According to some estimates, one out of every 15 people in the US will develop kidney stones.
I believe this is largely due to our high consumption of sugar, caffeine, and colas. Figures from the US Department of Agriculture indicate that the annual per-person intake of sugar and other refined sweeteners rose from 121 pounds in 1970 to 149 pounds in 1995—more than a 20 percent increase in one generation; even several years ago, the average American drank more cola than water.
Since 1995 caffeinated drinks have surged in popularity, particularly with the influx of gourmet coffee shops and “pick-me-up” chilled caffeine drinks being marketed to the younger population. No wonder pharmaceutical companies are coming out with kidney stone medications that “need” to be taken for life. With the way our eating habits are going, they’ll have plenty of customers in the years to come.
Over the last couple of decades, we seem to have made great progress learning how to remove kidney stones, but very little in preventing their recurrence.
Part of the problem stems from a great deal of misunderstanding as to exactly what causes stones in the first place. One of the biggest misconceptions regarding kidney stones is that decreasing your intake of calcium will help prevent them. Calcium is not the culprit it’s made out to be. In fact, decreasing calcium intake generally makes matters worse. When you reduce the amount of calcium you get from your diet, your parathyroid glands compensate by producing more hormones that leach calcium from your bones and deposit it in your bloodstream for use throughout your body. This leads to osteoporosis, muscle and nerve problems, and a long list of other diseases. It also increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, which in turn greatly increases the likelihood of stone formation.
We do know that one of the keys to preventing kidney stones naturally involves keeping calcium and a substance called oxalate dissolved in the urine and not allowing them to crystallize. There are ways to do this, which are part of my program to prevent kidney stones naturally, outlined below.
Benefit from Pharmaceutical Research, Without Taking Drugs
Above and beyond the often-debilitating pain that comes with kidney stones, what makes this problem so troublesome is that once you’ve had a kidney stone, it is likely you’ll have more. The good news is that we are now seeing the results of studies with new drugs, and you can use this research to prevent kidney stone formation/recurrence, without taking kidney stone medication for the rest of your life.
Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Center in Oakland, California found that a potassium-magnesium citrate product could reduce the risk of stone recurrence by 85 percent in people prone to kidney stones. Sixty-four individuals were divided into two groups. One group took a placebo; the other took the citrate product. After three years, only 13 percent of those using the citrate product had developed additional kidney stones, compared to 69 percent of those on the placebo.
What makes this research stand out is the fact that increasing urinary citrate appeared to reduce calcium excretion effectively, regardless of the metabolic profile of the patients. People have unique metabolic profiles that contribute to kidney stone development. When it comes to kidney stones, this sort of “universal” treatment is rare indeed.
On the downside, some of the negative aspects to using this pharmaceutical citrate product were its cost, the number of tablets that had to be taken throughout the day, and the gastrointestinal upset that was a side effect. Fortunately, there are less expensive and more enjoyable ways to prevent kidney stones.
1. Take Citrate—Inexpensively
In a study performed at the University of California in San Francisco, 12 patients who were unable to tolerate any of the traditional pharmaceutical approaches, including the citrate product, supplemented their diet with reconstituted lemon juice (the same lemon juice found in grocery stores). They used four ounces of reconstituted juice each day, which they did by making two liters of lemonade and drinking it throughout each day.
The lemonade increased urinary citrate levels and lowered urinary calcium excretion, which is just what you want to prevent kidney stones naturally. And it did so without the negative side effects of the pharmaceutical citrate product. Lemon juice is a well-tolerated form of citrate. Four ounces provide 5.9 grams of citrate, almost five times as much as orange juice. (Note: You must use reconstituted lemon juice. Fresh lemons squeezed into water will not produce the desired results.)
2. Drink Your Way to Fewer Kidney Stones
Increasing fluid intake has always been one of the mainstays of preventing kidney stones naturally, but no one had defined just which beverages have the greatest influence. We do know that drinking 8–12 eight-ounces glasses of water daily can help prevent calcium and oxalate from crystallizing in the urine.
Other beverages, though, can also affect kidney stone risk. An eight-year study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined the link between 17 beverages and the development of kidney stones in 81,000 women ranging in age from 40 to 65. At the beginning of the study, none of the women had a history of kidney stones; by the end, 719 had developed stones. After all other risk factors had been accounted for, researchers concluded that the types of beverages consumed had a major impact on whether the women developed kidney stones. A daily eight-ounce serving of each of the following lowered the risk of developing kidney stones:
- Caffeinated coffee decreased risk by 10 percent;
- Decaffeinated coffee decreased risk by nine percent;
- Tea reduced risk by eight percent;
- Wine reduced risk by a whopping 59 percent! (This study did not distinguish between red and white wine. Based on the volumes of research concerning red wine’s additional health-promoting properties, however, I’d recommend red over white. Eight ounces a day, the “dosage” used in the study, equates to roughly two small glasses.)
While none of these surpassed the 85 percent reduction seen with the lemonade, it’s helpful to learn that more common beverages can make a difference.
On the other side of the coin: Grapefruit juice had the highest negative impact. A daily eight-ounce glass of grapefruit juice increased the risk of developing kidney stones by 44 percent. Caffeine-free, sugar-free colas can exacerbate kidney stone problems because of their high concentrations of phosphoric acid.
3. Sweeten with Stevia, Not Sugar
Go easy on sugar. Diets high in sugar can increase urinary calcium excretion and risk of kidney stone formation. You can significantly lower this risk by avoiding sugar and sweets in your diet. Again, this is another reason to avoid colas. Instead, use a natural sweetener like the stevia, which comes from a plant found in Paraguay and Brazil. Stevia has attributes that set it apart from other sweeteners: It slows the growth of dental plaque, and does not support the growth of Candida (the yeast behind most yeast infections). It also has the unique ability to help regulate blood sugar levels, which makes it one of the few sweeteners that can be used safely by diabetics.
Xylitol is another sweetener naturally found in certain vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, plums and jute, as well as various hardwood trees like birch. When used as a sweetener, it becomes a powerful tool to fight against dental cavities and plaque formation. It may even help prevent problems like sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and middle ear infections.
4. Watch Out for High-Oxalate Foods
To prevent kidney stones naturally, it’s best to avoid foods high in oxalate. These include chard, rhubarb, beets, parsley, cocoa, and tea. Additionally, certain vegetables that are high in calcium like spinach and collard greens, should only be eaten raw as the heat from cooking turns the calcium in them into calcium oxalate.
5. Add Rice Bran to Your Diet
It has been shown that high-fiber diets reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. In fact, one study found that when patients took 10 grams of rice bran twice daily, their recurrence rate for kidney stones was reduced by over 78 percent.
6. Take Magnesium and Vitamin B6
Supplementing with magnesium (200–400 mg per day) and vitamin B6 (100 mg per day) has been shown to reduce kidney stone recurrence dramatically. In one study, 149 people who had previously had kidney stones took 300 mg of magnesium and 10 mg of B6 daily for periods ranging from 4 1/2 to 6 years. Before taking the magnesium and B6, they averaged 1.3 stones per year. During the period in which they took the supplements, the average fell to 0.1 stones per year.
If there’s a history of stone formation in your family, if you’ve already had one, or if you’re currently consuming high amounts of sugar or cola, now is the time to make the simple changes I’ve outlined above to prevent kidney stones naturally. As anyone who has suffered from stones will tell you, this is a small price to pay to avoid having that painful problem again.