Did you know that one in ten people will have a kidney stone over the course of a lifetime? I recently went through this agonizing painful experience, and believe me, you want to avoid it at all costs.
Passing a kidney stone is often described as one of the most painful experiences a person can have, but unfortunately, it’s not always a one-time event. Studies have shown that having even one stone greatly increases your chances of having another. I for one, most definitely don’t want to have that experience ever again!
The urinary system is made up of the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder, and the urethra. Each plays an important role in helping your body to eliminate waste products in the form of urine.
A kidney stone can develop when certain chemicals in your urine form crystals that stick together. The crystals may grow into a stone ranging in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Most stones form in the kidneys. Very small stones can pass through the urinary system without causing problems. However, larger stones, when traveling from the kidney through the ureter to the bladder, can cause severe pain called colic. That’s exactly what happened to me.
Here are some facts and tips about kidney stone prevention:
Common Types of Kidney Stones
1. Calcium Oxalate Stones
Most kidney stones are formed when oxalate binds to calcium while urine is being produced by the kidneys. Oxalate is naturally found in many foods including fruits/vegetables, nuts/seeds, grains, beans, chocolate and even tea.
Some examples of foods that contain high levels of oxalate include spinach, almonds & cashews, beets, rhubarb, chocolate, berries, sweet potatoes, wheat bran, beer, black tea. For people susceptible to kidney stones, moderating the intake of high oxalate foods would be a good idea. However, many of these foods are very beneficial for overall health. Also, cutting the oxalate-rich foods in your diet alone will not lower your chances of getting calcium oxalate kidney stones. Remember that these stones are formed when oxalate binds to calcium during urine production in the kidneys. So if you consume both calcium and oxalate rich foods together during a meal, the binding process will happen in the stomach and intestines before the kidneys get involved! I wish someone had told me this before. Going forward I am going to be much smarter about how I pair certain foods.
Calcium is not the enemy, but it tends to get a bad rap when it comes to kidney stones. Don’t reduce the calcium in your diet. Instead, pair calcium-rich foods with oxalate-rich foods and cut back on the sodium.
2. Uric Acid Stones
Another common type of kidney stone are uric acid stones. Red meat, organ meats, and shellfish have high concentrations of a natural chemical compound known as purines. High intake of these foods leads to a higher production of uric acid which in turn produces a larger acid load for the kidneys to excrete. This leads to lower overall urine pH, meaning that the urine is more acidic. The high acid concentration of the urine makes it easier for uric acid stones to form.
- One of the best measures you can take to avoid kidney stones is to drink plenty of water. This makes you urinate frequently, allowing the kidneys to stay clear of stone formation.
- This is even more important when you sweat because sweating causes you to pee less. Saunas, hot yoga and intense exercise is good for your health but these things may also lead to kidney stones if your are not extra mindful of your water intake.
- The more you sweat, the less you pee, which allows for stone-causing minerals to settle and bond in the kidneys and urinary tract.
- Hydration – 6-8 glasses per day (at least 2 litres).
- Chronic kidney stones are often treated with potassium citrate. But studies have shown that that fruits/juices high in natural citrate offer the same stone-preventing benefits. It is believed that when citrate is present in the urine, it may prevent the calcium from binding with other crystals that lead to stones. Beware of sugar, though, because it can increase your risk.
- Squeeze half a lemon or lime into your water. Citric acid helps with prevention of stone formation.
- Limit sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, especially those that contain high fructose corn syrup.
- Limit alcohol because it can increase uric acid levels in the blood and avoid crash diets for the same reason.
- Pair calcium-rich foods with oxalate-rich foods. (eg. Eat berries with yogurt; sweet potato with low-fat cheese or sour cream; green smoothies with Greek yogurt added in)
- Eating less animal-based protein and eating more fruits and vegetables will help decrease urine acidity and this will help reduce the chance for stone formation.
- Cut down on your salt intake.
If you have symptoms of having a kidney stone:
- Hydration – as much water as you can drink. Add lemon or lime to your water.
- Magnesium citrate – 400mg at bedtime for prevention of stone buildup and to help dissolve the stone.
- Modify your consumption of oxalate-rich foods.
- Minimize sodium consumption.
References: National Kidney Foundation; The Kidney Foundation of Canada
Thanks. Great info. What about naturopaths who tell you not to have any dairy products ? Problems for us as the oxalates and calcium -rich milk products are frowned upon.
I know! It’s hard to get the whole healthy diet thing perfected. Unless you are strictly vegan, I would not do away with low fat dairy products like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and even milk. Finding your own balance in important.
Excellent article, Parkash. Thanks for sharing how we can avoid what you went through!
Thank you Patricia. I wrote it with the intention that it may help others with prevention of kidney stones.