March 15, 2023

Kidney Stones? 7 Holistic Tips to Reduce the Risk

Do you struggle with chronic kidney stones? Read on for 7 research-backed tips to lessen your risk of developing calcium oxalate kidney stones (the most common type).

Have you ever developed a kidney stone before? If so, you’re not alone. The National Institutes of Health reports that approximately 6% of women and 11% of men will experience a kidney stone at least once in their lifetime. [1] It’s estimated that over half a million people end up going to the emergency room for kidney stone issues. [2]

For being such a prevalent (and painful) issue, kidney stone prevention is rarely discussed. Today, we’ll be discussing prevention tips for kidney stones, specifically for the most common type of kidney stone: calcium oxalate kidney stones.

A Word From Our Founder, Mike Sententia

For many years, I struggled with recurring calcium oxalate kidney stones. As a holistic healer, I wanted to learn more about what was prompting these issues, and what I could do to reduce my risk. Over the years, I visited many doctors. While all of these doctors were well-intentioned, I often ended up receiving conflicting and even bad advice.

For instance, one doctor suggested I take calcium carbonate with every meal. He said there were no pills available, and to instead eat Tums with every meal. Yuck! If I had to do that, I’d give up after a week. Fortunately, I checked for myself, and in about a minute found calcium carbonate pills online – flavorless and easy. The doctor was well-intentioned, but he hadn’t put any thought into sustainability.

I’ve since worked with several urologists (specialists in the urinary and reproductive systems), a nephrologist (specialist in kidney function), and have done many hours of research that have led me to the tips that have actually helped reduce my calcium oxalate kidney stones. 

If my story sounds anything like yours, it’s my hope that this blog helps you in your own journey with kidney stone prevention.

What are Kidney Stones?

One of the ways the body disposes of waste is through urination. A key player in urination is the kidney, which dissolves waste into liquid, which we then excrete. When there’s too much waste, too little liquid, or an imbalance of chemicals, small crystals begin to form within the kidney. These crystals may end up sticking together to create larger objects called kidney stones.

What are calcium oxalate kidney stones?

Calcium oxalate kidney stones are the most common type, accounting for roughly 80% of kidney stones.[3] This type of kidney stones can occur when there are high levels of oxalate, calcium, phosphate, and cystine, combined with not enough liquid to dissolve these substances.

Warning Signs You May Have a Kidney Stone

If you begin feeling sharp pains in your abdomen, lower back, side, or groin, this could indicate the presence of kidney stones. Other red flags to look out for include blood in the urine, urine that is cloudy or smells strongly, nausea and/or vomiting, chills, and fever. [4]

Typical Kidney Stone Treatment

Sometimes when kidney stones are small enough, they’ll pass from the kidney through your urinary tract on their own with little to no pain. In other cases though, medical assistance may be needed. Common treatments include [4]:

  • Shockwave lithotripsy (a non-invasive procedure where doctors use high energy sound waves to break the stones into smaller pieces so they can pass through your urinary tract.)

  • Ureteroscopy (a small device is inserted through the ureter to either break apart or retrieve the kidney stone and remove it.) 

  • Percutaneous nephrolithotripsy or percutaneous nephrolithotomy (both involve minor surgery where an incision is made in the lower back and a device with a camera is used to find and either break apart and remove or simply remove the stone.)

7 Holistic Tips to Prevent Kidney Stones

A lot of doctors will give general rules like “cut out all nuts.” But after a lot of research and discussion with specialists, Mike found this wasn’t entirely true. 

For instance, while some nuts are definitely better to avoid, many nuts are totally fine to eat! And a few of those “bad” nuts (almonds, cashews) in moderation, or in combination with specific supplements can keep your risk for developing kidney stones low.

So, here are some guidelines to help you reduce your risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones:

1. Increase Your Water Intake

A big contributor to kidney stones is having too little liquid to dissolve the waste material in the kidneys. If you’re prone to kidney stones, experts suggest drinking between 3-4 liters of fluid every day. [5]

2. Reduce Your Oxalate Intake

Oxalate is  a substance naturally found in many foods. It’s one of the ingredients that makes up kidney stones, so reducing oxalate intake reduces stone risk. While you don’t have to eliminate all oxalate from your diet, it’s best to keep intake down if you’re prone to kidney stones.

Foods high in oxalate include [9]:

  • Spinach, Beets, Rhubarb

  • Soy products

  • Almonds, cashews, brazil nuts

  • Chocolate

  • Coffee

  • Raspberries

Some replacements: Pistachios, pecans, and macadamia nuts. Blueberries and strawberries. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern to which nuts and fruits are high in oxalate, so just Google the things you eat.

3. Drink Citrus Daily

Drinking water often isn’t enough if you’re prone to kidney stones. Citrate, also known as citric acid, it is an antioxidant that can help prevent the formation of calcium-based stones (like calcium oxalate kidney stones.) It’s found in high levels in grapefruit juice, lemon juice, orange juice, and pineapple juice. Mike drinks 8oz daily of lemonade (50% lemon juice, 50% water, moderate sugar.) [6] and

4. Try Calcium Carbonate or Calcium Citrate Pills

Calcium can prevent the body from absorbing the oxalate in foods. The key is to eat the calcium at the same time as the oxalate, so both are in your stomach together. Then the calcium will bind to the oxalate, forming a compound too large for the body to absorb.

If you’re low on calcium in your diet, try calcium citrate: This calcium is absorbed well, and it will also help you get your citrate.

If you’re not low on calcium, try calcium carbonate: This calcium is not absorbed as well, keeping calcium levels lower (calcium is an ingredient in kidney stones too). Mike takes 500mg calcium carbonate pills when eating chocolate, leafy greens, or other higher-oxalate foods.

5. Reduce Your Sodium Intake

Eating sodium can increase the calcium levels in your kidneys, which can heighten the risk of developing kidney stones. If you’re prone to kidney stones, it might be best to adopt a low-sodium diet of under 2,300 mg sodium per day. [7]

6. Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Sugar, particularly high fructose corn syrup and table sugar, can contribute to chemical imbalances in your kidneys that ultimately lead to less calcium absorption. With more calcium, you increase your odds of developing kidney stones. 

Added sugar can sneak its way into many surprising household food items, like ketchup, salad dressing, sports drinks, and more. So make sure you pay attention to labels and do your best to keep daily sugar intake under 9 tsp for men and 6 tsp for women, according to the American Heart Association. [8]

7. Consult with a Specialist

If you frequently struggle with kidney stones, it could be wise to consult with a specialist. Look online to find urologists or a nephrologist who could help you create a custom plan to deal with your kidney stones.

And of course, as always — please listen to the advice of your physician, including any advice that contradicts anything written here.

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