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Did you know that the heat of summer could increase your risk of developing kidney stones? It’s true. Experts have found that as you sweat more and become dehydrated, the minerals that usually stay dissolved in your urine can get filtered out, creating a build-up of stones.
That’s particularly if you have a tendency toward getting kidney stones.
If you’ve had kidney stones in the past, you probably know it. Kidney stones can be super painful and can zap you of energy. I’ve struggled with kidney stones myself, so I know from personal experience how awful they can be.
Kidney stones are not something you want to experience while on vacation with family, or taking care of family, or really ever! So, if you think you might be at higher risk, keep reading. I’ll share some ideas in this article on how to avoid them.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are sand- or pebble-like pieces of material that form in the kidneys out of minerals in the urine. They can be fine like grains of sand, coarse like gravel, or even larger, like rocks. (Yikes!) They mostly range in size from a grain of sand to a green pea.
Small stones pass easily through the urinary system, leaving the body through the urethra. The problem comes in when a larger stone gets stuck, creating a blockage.
Kidney stones may or may not cause pain, depending on the size of the stone, and whether there’s also an infection going on.
While kidney stones aren’t as common in women as they are in men, they still affect about 10% of us, and the number is rising for everyone. In fact, kidney stones might affect up to 14.8% of the population.
A lot of the reason has to do with the old culprits: diet and exercise.
Types of Kidney Stones
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), there are four types of kidney stones. They are named for what they are made out of: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, or cystine.
- Calcium Stones — 80% of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones mixed with calcium phosphate. Eating more calcium-rich food doesn’t make you more likely to have these stones.
- Uric Acid Stones — 5% to 10% of kidney stones are uric acid stones. These stones form when you have too much acid in your urine. This can happen from overeating any kind of meat, but it’s more common from overdoing organ meats.
- Struvite Stones — If you have a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), it can cause struvite stones to form. These can come up quickly and cause a lot of pain due to their large size.
- Cystine Stones — This type of stone isn’t as common as it’s associated with a genetic disorder called Cystinuria. This disorder causes the amino acid cystine to get into the urine, creating cystine stones.
Also, depending on where your stone is located, it will get an additional name. If it’s located in the ureters of your urinary tract, it’ll be called a “ureteral stone.” If it’s in the bladder, you guessed it: It’s called a bladder stone.
If a stone gets stuck in the ureter, it can block the flow of urine, causing pain.
No matter the cause, there are some things you can do to improve your kidney health and lessen your chances of developing stones.
What Are Common Signs of Kidney Stones?
First of all, how do you know if you have kidney stones? Some common symptoms of kidney stones include the following:
- A constant need to pee
- Pain while urinating
- Difficulty peeing — either you can’t at all or can only pee a small amount at a time
- Cloudy urine
- Bad smelling urine
- Severe pain — in the mid to lower back, side, lower abdomen, or groin area.
- Blood in the urine — may show up as pink, red, or brown
- Fever and/or chills
The symptoms may come and go, and the pain could be just a temporary tinge or severe kidney stone pain that lasts.
Testing for Kidney Stones
If you think you might be dealing with kidney stones, it’s best to find out for sure with testing. To find out whether you do have kidney stones, talk to your doctor about the following lab tests:
- Imaging Tests — Examples are ultrasounds, X-rays, and CT scans. These help your doctor see anything unusual in the kidneys, such as a stone.
- Blood Test — A blood test can check for high levels of minerals in the blood that may lead to kidney stones.
- Urine Test — A urine test is similar, in that it can check for minerals in the urine that could lead to kidney stones. It can also determine whether you’re dealing with a Urinary Tract Infection.
- Stone Analysis — Sometimes you can actually see the stones. In that case, you may want to strain out the stones and bring them to your doctor for testing.
Knowing that you have kidney stones, you may wonder how exactly you got them — especially since men are in general more likely to get them than women. Let’s look at some causes of these.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
If any of these habits or issues sound like you, you might be dealing with kidney stones:
Not Drinking Enough Fluids
Not drinking enough water is one of the main causes of kidney stones. It’s one of the main reasons the NIDDK mentions that may increase your likelihood of developing kidney stones. So drink up!
Eating (or Drinking) Too Much Sugar
Eating too much sugar is associated with a greater risk of kidney stones. That especially pertains to fructose.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the main ingredients in soft drinks today. Researchers found that drinking soft drinks, particularly “cola beverages” increased the likelihood a person would end up with kidney stones.
Keep in mind that fructose makes up half of the molecules in white sugar (the other half is glucose). So, if you’re opting for sugar-sweetened soft drinks over the HFCS version, you’re still consuming some fructose.
Eating Too Much in General
If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to overeat. Here’s another reason to pay attention to overeating patterns: A study of women who were participating in the Women’s Health Initiative found that eating over 2200 calories per day increased their chances of getting kidney stones by up to 42%.
However, the type and source of calories matter.
Not Getting Enough Exercise
If you’re not getting enough exercise, you may not be pumping fluids through your system as well — including urine and its minerals. Plus, if you’re overweight from eating too much while also not getting in enough exercise, you’ll also increase your risk of kidney stones.
Obesity is associated with kidney stones.
Oxalates are anti-nutrients in foods that could form oxalate stones by combining with minerals in the body. You can learn more about oxalates in foods here.
Soy is one of those high oxalate foods that’s associated with kidney stones. In fact, research confirmed that a high soy diet increases the risk of developing kidney stones.
Diethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP/DOP) is a type of phthalate that accumulates in the kidneys and may increase your risk of kidney stones. It’s in all kinds of building materials and consumer products that you’re likely to find in your home. Examples include roofing materials, flooring, and PVC pipes. It’s also in shower curtains, the plastics in car interiors, and plastic toys.
Read more about DEHP/DOP here.
Taking in too much fluoride can increase your risk for kidney stones. According to a study published in the journal Urology Research, people who live in areas where the drinking water is fluoridated have higher rates of kidney stones.
Kidney stones were almost 5 times more common in an area with high fluoride in the water, compared to an area that had lower fluoride levels in the water.
Natural Remedies for Healthy Kidneys
1. Drink More Water
The most important thing to do if you have kidney stones is to drink more water. One study showed that if you drink enough water to make 2 to 2 ½ liters of urine, it could help prevent kidney stones. (Tip from medical reviewer Dr. Tim Jackson: Drink water with electrolytes, especially one that contains potassium! For people prone to kidney stones, too much water without potassium may cause excess excretion of important minerals.)
2. “Just say NO” to sugar
Diabetics are more likely to develop kidney stones than non-diabetics. Also, a study showed that a diet high in refined carbohydrates (sugar and sugar products) was more likely to cause calcium oxalate stones.
3. Avoid high oxalate foods
Oxalates come from foods like soy, almonds, rhubarb, and spinach. When eaten, they can combine with other minerals in the body forming crystals and creating oxalate kidney stones. The famed Cleveland Clinic recommends an “oxalate-controlled” diet for kidney stones.
4. Add lemon & lime juice
5. Drink apple cider vinegar water
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) seems to be a remedy for just about everything and it comes through again for kidney stones. It likely works as an “alkalizing agent” which has been found to help kidney stones.
6. Try magnesium citrate
Magnesium is known to help prevent stone formation — particularly calcium oxalate stones. The citrate version may be even more effective, as citrates may help break down stones. Learn more about the health benefits of magnesium.
7. Get enough (but not too much) calcium
I know it’s counterintuitive with calcium oxalate stones, but it’s important to get enough calcium in your diet. Research has found that getting enough calcium through food helps lower your risk of kidney stones.
However, taking calcium as a supplement might be another story. Research from the Nurses Health Study found that while dietary calcium lowered the risk of kidney stones, taking calcium supplements increased it.
8. Incorporate some aloe vera gel
The citrate and tartrate in 100 grams of the fresh gel (taken twice a day) show potential in breaking down kidney stones.
9. Try Chanca piedra (Phyllanthus niruri)
This Brazilian herb, used in folk medicine for kidney stones, may help prevent the crystallization of calcium, which would otherwise lead to calcium oxalate stones. You can easily find it as a supplement online.
In a Brazilian study of the herb for kidney stones, patients were given 4.5 grams of chanca piedra a day for 3 months. The chanca piedra was found to decrease the size and number of kidney stones in about two-thirds of those who participated in the study. Worth a try!
10. Increase your physical activity
Getting some exercise is important if you’re trying to avoid kidney stones. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (which is all about kidney health), even light exercise could help. What’s considered “light exercise”?
The study found that women’s chances of getting kidney stones were reduced by 31% by doing things like basic walking (2-3 mph) for 3 hours a week, gardening for 4 hours a week, or moderate jogging (6 mph) just an hour a week.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Tim Jackson. He is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Orthopedic Rehabilitation, and a Functional Medicine provider. He holds a B.S. Degree in Health Science and Chemistry from Wake Forest University. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you have a natural remedy for kidney stones? If so, please share it with us below!
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