Sep 28, 2022
According to the National Kidney Foundation, about 10% of adults will have a kidney stone at some point in their life; and, kidney stones will send more than a half million people to an emergency room seeking treatment each year. If you have had a kidney stone, you have a higher risk of developing another, with a 30% chance of having another kidney stone within 5 years.
However, researchers from Mayo Clinic have shown that making changes in your diet may help prevent a recurrence. In addition to fluid intake, especially water, foods can also have a positive effect in preventing the development of kidney stones. Specifically, those high in calcium and potassium. The research study was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, and included 795 adults. The people who had lower levels of dietary calcium and potassium were more likely to have kidney stones recur than people whose diets included more of those minerals.
Kidney stones develop when a substance in a person's urine does not dissolve, joins with other undissolved substances, and forms a hard object, or stone. Kidney stones vary in size, normally ranging in size of a grain of sand to a pebble. Symptoms of kidney stones include the following: cloudy or bloody urine, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and severe, sharp pain in the lower back. If a stone does not pass from the body on its own, treatment may depend upon the size and location of the stone. Lithotripsy is the use of shock waves to break apart a large stone into smaller pieces that can then pass from the body. Surgical removal of a stone may also be a treatment option.
Have you ever passed a kidney stone before? If so, you know it's terrible! I've met women who would rather deliver a baby! The key to making changes that stick is to add them into your life in ways that are tolerable, like moderation, so you can be successful long-term. So, let's get started.
Here are 5 dietary recommendations that can help prevent kidney stones:
1) Drink more water: We want to try and make about 2.5 liters of urine in a day. I know we don't all pee in a measuring cup, or hopefully not many of us at all. My work around here is: If you're urine is clear, you're hydrated. If it's yellow, drink more water. Not soda or juice, more water.
2) Eat less salt: While most kidney stones are calcium based, it's how much salt the kidney sees that really matters. The more salt your kidney sees, the more calcium your kidney shoots into your urine. When I say salt or sodium here, they're interchangeable and mean the same thing. I have a lot of patients who say "doc, it's not a problem - we don't add table salt so I think we're good there." You might be good there but humor me for a second. The majority of salt in our diet comes from canned, boxed, packaged, processed and fast food. And we all need salt to live but we don't need too much. The diet we should get is about 2 to 2.3 grams of salt in a day (or 2,000milligrams to 2,300 milligrams). Remember that 1 gram is 1,000 milligrams. The reason this matter is I want you to look on the labels of the things you buy. It'll say sodium in milligrams and it'll give serving sizes. This will give you a rough idea of how much salt you have in your body on a daily basis. See where your big salt loads are and where you can make some changes. The easy changes are buying from packages or companies that have less salt in them upfront. Also, low and no salt added foods are available, you just have to look for them a little bit- and I don' think you're going to miss the taste. For all those foods that don't have a label, like produce or if you eat out at chain restaurants, you can actually Google that stuff. Most of the time you can find out how much sodium. Overall, get a rough idea of where you are. Are you at 3 grams a day? 2grams a day? 4 grams a day? See where you can make some changes.
3) More citrate: Have you ever had someone say "If you have kidney stones, just drink lemonade!"? That's where this comes from. Lemons have citrate in them. Citrate is a molecule that inhibits the ability of calcium to stick together and make a kidney stone. Limes also have a lot of citrate. You can buy them, slice them up, squeeze them in your water - consider that your vitamin. If you're going to do whole limes or whole lemons, drink through a straw or gulp it so you don't hurt the enamel on your teeth. If you don't like lemons or limes, then you can get a lot of citrate from fresh tomatoes. If you make uric acid stones, citrate will actually dissolve them because citrate helps with some acid/base status in your body and stones have a lot to do with acid/base status. So, the other thing here is that it's water soluble. This means that any excess that you have you're just going to pee out. Therefore, it's hard to have too much citrate.
4) Eat less animal base protein: For people who like numbers, I tend to say 70grams or less. For people who like portions, go for 4 to 6 ounces twice a day and that should be the amount of animal base protein you have because it's higher in acid and will help you make more stones. People who are vegetarians make fewer stones. Also, soy based protein has less acid, so there is less likely for kidney stones there.
5) Lowering oxalates: This one gets a little tricky. The most common stone is calcium oxalate. Oxalates are naturally in all sorts of plant material. They're also in lots of stuff that is good for us such as:
Therefore, it gets tough to say a low oxalate diet since that may take some stuff away. Also, they're pretty high in potato chips and French fries, so we can all probably do a little better there. With Vitamin C, if you have more than 500 milligrams, that's going to increase your oxalate contents - so try and stay below 500 milligrams.
Final thoughts on kidney stones. Now a lot of people who rightfully ask, "Wait a second, if calcium stones are what we're making, why not drop calcium?" The answer for that is that low calcium diets increase your ability to make stones. If I give you that mechanism, you're probably going to fall asleep. Just recognize that calcium supplements and normal calcium diets are OK.
Now, some people have medical problems that make or cause them to make a lot of stones. For all this information, please see your doctor as well. However, recognize that these are great dietary tips to reduce your ability to make stones.
Monica McCarthy has bachelors in Political Science and Criminal Justice from Central Washington University. A majority of her career was spent as a political consultant. She currently works at KidneyLuv as a staff writer.
This material is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the advice or counsel of a doctor or health care professional. KidneyLuv makes every effort to provide information that is accurate and timely, but makes no guarantee in this regard. You should consult with, and rely only on the advice of, your physician or health care professional.