Kidney stones are solid rock-like nuggets made from your body’s naturally occurring minerals and salts. They can be as tiny as a grain of sand or 10+ millimeters in size. They can remain in your kidneys or they can travel through the ureters (tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder) and pass through in urine.
Anybody who has had a kidney stone can tell you it’s not fun. Some have likened the pain to that of childbirth! They can easily put someone out of work and make normal activities difficult. Just visualize a small rock traveling through your urinary tract and you can’t help but wince with pain just thinking about it.
Types of Kidney Stones
These are the most common form and are most often composed of calcium and oxalate.
Uric Acid Stones
These stones are created when urine is too acidic. They can form on their own or with calcium.
Cystine is a natural and normal amino acid in our bodies. These kinds of stones are very rare and due to a genetic disorder known as cystinuria. The disease leads to cystine leaking from the kidneys into the urine.
These stones are made of magnesium, phosphate, and ammonium. With a urinary tract infection (UTI), ammonia can build up in the urine, helping in the formation of these stones.
Who is at Risk?
I am sorry to break it to the men out there, but you are at a greater risk of experiencing kidney stones than women. Especially middle aged people from about 30-50 years of age. In addition, being inactive, taking medications (such as diuretics) that lead to dehydration, or anyone with a history of gout, hyperthyroidism, or chronic urinary tract infections are at a greater risk of developing kidney stones. (1)
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
Cloudy, foul smelling, or bloody urine. Urine may be discolored, pink or even brown.
Intense pain on your back or side below your ribs. Pain can also display in the lower back all the way into the groin region. The pain can vary in intensity and come and go.
Changes In Urine Habits
Increased urge or frequency of urination. Decrease in urine output.
Feelings of Being Unwell
Fever, chills, indigestion, nausea, or vomiting, especially when feeling intense pain.
Causes of Kidney Stones
A lot of different factors can contribute to developing kidney stones. The cause behind kidney stones varies from genetics, to dehydration, pH levels, weight and even dietary allergies. Like it or not, they can rear their ugly head in any part of your urinary tract as well; from your kidneys to your urethra (urinary opening).
Natural Treatments for Kidney Stones
While passing a kidney stone is usually super painful, if you recognize the problem and seek help from your doctor, some things can be done to help. Much depends on your overall health, how large your kidney stones are, and some other factors. If you are lucky, your doctor may have you drink a lot of water along with some pain medications and you’ll pass those nasty little stones with minimal effort. Some people get off that easy, but others don’t. On the other end of the spectrum, things can get really bad. If the stones get stuck in there, surgery might be the only option. Ouch!
I know what you’re thinking: how do I prevent kidney stones from ever happening in the first place? There are a few healthy habits you can develop with your diet and lifestyle that can lower the risk of getting painful kidney stones as well as quicken the removal process if you have them.
Drink Plenty of Water
Your body needs water for nearly every function. Water is essential to your kidneys, and you need to drink plenty of water to dilute the chemicals which cause kidney stones. One indicator of too little water intake is dark colored urine. Your urine should be a healthy light yellow to clear color, so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Check out my article on how much water you should be drinking for more tips on staying hydrated.
- Make sure to watch your salt intake. Sodium can contribute to kidney stones. So watch your salt intake and be sure to drink plenty of water.
- Don’t go overboard on the protein. Excessive amounts of protein can result in an increase in ammonia in your urine.
- Eat vegetables and fruit! People who eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, low in dairy and meat tend to get less kidney stones. Fresh produce helps to balance the body’s pH and decrease acidity in the body.
- Consume potassium and magnesium rich foods. These two minerals help to balance the calcium levels in the body. Examples include bananas, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, and my favorite - avocados.
- Vitamin E helps to balance oxalate levels and prevent mucus membrane damage, thereby reducing the chances of kidney stone formation. (2) Examples of food that are high in vitamin E are nuts, seeds, berries, shrimp, and avocados.
- Avoid foods high in oxalic acid. The key here is you want to avoid oxalate build up. Some foods to decrease include but are not limited to beets, summer squash, grapefruits, spinach, parsley, eggplants, and sweet potatoes.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both of these contribute to dehydration which is a big factor in contributing to stone formation.
- Avoid cold cuts and processed meats. While I know these are delicious, they can actually cause your body to excrete more calcium. That is the opposite of what you want in your urinary tract if you are prone to stones.
Hot Compress or Castor Oil Packs
The warming and anti-inflammatory effects of these can help alleviate the pain of kidney stones. Heat helps to relieve spasms and muscle cramps. In addition, heat increases blood flow to the applied region and relaxes tense muscles. All of this is beneficial in the passing of a stone.
If you want to help prevent kidney stones, you need to stay fit. Being sedentary can lead to more calcium leaving your bones, and depositing in your kidneys. Weight-bearing exercises and strength training are good for building muscles and ultimately enforcing the skeletal system.
Obesity increases the risk of kidney stones. In fact, studies show that you are about twice as likely to get a kidney stone if you are obese. (3) Maintaining a healthy weight has many advantages other than just kidney stones. Obesity can seriously tax your joints, cause heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, impotence, and ultimately shorten your life expectancy, and quality of life.
Aloe Vera gel or juice can help lessen the crystallization of minerals. Taking Vitamin B and E is useful in reducing oxalate and calcium buildup. Magnesium supports the balancing of other minerals in the body and cranberry extract lowers the risk of a UTI. While calcium rich foods do not seem to induce kidney stones, taking calcium supplements can.
Most stones will not leave lasting damage. However, unresolved stones can lead to kidney damage and in worst cases, kidney failure. Many stones can pass on their own but others can require surgery. If you are experiencing throbbing pain or difficulty with urination, contact your physician right away.