Ditch healthy berries to beat muscle pain: The eating plan that helped me cure my aches and pains
02:00 GMT, 14 August 2012
'No one could have been as surprised as me that the low oxalate diet actually helped,' said Dr Clare Morrison
When I wrote in the Daily Mail about how I’d overcome fibromyalgia, the response from readers was overwhelming.
Clearly, many people, like me, have been floored by the condition — and the lack of effective treatment — and were anxious for more details.
Unfortunately, no one really knows what causes fibromyalgia and there’s no cure.
Treatments such as painkillers rarely do more than ease the symptoms (characterised by debilitating muscle pain).
Many patients end up giving up work
and normal daily life — I longed to retire early from my job as a GP
just so I could rest all day.
two years of misery, my condition was getting worse — but I then came
across the theory that fibromyalgia may be linked to oxalates, which are
compounds found in ‘healthy’ foods such as fruit, vegetables, salad,
nuts and beans.
these out of my diet and overnight my symptoms disappeared — the
disabling muscle pains, tingling legs, fatigue and inability to
concentrate all went.
But if I ate foods rich in oxalates, the symptoms
returned within hours.
Why would this be so
are a kind of ‘natural’ plant pesticide and if the body doesn’t excrete
them properly for some reason, it’s possible they accumulate in the
muscles, brain and urinary system, causing a range of problems.
But though this made sense, no one could have been as surprised as me that the low oxalate diet actually helped.
And it really did — I was so happy to function normally again, to be able to run instead of amble, do my housework, carry on working and feel animated again.
I must stress that by no means am I an expert in fibromyalgia — eminent doctors and researchers, such as those behind the Fibromyalgia Association UK, have spent years studying this condition, and done much to support sufferers.
Indeed, the article I wrote was about my personal experiences and those of a small number of my patients.
What to avoid: fruit berries (blueberries, blackberries, etc); and beans: baked beans: kidney beans, black beans and green beans
But I can’t believe we are unique — I’m willing to believe my physiology may be a bit odd, but felt surely there would be others in the same situation.
Who knows how many, but my theory struck a chord with Mail readers, and even if sharing my experiences helped just one person, it would be worth it.
So how can you go about trying a low-oxalate diet
First, you need to work out if you might benefit from it.
I’ve found these characteristics can predict whether someone is likely to respond well:
You used to be healthy, but gradually developed muscle pains, tingly, restless legs, stiffness and muscle twitches.You pass small amounts of water frequently.You feel tired and sleepy during the day, but don’t sleep well.You often feel cold.You feel as though you’re in a fog, flat in mood, but don’t know why.
Sufferers are most likely to be middle-aged women, though fibromyalgia can affect anyone.
Initially, you may assume this is part of getting older or perhaps due to the menopause.
If you are badly affected, you may feel unable to cope with your daily activities or work.
However, any blood tests by your GP doesn’t show anything wrong — something you find difficult to believe.
Alternatively, you may be diagnosed with fibromyalgia and given painkillers, anti-depressants or sleeping tablets.
There are no proper tests to see whether or not you would benefit from a low oxalate diet, though sometimes oxalate crystals can be seen in the urine.
The only way to tell is to try it, as I did — and my symptoms improved 100 per cent.
But it might not work for everyone — if it’s going to work, it will do within three weeks. If it doesn’t, then you haven’t lost anything.
Some people asked why I went to the Press rather than conduct a proper trial involving large numbers of people.
I simply didn’t have the resources or numbers of patients to do this: that’s why my ‘evidence’ is anecdotal.
Perhaps, in the future, proper controlled trials will be organised by doctors.
But my point is that until then patients have nothing to lose if they try this diet for a short time to see if it works.
As the philosopher Maimonides said: ‘No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.’
HOW TO GO LOW OXALATE
The important thing to remember is that this approach appears to go against the healthy eating principles you’ve been following for years.
Your fruit and vegetable intake is going to be limited to low oxalate produce, which will likely result in you eating much less than before (though this is no reason not to get your five a day — you just won’t have a wide range of fruit and vegetables to choose from).
Going low oxalate also means avoiding healthy wholewheat products and potatoes.
I’d also recommend avoiding vitamin C supplements — in large doses, this vitamin is metabolised into oxalate.
Some low-oxalate foods, such as sponge cake and shortbread biscuits, are high in sugar, so shouldn’t be eaten to excess.
However, there are plenty of low-oxalate foods that are low in sugar, such as eggs, meat and cheese.
There is no denying a low-oxalate diet will feel counter-intuitive — as it did for me.
But I think on balance it is possible to eat healthily — I feel much better on the diet than I’d do otherwise.
And if I didn’t follow the low-oxalate diet I’d still be feeling ill, getting no exercise and going to bed whenever I could.
Of course, those without fibromyalgia can, quite rightly, enjoy eating plenty of these foods — they are, after all, delicious and healthy to most people.
WHAT YOU CAN EAT
Meat, chicken and fish.
Dairy (not soya milk).
Fruit: bananas, pears, cherries, melon, coconut.
Vegetables: cauliflower, iceberg lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas.
Vegetable oil (not sesame oil).
Clear apple juice.
WHAT TO AVOID…
Tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa.
Nuts, including peanut butter and marzipan (almond paste).
Wheatgerm (bran cereals, wholemeal bread).
Fruit berries (blueberries, blackberries, etc).
Beans: baked beans, kidney beans, black beans and green beans.
Fruit juice of medium to high-oxalate fruits such as cranberry and orange.
Vegetables: rhubarb, beetroot, celery, spinach, potatoes, leeks, carrots, green peppers, parsnips.
Herbs and seeds: parsley, sesame/poppy seeds, black pepper.
Peel of citrus fruits (marmalade, candied peel, fruit cake).
Vitamin C tablets.
Chicken and bacon pasta bake.
Cheese and onion omelette.
Cauliflower cheese with any meat or fish.
Stir-fry with bean shoots, egg noodles, chicken, mushrooms and rice.
Baguette with cheese or pate.
Kedgeree made with smoked haddock, rice, hard-boiled eggs, peas and white pepper.
Remember you can eat a selection of low-oxalate fruits for dessert, including bananas, pears and melon.
For a full list, I recommend the following site, which categorises foods into low, medium and high oxalate: ohf.org/docs/Oxalate2008.pdf