It can strike anyone, at any time. And the pain ranks right up there next to, say, drinking fire or having your legs gnawed off by wild animals. It’s a kidney stone. For the over half a million Americans who experience this unpleasant ordeal every year, it spans days of excruciating pain. Statistics show one in ten of us will suffer from kidney stones at some point in our lives. But what is a kidney stone, and how can we prevent them from forming?
What is a kidney stone?
Kidney stones are comprised of minerals (most often calcium and oxalate deposits) that are collected from the bloodstream. It’s not uncommon for stones to remain in the kidneys for a time, but the moment they start to move around and make their way through the ureter—which connects the kidney to the bladder—look out!
“Kidney stones are becoming more prevalent in our senior population and create unique concerns for those caring for them,” says Marissa Tan, director of nursing at French Park Care Center. “But our focus is on prevention. By monitoring medications for possible side effects that increase the incidence of kidney or bladder stones and encouraging a balanced diet with plenty of water, magnesium, and vitamin E-rich foods, and daily exercise, we are working to reduce the risks of nephrolithiasis.”
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Fortunately, improved surgical methods are less invasive and require less recovery time, but before you consider surgery, here are three strategies that prevent and treat painful kidney stones.
Most Americans aren’t drinking enough water, and that creates the perfect breeding ground for kidney stones. Doctors say an active kidney is a healthy kidney, and that means producing at least two liters of urine each day to ensure your kidneys are regularly flushed and functioning properly.
2. Monitor your diet.
The best prevention is a diet high in citrates and low in oxalates. Surprisingly, some popular health foods such as spinach, avocado, beans, nuts, wheat, and potatoes, are high in oxalates. So, add foods rich in vitamin E and magnesium like kale, cauliflower, peppers, sunflower seeds, corn, fish, grapes, berries, and cabbage. Also, reduce the amount of salt and animal proteins in your diet. “By minimizing the amount of protein or meat as well as salt, stones are less likely to form,” says University of Utah Health Care.
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To build up citrates and improve bicarbonate levels that keep the body’s pH levels in balance and reduce the risks of kidney stones, Kalani Raphael, MD, a nephrologist at University of Utah Health, suggests eating fruits and vegetables high in citric acid, which prevents stone formation and breaks down stones that have already formed. For example, drinking an eight-ounce glass of water with the juice and grated peel of a fresh lemon can help break down calcium deposits that adhere to oxalates to form stones. When life hands you lemons, a daily dose of foods high in citric acid is great for overall kidney health.
3. Look at medications and supplements.
Kidney stones are often caused by medications or supplements. For example, some medications used to treat heartburn, acid reflux, or ulcers have been linked to higher incidences of kidney stones, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about the risks.
As for supplements, experts say using a food source rather than relying on a supplement is the best way to get essential vitamins and minerals. “With the exception of vitamin D, we can get adequate supplies of nutrients from eating a balanced diet,” says Lydia Ramsey. And as the debate between the merits or deficiencies rage concerning supplements and the increased risk of kidney stones, Michael Greger, MD, author of How Not to Die, points out that “the nice thing about a healthier diet is that there are only good side effects.” If you have partnered dietary supplements with prescribed or over-the-counter medications, it’s important to discuss those supplements with your doctor.
Let’s face it. Dealing with painful kidney stones ranks right up there with giving birth or getting shot out of a circus cannon. But with proper hydration, medication, and diet, you can prevent kidney stones and enjoy overall kidney health.
This article was originally published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished with permission.