Experts estimate that five percent of Americans develop kidney stones at some point in their lives. A family history of kidney stones and advancing age can increase your chances of developing this condition. Kidney stones form when substances in urine usually calcium and oxalate crystallize in the urinary tract. Often these stones don’t cause any symptoms. But when a kidney stone moves into the urinary tract and blocks the flow of urine, it can be extremely painful. Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent kidney stones from forming in the first place.
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with kidney stones, your doctor probably told you to avoid spinach, beans, and maybe even whole wheat because of the oxalates they contain. Oxalates are chemical compounds that bind with calcium and are found in most kidney stones. Meat can also be a problem. A study of men with a history of kidney stones found that those who reported eating less animal protein were only half as likely to suffer a recurrence within five years as those who ate the most animal protein. You should also cut down on the amount of salt you use. Research links a diet high in sodium with an increased risk of kidney stones.
Dehydration plays an important role in the development of kidney stones. To avoid becoming dehydrated, experts recommend drinking enough water to produce two quarts of urine in a 24-hour period. For most people, that equals about two liters of water each day more if you live in a hot or dry climate. Lemonade may work even better. That’s what Duke University researchers concluded when they administered "lemonade therapy" enough to produce 1.5 to 2 liters of urine a day to 12 kidney stone patients for four years. But, while most liquids reduce your risk, caffeinated beverages like cola and coffee may have the opposite effect. When investigators gave people with a history of kidney stones a dose of caffeine equivalent to that found in two cups of coffee, they began to excrete more calcium in their urine, putting them at increased risk of forming kidney stones.
Calcium: supplements may help prevent oxalates from crystallizing into kidney stones, according to some studies. Other studies, however, speculate that supplemental calcium can increase your risk. Whether calcium helps or hurts may depend on the type of calcium you take. According to findings from Purdue University, calcium carbonate may promote kidney stones in people already prone to the condition. Calcium citrate, especially when combined with magnesium, does not increase risk. If you are at risk for kidney stones and take supplemental calcium for bone health, make sure to take a calcium citrate supplement. Typical dosage: 1,000 to 1,200 mg per day.
Fish oil: contains two omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) that may discourage the formation of kidney stones. A study that appeared in the Journal of Urology found that supplementing with fish oil for 30 days decreased calcium oxalate levels by 23 percent, thus reducing the risk of crystallization. Typical dosage: 1,000 to 3,000 mg daily.
Magnesium: levels are often low in people with kidney stones. But several clinical trial have shown that taking supplemental magnesium can counteract kidney stones by preventing the crystallization of calcium and by shuttling calcium into the bones and away from the kidneys. Typical dosage: 400 mg daily.