If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, it’s a pain you won’t soon forget. Coming in waves and radiating from the back to the lower abdomen and groin, pain from a kidney stone can be unrelenting and excruciating as it travels through the urinary tract and exits the body.
While some people may never have a recurrence after a single stone, that won’t be the case for many. According to the American Urology Association, 50% of those who have had a kidney stone are likely to experience another within 10 years of the first occurrence. Recurring stones also pose a definite risk for chronic kidney disease, making prevention efforts all the more important.
For those who have experienced a kidney stone, there’s a strong motivation to avoid a repeat episode. The following dietary kidney stone prevention tips will help you do just that and save you a trip to the emergency room. But to stop kidney stones from forming, you must first understand the nature of kidney stones.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are hard, pebble-like deposits of minerals and acid salts that stick together and form in one or both of the kidneys. From jagged and smooth to small and large, kidney stones vary in shape and size and can usually pass through the urinary tract on their own. But it’s not uncommon for a stone to get stuck and block the flow of urine, causing severe pain and bleeding. In instances like these, medical interventions like shockwave therapy and surgery may be necessary to break or remove the stone.
Moreover, not all kidney stones are classified the same. The four types of kidney stones include:
- Calcium stones – These can appear as either calcium phosphate or calcium oxalate stones but the latter is more common. Calcium stones are attributed to several factors, such as inadequate calcium and fluid intake and certain medications. Most kidney stones are calcium stones.
- Uric acid stones – The second most common kidney stone forms from a high-protein diet and can occur in those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Genetic factors may also increase the risk of uric acid stones.
- Struvite stones – These stones are associated with frequent urinary tract infections and can grow quickly, sometimes with little warning and very few symptoms.
- Cystine stones – These stones are rare as they usually form in people with cystinuria, a hereditary disorder that causes the kidneys to excrete too much of an amino acid called cystine.
Dietary Kidney Stone Prevention Tips
1. Stay hydrated
The key to kidney stone prevention is to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, ideally water — and lots of it. Water keeps you hydrated and dilutes the substance in urine that leads to kidney stones. Drinks like coffee, soda, and tea can also count towards your daily fluid intake but you should consume them in moderation.
Unless otherwise advised by your doctor, the recommended amount of water to drink is six to eight, 8-ounce glasses daily. You should also drink more water when it’s hot or if you’re exercising to replace fluids lost through sweating.
Tips to help you drink more water include:
- Using an app to track your daily water intake.
- Mark lines on your water bottle to indicate the amount you should drink throughout the day.
- Add frozen lemons, limes, or orange peels to your water. Not only does this give you the benefit of flavor, but research shows citrus may play a protective role against kidney stone formation as they contain citrate, an organic acid that can bind with calcium in urine.
2. Reduce sodium intake
As you increase the sodium in your diet, so do your chances of developing kidney stones. Sodium is a natural mineral found in many foods, but most sodium intake comes from table salt and processed foods like lunch meat, canned soup, and condiments.
If you have a history of kidney stones it’s best to reduce your sodium intake as the salt in urine prevents calcium from reabsorbing into the blood, causing high levels of calcium in urine that can lead to stone formation. Visit the CDC for a complete guide on how to consume less sodium.
3. Be mindful of oxalate-rich foods
Oxalate, or oxalic acid, is a natural compound found in many plant foods like coffee, nuts, and leafy greens that can contribute to kidney stone formation. Oxalate-rich foods are especially problematic for those prone to calcium oxalate stones or who have hyperoxaluria, a condition characterized by high levels of oxalate in urine.
While a high oxalate intake can increase oxalate excretion in urine, oxalate-rich foods are generally very healthy, nutrient-dense foods, which is why a low oxalate diet is not recommended unless you have one of the above conditions.
Moreover, rather than focusing on the complete elimination of oxalate foods, it’s important to practice mindful consumption and reduce your intake when possible as part of your kidney stone prevention diet. Examples of oxalate foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Soy Products
4. Consume calcium-rich foods
Calcium may feel like the cause of calcium-oxalate stones but the opposite is true. Adding calcium-rich foods to your diet reduces your chances of developing this stone type as calcium binds with oxalate in the digestive tract before moving to the kidneys, effectively blocking stone formation.
Low-fat dairy foods such as yogurt, milk, and cheese are excellent calcium-rich foods to add to your kidney stone prevention diet. Also, be wary of calcium supplements as they can have the opposite effect and may increase your kidney stone risk. But if you have to take a calcium supplement be sure to take them with a meal to reduce the possibility of stones.
5. Eat less animal protein and add more fruits and vegetables
Beef, poultry, fish, and pork increase urine acid and the likelihood of uric-acid and calcium-oxalate stones as these animal proteins are acidic. Consume in moderation and be sure to meet the daily recommended serving of fruits and vegetables; they provide fiber, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and citrate which can help prevent kidney stones.
What to Do if a Kidney Stone Prevention Diet Doesn’t Work
Kidney stone prevention isn’t complicated, but sometimes dietary choices alone may not be enough to stop a kidney stone from forming. If you have recurrent stones know that there are several medications that can reduce your chances of kidney stones. Talk with a urologist to determine the best treatment option for you.
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