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How to Help Prevent Kidney Stones

cartoon hand holding kidneys

Every year, more than half a million Americans end up in emergency rooms for problems related to kidney stones. Experts in digestive and kidney diseases estimate that 1 in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. Passing a kidney stone can be an extremely painful experience. And unfortunately, kidney stones are not usually one-time events. If you have had a kidney stone once, your chances of having another one significantly increase. The good news is that kidney stones are preventable. Please continue reading to learn more about preventing kidney stones. 

What is a kidney stone?

Urine contains many waste materials dissolved in it. When there is too little liquid and too much solid waste, crystals start to form in the urine. These crystals can bind together to form kidney stones. Therefore, a kidney stone is a hard object made from chemicals in the urine. There are various kidney stones, such as calcium oxalate stones, calcium phosphate stones, uric acid stones, cystine stones, and struvite stones. 

Most kidney stones can pass with the urine without causing symptoms. However, a large kidney stone can travel from the kidney into the urinary tract and cause a blockage and backup of urine. This can lead to symptoms such as severe lower back pain, blood in the urine, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. 

What are the leading causes of kidney stones?

Some of the things that can trigger kidney stones are:

  • Drinking too little water
  • Eating foods with too much salt, sugar, or fructose
  • Heavy exercise or too little exercise
  • Saunas and hot yoga
  • Obesity
  • Weight loss surgery or intestinal surgery
  • Infections 
  • Family history of kidney stones or kidney disease

What is the main way to prevent kidney stones?

According to the National Kidney Foundation, the most important thing you can do to reduce kidney stone incidence is drink plenty of water. This will ensure there is enough liquid in your urine output to dissolve the solid waste and thereby prevent kidney stones from forming. Healthcare professionals recommend drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day (1.5 to 2 liters) for most people. It is especially important to stay well hydrated when participating in activities that cause a lot of sweating. If you want to add options to your fluid intake, lemon or orange juice containing citrate can help prevent kidney stone formation.

What foods help clear kidney stones?

The DASH eating plan (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) has been found to reduce the risk of kidney stones. This eating plan has multiple health benefits. It does not involve eating any special foods. Rather, the DASH diet recommends that you:

  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Include fat-free or low-fat dairy products, lean meats, nuts, and vegetable oils in your diet
  • Limit foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fried foods, full-fat dairy products, and coconut or palm oils 
  • Limit beverages and foods with added salt and sugar

What dietary changes can reduce the risk of developing kidney stones?

Reduce sodium intake

Your chance of developing kidney stones is higher if you eat more sodium. Fast foods, canned, packaged, and processed foods have a high sodium content. Limiting these foods can help to prevent kidney stones.

Limit animal protein

Eating animal protein such as beef, pork, chicken, organ meats, eggs, fish, shellfish, and dairy products can increase your risk of kidney stones. Talk to your healthcare professional about how much animal protein is right for you. You can consider replacing some animal protein with plant-based protein sources such as lentils and beans that are low in oxalate and high in protein. Other good food choices to help prevent stones include dried peas, peanuts, soy foods, nuts, nut products, and seeds.

Eat calcium-rich foods

Many people form calcium oxalate stones or calcium phosphate stones, so it may sound like calcium is the cause of kidney stones. Therefore, you might think that cutting calcium from your diet will help prevent calcium stones. However, calcium is not the enemy. The truth is that you need to include the right amount of calcium in your diet to block the absorption of certain substances in the digestive tract that can cause kidney stones. Talk to a healthcare professional or dietician about how much calcium you need and which foods are good sources of calcium for you. Rather than taking calcium supplements, try to eat calcium-rich foods. The best choice may be plant-based foods that are low in oxalate and rich in calcium, such as beans, certain vegetables, and calcium-fortified cereals and juices.

What are the worst foods for kidney stones?

If you have already had kidney stones, ask your healthcare professional which type of kidney stone you had. You may be able to prevent future kidney stones by making some changes in your diet. If you have never had a kidney stone before, dietary changes can help you avoid kidney stones. 

Calcium oxalate stone

This is the most common type of kidney stone. If you have had calcium oxalate stones, you may want to avoid foods that in oxalate for kidney stone prevention. This includes: 

  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Grains and legumes
  • Spinach
  • Rhubarb
  • Beets
  • Sweet potato
  • Wheat bran
  • Chocolate 
  • Tea

Keep in mind that eliminating oxalate-rich foods from your diet or eating fewer oxalate-rich foods alone will not reduce your risk of forming calcium oxalate stones. Experts recommend eating calcium and oxalate-rich foods together during meals for kidney stone prevention. This makes it more likely that the calcium and oxalate will bind to each other in the digestive tract, which in turn makes it less likely that it will lead to kidney stones. 

Uric acid stone

Certain foods have high concentrations of compounds called purines. If your diet is rich in purines, it leads to a higher production of uric acid and a lower urine pH, i.e., the urine is more acidic. This increases your chances of forming certain kidney stones like uric acid stones. To prevent uric acid stones, limit high-purine foods such as red meats, organ meats, and shellfish. Also, limit sweetened foods and beverages, especially those containing high fructose corn syrup. Crash diets and alcohol consumption are also risk factors. They can lead to kidney stones because they increase uric acid levels in the blood.

Kidney stones can be very painful, but you can lower your chances of getting them by drinking enough fluids (mainly water), eating a healthy diet with the right foods, and taking prescribed medications, if needed.

 

References

  1. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/kidney-stones/eating-diet-nutrition
  2. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneystones
  3. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneystones_prevent
  4. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan