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What are Kidney Stones and What Can I Do About Them?

What are kidney stones?

If you’ve experienced kidney stones or know someone who has, you know the pain they cause – worse than childbirth and often requiring medication or surgery.

Kidney stones occur when the salt and mineral content, typically calcium, in your urine crystalize and form painful stones. Sometimes the stones are small and pass easily. Other times they are too large and get stuck causing agonizing pain. 

The more diluted your urine, the less likely stones will develop. If you’ve had stones before you’re more inclined to get them again; however, there are steps you can take to lessen the likelihood of their return or even prevent them completely.

Causes of kidney stones

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, nearly 10% of Americans suffer from kidney stones, men being more likely than women to develop them. Here are some risk factors:

  • Dehydration. Insufficient fluids can increase your risk. Individuals living in a hot climate, work out extensively or sweat a lot may be at greater risk.
  • History. If a family member has had stones, your chances for developing them increase.  
  • Diet. A diet that includes a lot of protein, sodium and sugar boost your risk.
  • Weight. High body mass index (BMI) with a large waist has been linked to stones. 
  • Certain digestive conditions and medications. Chronic diarrhea affects the absorption of calcium and water which increases the levels of stone-forming substances in your urine. Some antibiotics and diuretics may also increase risk.

Symptoms of kidney stones

It’s when your kidney stone moves around within your kidney or passes into the ureter that you’ll experience symptoms including:

  • Excruciating pain on the side, back, lower abdomen or groin
  • Pain that comes in waves
  • Painful urination
  • Cloudy foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Urgent and frequent need to urinate
  • Inability to urinate
  • Fever, chills, sweating

If your pain is persistent and intense, you have bloody urine, nausea, fever or chills, please seek immediate medical attention.

Home remedies for kidney stones

Drink enough fluids. All fluids count, but most health experts recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. This amounts to about a half-gallon.

Reduce salt intake. You may already know that canned goods, pizza, frozen foods and cured meats like hot dogs and cold cuts have high salt content, but so does cheese, bread, salad dressing and breakfast cereal. Limit consumption.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. These foods provide you with potassium, fiber, magnesium and other nutrients that may help keep stones from forming.

Lose weight. A healthy weight and diet, rich in fiber is essential for maintaining strong kidneys. It’s estimated about 11% of people who are obese develop kidney stones.

Avoid certain beverages. Carbonated or caffeinated drinks and alcohol can increase your risk of kidney stones, so it’s wise to avoid.

Please note that there is an assumption that calcium intake contributes to kidney stone development, but we now know that low calcium intake actually increased kidney stone risk. You’ll want to make sure you get the right amount of calcium for bone strength but not too much and not too little.

Nutritional Supplements for Kidney Health

  • Apple Cider Vinegar contains naturally occurring acids that may help dissolve calcium deposits. Mix two tablespoons in an 8 oz. glass of water several times a day, preferably before meals. It’s also available as a nutritional supplement.
  • Celery Seed has been a traditional urinary supporter for centuries thought to boost urine production.
  • Uva Ursi, an herb available in supplement form, may help cleanse the urinary tract smoothing the way for a kidney stone to pass.
  • Pomegranate juice is believed to also make it easier to pass a kidney stone. It contains compounds that lower the acidity of urine, making it harder for stones to form in the first place. Pomegranate extract is also available as a nutritional supplement.
  • Dandelion is another urinary supporter that can increase urine production and rid the body of waste. Available in supplements or liquid extracts.
  • Basil provides constituents beneficial to help neutralize uric acid levels. Like apple cider vinegar, it contains acetic acid that can help dissolve calcium deposits.
  • Vitamin B6 has been studied for its ability to reduce kidney stones, especially in higher doses. B6 can reduce urinary excretion of oxalate, a major risk factor for stones.
  • Potassium helps water balance so urine flows freely through your system. Any small stones may be able to pass through without incident.
  • Cranberry, Milk Thistle and Cornsilk are also popular for urinary and kidney health and available in a single supplement or as part of a kidney blend.

For more ideas on supplements that support kidney health, check these out. As always work with your health care provider to develop a plan that’s right for you.