In the search for better health, people often add leafy green vegetables to their plate believing that they are taking steps to get on a better path to health. Unfortunately, for some people, what appears to be a healthy food can actually cause a host of health problems. That’s because there are some foods containing high levels of oxalates that people simply can’t tolerate, their body simply can’t digest.

When you’re dealing with a food intolerance, your body won’t actually activate an immune reaction like it will with a food sensitivity or allergy. But when you eat food, your body should be able to absorb the nutrients it contains—that doesn’t always happen with a food your body can’t tolerate. When that nutrition absorption doesn’t happen, your body suffers. That’s what can happen with some people who have an intolerance to oxalates.

Oxalates are organic acids found in some foods that are generally considered nutritious: spinach, beets, sweet potatoes, peanuts, rhubarb, and other foods. In people without intolerance, oxalates typically bind to minerals in the gut and are eliminated from the body. But in people with an intolerance, oxalates can end up being absorbed into the bloodstream where they can cause some real damage.

Many people unknowingly have an intolerance to oxalates. As a result, they end up with painful kidney stones because the oxalates they’ve consumed have bound to calcium in their body. Oxalates can also bind to minerals in the gut and reduce the body’s ability to absorb other nutrients the body needs. When oxalates bind to calcium, magnesium, and other minerals, they can even inhibit the absorption of these vital substances in the intestinal tract to the point of causing deficiencies.

Oxalates can also cause damage at the cellular level. In the bloodstream, they can disrupt the functionality of the mitochondria, those minute powerhouse components contained in the body’s cells.

Fatigue and loss of energy are common symptoms of oxalate intolerance. Other symptoms occurring from the inflammation that oxalates cause can range from headaches and moodiness to joint and muscle pain to anxiety and loss of sleep.

Oxalate intolerance is less of an issue for people with a healthy gut. The gut is responsible for digesting food and absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream, and the cells lining the walls of the intestine help regulate that absorption. But food intolerances, life’s stressors, environmental toxins, and infection or disease can impact that absorption process leading to a condition known as leaky gut.” With leaky gut syndrome, the body does not properly digest food. Instead of the nutrients in the foods consumed powering the body, food particles and other microbes literally leak out of the gut and end up in the bloodstream. The body’s immune system then identifies those foreign objects” in the bloodstream as invaders to attack and destroy, causing widespread inflammation throughout the body.

Inflammation in the gut can also affect the neurotransmitters, the body’s chemical messengers, in the brain. When the neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending signals to the brain to induce a sense of calm and well-being are affected, then sleep can be impacted.

With the help of a nutritionist, a plan to eliminate foods that your body is intolerant to can help you regain a sense of health and get a good night’s sleep.