal individuals, there are also a few clear signs (objective indicators) of dumping. Among these are cloudy urine, sandy-looking stools, and black specks in stools or urine. Others report rashes, constipation, diarrhea and a number of more unusual signs whenever they dump. While this isn’t designed as an exhaustive list, these are the most commonly reported occurrences.
The Brighter Side
There is good news, however. For starters, most individuals, once they have been through one or two rounds of dumping, will be able to recognize their symptoms right away. And often, simply taking certain supplements will help alleviate the symptoms, or at least make them bearable.
My first line of defense against dumping (and a supplement I take every day “whether I need it or not”), is magnesium (see what brand of magnesium I use myself on this page). While calcium has been shown to be more effective at binding oxalate in the gut, my own experience has taught me that my body likes to use magnesium for binding oxalate once it is in the bloodstream. Since I don’t have any problem with my kidney function or other issues which would contraindicate magnesium supplementation, this is my preferred method of mopping up excess oxalate. As a lovely side effect, I’ve found a nice decrease in blood pressure and heart palpitations as I’ve increased and maintained my level of magnesium intake.
I’ve also found relief using calcium and vitamin D (see my post on the importance of vitamin D to low oxalate dieters here), while various B vitamins sometimes help with things like restless legs and yeast overgrowth (wich is a common problem in oxalate-affected individuals). Alas, I have discovered over time that some of the same vitamins which once helped me deal with oxalate symptoms, now just force me to dump more and harder. This is one of the ways in which dumping can change, even in the same individual, over time.
I have also learned that as you heal other issues, dumping can become a much milder event. I attribute this primarily to the role that minerals play in the body’s alkaline buffer system. For example, as I healed my own intestinal bacterial overgrowth, I found my dumping symptoms becoming gradually more manageable. I don’t think that I was dumping any less oxalate (at least, not if I’m judging by semi-objective measures such as the periodic cloudiness of my urine). And yet I felt much better, probably because my alkaline buffer system was only being taxed by dumping and normal activity, and not dealing with the added burden of all the acids thrown off by the bacteria crowding my intestine.
Looking for a Single Answer?
Because dumping signs and symptoms are so individualized, there unfortunately isn’t one. And the same goes for a cure-all – each person must find their own remedies. However, starting with minerals, as I recommend here, is a safe bet. Beyond that, much of the process is trial-and-error, which is why I so heartily recommend keeping logs of your food, supplements and symptoms. When in doubt, however, remember to lean on the huge combined experience available on the Trying Low Oxalates group. I have yet to find a more helpful bunch of people in one place!