You may have heard the old line about kidney stones: These, too, shall pass. The better idea is to not get them at all. And that’s not as hard as it may seem.
Who Is More Likely to Get Them?
“Kidney stones” is a one-size-fits-all term for what are actually different types of small, solid crystals. A number of things can cause them. Some are related to kidney infections. Others form because you have too much of certain minerals in your system.
Genes can play a role, too. Of the people who get kidney stones, 40% have a family history of them. Their bodies may create too much calcium or too little citrate (a chemical found in citrus fruits).
Other conditions that make kidney stones more likely include:
- Obesity. When you’re overweight, you tend to get them more often.
- Surgery. If you’ve had gastric bypass surgery or other intestinal surgery, your chance is higher.
- Disease. One example is polycystic kidney disease, in which clusters of cysts grow in your kidneys.
Kidney stones are mostly associated with middle-age men, though they can affect people of any age or gender.
Things to Watch Out For
Even if you’re in good health, there may be other things going on that make the growth of kidney stones more likely.
One of the first things to look at is water. If you’re not drinking enough, you may not be making enough urine. That means they have more chance to form.
Other things to watch:
- Colas. These beverages are high in phosphates, which may lead to kidney stones. (The sugar doesn’t help).
- Oxalates. These are organic compounds found in a number of foods -- including healthy plant-related ones such as spinach and sweet potatoes. However, oxalates also bind easily to certain minerals, including calcium. Calcium oxalate crystals are the leading source of kidney stone creation.
- Salt and sodium. If you have a high-sodium diet, you’re more likely to have more calcium in your pee. Most people get their sodium through salt, so lots of salt means a greater chance for kidney stones. However, calcium intake itself is not a bad thing -- just when it’s combined with high sodium. In fact, too little calcium in your diet may lead to kidney stones in certain people.
- Too much animal protein. Too many steaks (and chicken, eggs, and seafood) can build up uric acid in your body. That’s another cause of kidney stones.
- Previous cases of kidney stones. If you’ve had them once, you’re likely to get them again -- unless you’re proactive.
Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Them
Being proactive means taking your medication, if you’ve been prescribed any, and taking charge of your diet. Other things you can do:
Drink plenty of water. Stay hydrated, especially when you exercise.
Cut back on certain foods. Usually you want to get more spinach and nuts in your diet, but your doctor may advise watching out for these or other foods if you have had a certain type of kidney stones. Here are some other foods rich in oxalate and phosphorus that you may be told to watch out for:
- Ice cream
- Oat bran muffins
- Yogurt (Greek-style is OK)
Eat citrus fruits. Lemons and limes are high in citrate, which helps prevent kidney stones.