Did you know that 1 in 10 people will develop a kidney stone over the course of their lifetime? Although the exact reason isn’t known, one explanation may be that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what causes kidney stones. In order to de-bunk these false beliefs, shed light on what really causes kidney stones, and help people hopefully stay stone-free, we at Westchester Health offer these 6 important tips.
Who’s at risk of kidney stones?
“Kidney stones” is a one-size-fits-all term for what are actually different types of small, solid crystals. A number of things can cause them, such as kidney infections, or because you have too much of certain minerals in your system.
Although it is true that men in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are at higher risk for kidney stones than women, women are at risk, too. The most common age group is in the younger population, late 20’s and older. Most of these either have inherited the risk from a family member or they have a metabolic problem that puts them at higher risk which first manifests itself when they’re younger. Genes can play a role, also. Of the people who get kidney stones, 40% have a family history of them. In these cases, their bodies may create too much calcium or too little citrate (a chemical found in citrus fruits).
Other conditions that make kidney stones more likely include:
- Obesity—When you’re overweight, you tend to get kidney stones more often.
- Surgery—If you’ve had gastric bypass surgery or other intestinal surgery, your chance of stones is higher.
- Disease—One example of this is polycystic kidney disease, in which clusters of cysts grow in your kidneys.
Top 6 facts about kidney stones and how to prevent them
With the right foods, plenty of water and proper medication, you can lower your chances of kidney stones, and hopefully, never develop them.
Sweating can cause kidney stones
Saunas, hot yoga and heavy exercise may be good for your health but they also may lead to kidney stones. Why? Loss of water through sweating, whether due to these activities or just the heat of summer, leads to less urine production. The more you sweat, the less you urinate, which allows for stone-causing minerals to settle and bond in the kidneys and urinary tract.
What you can do: Hydrate yourself with water. One of the most effective things you can do to avoid kidney stones is to drink plenty of water, especially when engaging in exercise or activities that cause a lot of sweating, causing you to urinate a lot.
Watch your intake of foods high in oxalate
Most kidney stones are formed when oxalate binds to calcium while urine is produced by the kidneys, and calcium oxalate stones are the leading type of kidney stones. Oxalate is naturally found in many foods, including:
- Sweet potatoes
Moderating your intake of these foods may help prevent the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones.
What you can do: Eat and drink calcium and oxalate-rich foods together during a meal. By doing this, oxalate and calcium are more likely to bind to one another in the stomach and intestines before the kidneys begin processing, making it less likely that kidney stones will form.
A diet low in calcium actually increases your risk of developing kidney stones
Many of our patients think that calcium is the main culprit in calcium-oxalate stones. Not true, in fact, just the opposite. A diet low in calcium actually increases one’s risk of developing kidney stones.
What you can do: Do not reduce your calcium intake. Instead, cut back on the sodium in your diet and pair calcium-rich foods with oxalate-rich foods.
Kidney stones are usually a recurring condition
Passing a kidney stone is often described as one of the most painful experiences a person can have, but unfortunately, this is not always a one-time event. Studies have shown that having even just one stone greatly increases your chances of having another. Further research has also shown that even after proclaiming that they never again want to go through the experience of passing a stone, most people do not make the changes they need to after their first stone event and tend not to heed the advice of their nephrologists and urinary specialists which might keep stones from recurring.
What you can do: Follow your doctor’s advice. Without the right medications and diet adjustments, stones can come back. Recurring kidney stones could also be an indicator of other problems, including kidney disease.
Pay attention to your diet, not just your medication
Preventative dietary adjustments need to take place in concert with prescription medications. While it may seem easier to just take a pill to fix a kidney stone problem, consider what lifestyle changes you can also make to positively impact your health.
What you can do: Drink lemonade! Chronic kidney stones are often treated with potassium citrate, but studies have shown that limeade, lemonade and other fruits and juices high in natural citrate offers the same stone-preventing benefits. Citrate in the urine may prevent the calcium from binding with other constituents that lead to stones, and also may prevent crystals that are already present from binding with each other, thus preventing them from getting bigger. Control the sugar, though, which can increase kidney stone risk. Either drink sugar-free lemonade or make your own by mixing lime or lemon juice with water and using a sugar substitute.
Eat less meat and shellfish, more fruits and vegetables
In addition to calcium oxalate stones, another common type of kidney stones is uric acid stones. Red meat, organ meats and shellfish have high concentrations of a natural chemical compound known as purines, and high purine intake leads to a higher production of uric acid which in turn produces a larger acid load for the kidneys to excrete. Higher uric acid excretion leads to lower overall urine pH, which means the urine is more acidic. The high acid concentration of the urine makes it easier for uric acid stones to form.
What you can do: To prevent uric acid stones, cut down on high-purine foods such as red meat, organ meats and shellfish, and follow a healthy diet that contains mostly vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Limit sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, especially ones 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. Eating less animal-based protein and eating more fruits and vegetables will help decrease urine acidity, which will help reduce the likelihood of stone formation.
Worried that you may have a kidney stone? Come see us.
If you think you have a kidney stone, or you want to learn more about how to avoid developing one, please make an appointment with Westchester Health to see one of our specialists. We can perform tests to determine if you do in fact have a kidney stone, or if you are at risk of developing one, and can guide you as to how to adjust your diet. We also may prescribe medication, if appropriate.