The unfortunate among us who have experienced painful kidney stones will tell you that anything you can do to prevent them is well worth the effort.
When certain chemicals in urine become overly concentrated, they form crystals known as kidney stones. Most of the time, stones form when calcium combines with oxalate or phosphorous, but excess uric acid can also lead to stones.
Men are more prone to kidney stones than women and they are most likely to occur between the ages of 20 and 40, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The pain due to kidney stones can be unbearable and often comes in waves. Usually small stones pass through your body with your urine without causing much trouble, but as they grow into larger masses, they can get stuck somewhere in your urinary tract and even block the flow of urine. Large stones can even damage the urinary tract.
You can easily prevent kidney stones by eliminating the conditions that support their formation.
Here are the top 10 ways to prevent kidney stones.
1. Drink Enough Water to Keep Urine Diluted
Insufficient water intake can cause significant damage to your kidneys and even put you at a higher risk of developing kidney stones.
Water intake helps the kidneys flush metabolic waste out of the body that could otherwise concentrate into crystals leading to stones.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, high fluid consumption significantly reduces the risk of kidney stones.
The color of your urine can give you a clue about its dilution. Urine normally has a dark yellow color in the morning due to a buildup of waste products that your body produced overnight.
Dark-colored urine that persists throughout the day indicates more concentrated urine and lack of adequate water intake.
A healthy adult must try to drink at least 10 to 12 glasses of water daily to keep the kidneys healthy. However, do not overdo it when it comes to increasing water intake as it can be hard on your kidneys.
Along with water, eat water-rich fruits and vegetables or drink orange juice and lemonade to keep your body hydrated.
2. Eat Calcium-rich Foods to Reduce Oxalate Levels
Less calcium in your diet increases the oxalate levels in the body, which may cause kidney stones. Dietary calcium binds with oxalates in your intestine, which prevents both from being absorbed into your blood and later getting transferred to your kidneys.
A 1997 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine notes that high intake of dietary calcium helps reduce the risk for symptomatic kidney stones, whereas intake of calcium supplements may increase risk.
So, include calcium-rich foods like dairy products, calcium-fortified non-dairy milk, kefir in your diet. At the same time, enjoy early morning sunlight for 15 minutes daily to help your body produce vitamin D, which it needs to absorb calcium properly.
Avoid taking calcium supplements, though.
3. Limit Oxalate-rich Foods
Eating oxalate-rich foods in high amounts can increase your risk of kidney stones. Oxalates prevent absorption of calcium in your body, which in turn forms calcium-oxalate kidney stones.
People who have a higher risk of developing kidney stones should eat oxalate-rich foods in moderation. Some of the foods that are rich in oxalates are spinach, kale, Swiss chard, rhubarb, beets, okra, celery, chocolate, soy milk, and strawberries.
Also, keep your vitamin C intake to appropriate levels as too much of this vitamin may turn into oxalate.
4. Limit Salt Intake to Reduce Sodium Level
Sodium-rich foods can support formation of kidney stones by increasing the calcium content in your urine. It also increases the amount of urinary protein, which can lead to kidney disease.
Furthermore, the kidneys need to work harder to excrete the excess sodium in your body.
Eat a low-sodium diet to reduce your risk of kidney stones. The recommended amount of salt is no more than 5 grams a day.
Those who are prone to kidney stones may need to reduce their salt intake even more. Instead, use healthier salt substitute like sea salt, herbs and spices.
5. Limit Sugar and Artificial Sweetener Intake
Drinks that have high sugar content, including from high fructose corn syrup, can also lead to kidney stones.
High sugar intake may imbalance the mineral relationship by interfering with calcium and magnesium absorption.
In some cases, fructose can be metabolized into oxalate. In addition, artificial sweeteners are not good for your kidneys as they contribute to a decline in kidney function.
Strive to limit your intake of fructose, found in table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Instead, use organic honey or stevia in your coffee or tea to add sweetness.
6. Limit Red Meat Consumption
Protein is good for your health, but excessive intake of red meat can increase the risk of developing kidney disease. High protein intake increases the metabolic load on the kidneys, and they may become unable to metabolize and excrete nitrogen by-products from protein digestion.
Furthermore, red meat is high in purines, which can lead to higher production of uric acid in your body. It will lower your overall urine pH, making it more acidic. High acid concentration in urine leads to uric acid kidney stones.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Urology notes that consumption of animal protein is associated with increased serum and urine uric acid in healthy individuals.
7. Exercise Daily to Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Being overweight increases your risk of developing kidney stones, so include exercise in your daily routine to drop some pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
Furthermore, obesity is associated with unhealthy diet, which often includes fatty foods, refined sugars and low fluid intake. All of these are bad for your kidneys.
Also, a sedentary lifestyle can cause your bones to release more calcium, which can cause kidney stones. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology points out that moderate exercise reduces the risk of many things that are associated with kidney stones, such as hypertension and diabetes.
Perform mild to moderate physical activity for 30 minutes, 5 times a week, to fight obesity and maintain a healthy body weight.
8. Avoid Soda and Carbonated Drinks
While water is good for your kidney health, drinking soda and carbonated drinks in excess is associated with stones. Sodas contain phosphoric acid that acidifies your urine, which may lead to stone formation. Such beverages are even associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease.
A 2013 study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology notes that intake of sugar-sweetened soda and punch leads to higher risk of stone formation.
An earlier 1999 study published in Urological Research points out that drinking soda causes unfavorable changes that lead to calcium-oxalate kidney stones.
To prevent kidney stones, skip the sodas and stick to plain water to maintain proper fluid intake.
9. Avoid Use of Fluorinated Water
Drinking fluorinated water may also increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
A 2001 study published in Urological Research suggests that drinking water with high levels of fluoride is associated with kidney stones.
The study examined over 18,000 people living in India who are exposed to water with fluoride concentrations between 3.5 and 4.9 parts per million (ppm) water.
One of the first signs that you are consuming too much fluoride is discolored and mottled tooth enamel, known as dental fluorosis.
To avoid these problematic situations, you can drink bottled water or have a reverse-osmosis system installed in your home to remove fluoride from your water.
10. Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
If you are prone to kidney stones, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Most fruits and vegetables are rich in magnesium, fiber, potassium, citrate and antioxidants that may help prevent kidney stones.
Magnesium is very important for your body’s absorption and assimilation of calcium. It also helps prevent calcium from combining with oxalate, which is a key factor in kidney stones.