Kidney stones can be very painful, so it is important to know what they are and also how to prevent them. Getting rid of them is often painful and they can be very disruptive to the body, so you really want to avoid them.
A kidney stone is a hard, crystalline mineral material formed within the kidney or urinary tract. When you have kidney stones, the effect is that your stones block the flow of your urine. This can cause great pain and potentially serious damage to your kidneys.
They can range in size from being very tiny, not much more than granules, to being, in extreme cases, around the size of a golf ball. Most are around the size of a chickpea or a small marble. They are usually diagnosed through X-rays or ultrasounds.
Kidney stones can arise in all kinds of people. Even people whose health is otherwise good can have them, and of course people whose bodies are not in a good state can also suffer from them. Though the causes of what triggers them are not fully known, there are some factors that increase the likelihood of kidney stones forming.
Not drinking enough good fluids, like water, herbal teas, low-sugar juices, or green teas can be a factor. Even normal black tea is generally fine and will keep you hydrated. If you are dehydrated it causes the body to pull minerals from the urine and concentrate them, increasing the chances of forming a crystal and getting kidney stones.
Likewise, certain foods have been associated with stones. These include dark colas and sweetened drinks. Low-fiber diets also risk the development of kidney stones
If you suffer from some underlying medical conditions that involve your kidneys, or if you have gout, there is also evidence you may be more susceptible to having kidney stones form.
How to Prevent Kidney Stones
Maintain Good Hydration
Hydration is the key to so much good health. To hydrate well you need to drink around 7-9 glasses of water or an equivalently effective drink per day. It can depend a little on your age, your level of exercise, and the climate, but most adults will need 1.5 -2 liters of good fluids daily. These can include herbal teas, light broths, or some other teas and fruit juices, but do not count coffee or alcohol in that 2 liter quota.
Eat Foods High in Calcium
Eating foods high in calcium can also help to prevent kidney stones. Dairy products are great for calcium, such as cheese, yogurt, milk and kefir. If you don’t like dairy, try spinach, kale or okra, which also contain high levels of calcium. If fish is your thing, then sardines, anchovies and salmon are options.
Be aware, however, that balance matters. Too much calcium can actually cause kidney stones. However, if you maintain a good balanced diet and hydrate well it is unlikely this will be an issue. But you certainly do need to have calcium in your body to ensure your overall bone health.
Avoid or Limit Salt-Heavy Foods
Processed foods can be really unhealthy for the body. They are often stuffed with salt to enhance flavor, and too much salt is not good for the body. Limit or avoid entirely foods such as soy sauce, ketchups, mustards, sausages, deli meats, bacon and tinned meats. These foods are of limited nutritional value and are very high in salt.
There are some high salt foods that you can happily include in a balanced diet, however, such as nuts, some cheeses, and some fish.
Try to Avoid Animal Protein
This surprises some people, but animal proteins are high in purines, which form uric acid when broken down by the body. High levels of uric acid can sometimes cause an accumulation of minerals, and this can lead to the formation of kidney stones. Additionally, animal proteins are also high in sodium and calcium, two substances that can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. So while eating animal protein is not always a bad thing, it’s important to try and moderate your intake to reduce the risk of developing kidney stones.
Add Citrus Juice to Your Diet
Citrus juice is packed with citrate, a mineral that helps block stone formation. It can be extremely helpful in preventing kidney stones and in breaking down the potentially harmful effects of other foods. Studies show that by drinking one 8-ounce glass of citrus juice each day, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing kidney stones. This is because when citrate combines with calcium in the urine, it helps create soluble calcium oxalate and this process virtually eliminates its ability to form clusters and turn into stones.
Reduce Intake of Oxalate-Rich Foods
Some otherwise healthy foods can, if taken in too heavy a dose over a long period of time, cause kidney stones. These include spinach, beets, nuts, chocolate, tea, and wheat bran. This is because they’re high in oxalates, which can increase the amount of calcium and oxalate concentrated in the urine, and this is a direct cause of kidney stones.
Ask Your Doctor About Medications
This is certainly worth doing if you have had issues with your kidneys and are worried about kidney stones forming. Depending on your situation, the doctor will be able to make some recommendations either for prevention, or for treating any risk factors that you may be carrying.
Drink Adequate Amounts of Water
This really is the one key message to avoiding kidney stones, especially as it is so easy to ensure. If your urine has high levels of certain minerals and salts, such as calcium oxalate, then these can form into crystals that then turn into stones. By drinking enough water, you can help flush out these substances and other potentially harmful impurities before they can build up and form stones.
Replace Sugary Drinks with Water
Don’t be tricked by sugar! Sugary drinks may temporarily make you feel like you’re getting hydrated, but their high sugar content can actually dehydrate your body, increasing your chances of kidney stones. If you are a gym-goer, then hydrate with water instead of commercial drinks that are very often laden with sugar. You will be healthier for it. As we said, even otherwise very healthy people can sometimes get kidney stones.
Get Enough Exercise
Exercise is an often overlooked part of combating kidney stones. It plays a holistic role in limiting the chances of them forming. Even 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week is enough to reduce your risk of ever having them. Walking, jogging, swimming or biking are all options. In addition, physical activity helps to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, both of which are important in helping to prevent kidney stones.
Eating Nutritious Meals
Use apple cider vinegar and lemon juice
These are great foods for helping to break down kidney stones. They are also able to be served as a dressing in salads as well as used as an ingredient in drinks, such as warm waters or honey drinks. They are all-round cleansers, but are also foodstuffs that possess antiinflammatory and antiseptic qualities, while the acids they contain can help to break down the stones in your kidneys.
Consume Calcium-Rich Foods
Milk, yogurt, kale, and broccoli are great sources of this nutrient. It plays an important role, as it assists in eliminating oxalic acid, which can later form crystals and become kidney stones. It can even reduce the amount of existing stones if any already exist. If dairy is an issue, soy milk or canned fish are also great options. Be aware, however, not to overdo it with calcium, but if you eat a balanced diet this is unlikely.
Increase Vegetables in Your Diet
Vegetables are also critical. Broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, or a mixed veg ratatouille are all great ways to enhance health and limit the risk of kidney stones. Don’t think veg just means mashed potato! A smoothie is also a good way of getting vegetables in your diet. Add in some spinach or kale leaves, or a few cherry tomatoes to a fruit smoothie, or a baby beetroot. And remember that avocados are also tasty, creamy and full of good things that will limit the likelihood of forming kidney stones. There is much you can do.
Include Whole Grains
Consumption of whole grains has been linked to increased urine output which is helpful when it comes to flushing out crystalized minerals like calcium oxalate, a main component in kidney stones. This makes them useful. They are also useful for bowel clearance too. In addition, whole grains contain fiber that can reduce the absorption of kidney-stone-promoting substances. Though you don’t want a diet that has too much fiber, most people today suffer from the opposite problem, and have a low-fiber diet. Low-fiber diets have more health risks, including getting kidney stones, so don’t worry about consuming too much wholegrain. It’s quite hard to do!
Choose Healthy Fats
We mentioned avocados, fish and nuts earlier. They are examples of foods with good fats. Opt in your diet for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which come from these sources. These are known as the ‘heart healthy’ fats, as they can reduce heart disease risk too.
Make sure you really limit, or avoid entirely, solid or saturated fats like butter and lard, as well as saying goodbye to trans-fats, which are often found in processed foods and deep-fried takeaways. Making smart dietary choices when it comes to fats can really make a huge difference to your risk of developing kidney stones.
Limiting Harmful Foods
Cut Down on Salt
Eating too much salt can lead to a higher concentration of minerals in your urine, which can cause your kidneys to produce stones. To cut down, instead of salt use herbs, spices, and other seasonings. You should also avoid nutritionally dubious high salt processed foods and opt instead for fresh, whole ingredients whenever possible.
Avoid High-Protein Diets
The body needs protein. That is unequivocal. But it can also have too much protein, and if you are on a high protein diet it can be harmful. When we eat a lot of protein, it puts a strain on our kidneys to process and filter out all the extra waste. That’s why it’s important to monitor our intake, and keep it at a moderate level. In general, experts suggest that no more than 10-15% of your daily calorie intake should come from protein sources. So if you’re worried about kidney stones, or are suffering from them, you should consider reducing your intake of meat, dairy, and eggs.
Moderate Consumption of Coffee and Alcohol
You may be surprised to know that coffee has beneficial effects here. In terms of coffee, moderate consumption helps to keep your urine free from harmful acids. This can help reduce your risk of uric acid stones, which are common types of kidney stones. That said, remember that coffee is also a drink that can dehydrate the body, so you should not count coffee in your 2 liters of daily hydration. Remember also that drinking coffee too far into the day will affect your sleep, and sleep is also an important aspect of the body’s regulating itself and ensuring it flushes out toxins effectively.
Avoid Oxalate-Heavy Foods
Well, oxalates are found naturally in many foods, such as spinach, rhubarb, wheat bran, and sweet potatoes. These are otherwise healthy foods, but too high an intake can be problematic. Consuming too many of these can increase the amount of calcium in your urine, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones. If you are at risk of kidney stones, or already suffering from them, it’s best to limit or even avoid foods that are high in oxalates. Never be afraid to talk to a dietician about making adaptations to your diet that suit your personal situation.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle is Key for Preventing Kidney Stones
Diet and lifestyle are critical for preventing kidney stones. If you eat badly and do not give your body enough fluids you will increase your risk of getting this very painful condition. If you do develop kidney stones they can be very difficult to get rid of and it can take a significant amount of time for them to be broken down, so prevention is wise.
As a summary of how to prevent or treat them, the following is a useful summary guide.
- Focus on your water intake. Ensure you are drinking around 1.5 liters a day.
- Eat fresh fruits, especially those with citric acid, and eat legumes and seeds regularly.
- Keep a sensible control of dairy, protein and calcium in your diet. All are necessary, but too much of them can be counterproductive.
- Avoid or decrease your consumption of processed foods and high-salt foods.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
If you spot any issues with your urine, you should always get this checked out by a doctor. Remember that the kidneys provide an absolutely vital function in your body. If they are damaged, your overall health, and in extreme cases even your life, can be at risk. They are worth looking after.