Kiri Cole

Making you healthier one meal at a time 

Avoid Kidney Stones with Smart Dietary Choices

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 1 in 10 Americans will suffer from kidney stones during their lifetime. Those who have been afflicted with this condition know that it can cause tremendous discomfort and pain. You can take certain steps, however, to avoid suffering from this malady.  

Understanding kidney stones begins with understanding your kidneys. These pair of bean-shaped organs located below the rib cage on either side of the spine act as sophisticated refuse collectors. The kidneys filter 120 to 150 quarts of blood daily to produce 1 to 2 quarts of urine, comprised of waste and water. The urine then travels from the kidneys to the bladder through two tubes called ureters (see picture). The bladder stores the urine until you visit the bathroom. 

Kidney stones develop when the urine becomes supersaturated with excreted mineral materials, such as calcium, phosphorus, and oxalate. These minerals form crystals in the urine that can develop into stone-like solids in the kidneys. Most stones are comprised of calcium and oxalate, calcium and phosphorus, or uric acid. When a stone attempts to travel down the ureter to the bladder, it can block the flow of urine from the kidneys, causing excruciating pain, vomiting, nausea, blood in the urine, and fever. 

Fortunately, kidney stones can be prevented. Here are a few actions you can take to avoid this agonizing condition.

Maintain Healthy-levels of Dietary Calcium Intake, Stay Hydrated, and Limit Sugar Consumption 

Many studies indicate that adequate calcium and fluid intake and reduced sugar consumption help prevent kidney stones. A study 
published in the Annals of Internal Medicine focused on the risk factors for kidney stones among older women, ages 34 to 59. The
study included 91,000 plus participants and spanned more than a decade. Research results revealed that dietary calcium intake
was inversely associated with the risk of developing kidney stones. The research indicated that the relative​ risk of stone formation
was 35% less likely among women consuming the most dietary calcium versus those consuming the least. Moreover, compared to
women with the lowest fluid intake, those with the highest intake lowered their risk of kidney stones by 39%. On the other hand, sucrose
(glucose and fructose) consumption increased the probability of stone formation by 52% among women ingesting the most sugar relative
to those consuming the least.

A study in The New England Journal of Medicine that included more than 45,000 middle-aged and elderly men provided similar results demonstrating that calcium and fluid intake reduced the risk of kidney stones. Men with the highest intake of these dietary factors compared to those with the lowest intake were 44% and 29% less likely to develop stones, respectively. This study did not show a significant relationship between sugar and kidney stones as the aforementioned research did. 

Nevertheless, a more recent study reported in the journal Kidney International demonstrated a relationship between high sugar consumption and stone formation among not only men, but also older and younger women. 

Whereas research to date has not clarified the relationship between high sugar intake and kidney stone formation, explanations do exist for the protective roles that calcium and fluids play. Dietary calcium binds to oxalate in the gut and thus reduces oxalate's absorption and excretion through the urine, helping to stop stone production. So ample dietary calcium intake reduces kidney stone risk. Additionally, drinking fluids keeps urine diluted so that minerals do not accumulate and form stones. 

Do Not Overindulge in Animal Protein

To avoid stones, besides ensuring that your diet includes sufficient calcium and fluids and restricts sugar, you may also want to curtail your meat consumption. As the body metabolizes animal protein, uric acid is produced. Normally, uric acid passes through the urine. High animal protein consumption can, however, elevate the acid load to the kidneys, as University of Chicago researchers discovered, and consequently heighten the risk of stone formation. Research shows that meat intake increases uric acid and calcium excretion and reduces citrate (a derivative of citric acid) excretion, all of which promote kidney stones.

In conclusion, by ingesting ample calcium, drinking plenty of healthful fluids (water, fermented beverages, herbal tea, and fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetables juices), and limiting sugar and animal protein consumption, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing kidney stones. 

Health and wellness begins and ends with making informed dietary choices. Start today!