Up to 12 percent of Americans will develop a kidney stone during their lifetime, according to the American Urological Association, and recent research suggests they are on the rise.
For at least half of those afflicted, it isn’t just a one-time occurrence. Since the experience can be very painful, it’s important to know that there are steps you can take to prevent another attack.
Kidney stones form when the levels of minerals and salts normally present in urine—such as Calcium phosphates and phosphate—are high and tiny particles of them stick together. The stones can then pass from the kidneys into the urinary tract. Symptoms include: sharp pain in your lower abdomen, back, side or groin; pain when you urinate; nausea and vomiting; and fever and chills.
If you have had a kidney stone, a lab analysis of the stone’s composition or of your urine can help provide information on the specific stone risk factor. About 80 percent of people with kidney stones have calcium stones. The good news is that there are some natural remedies for kidney stones.
What to Drink
Drinking 4 ounces of lemon juice daily (diluted in a half-gallon of water) over the course of each day may help prevent recurrence of two types of kidney stones—calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate. The lemon juice boosts levels of citrate in your urine, which discourages the formation of these stones.
This “lemonade therapy” may be a possible alternative to traditional citrate treatments, which are often recommended to prevent kidney stones, but can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Don’t add sugar, though; sugar-sweetened beverages can boost stone risk by around 20 percent, according to Ramy Youssef Yaacoub, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of urology at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.
If drinking lemon water daily doesn’t appeal to you, another natural remedy for kidney stones is drinking plenty of fluids in general. Drinking enough to essentially double your daily urine output is the cornerstone of any action plan to prevent kidney stones, says Yaacoub. This step can dilute your urine, which helps keep calcium and other compounds from clumping together. Plain water is a good choice, and coffee can also help, Yaacoub says. While there is research suggesting that sipping tea may also cut risk, Yaacoub advises against it; high oxalate levels in tea could increase stone risk for some people.
What to Eat
Natural remedies for kidney stones also include some dietary changes. If you’ve had a calcium stone, cutting back on sodium-heavy processed and fast foods can reduce your risk because a high-sodium diet increases calcium levels in your urine.
Don’t skimp on calcium-rich foods, though. Too little calcium in your diet can increase urine levels of oxalate, another factor in the formation of kidney stones. “Two to three servings of milk, yogurt, or other healthy calcium-rich dairy foods are recommended for people who’ve had calcium stones,” Yaacoub says. “Have it with a meal; that way the calcium will bind in your digestive system with oxalates from the other food you eat.”
Your doctor may also recommend cutting back on high-oxalate vegetables, such as beets, navy beans, rhubarb, and spinach. Be sure to eat plenty of other types of fruit and vegetables, though, and to rein in serving sizes of animal proteins (red meat, chicken, fish, pork)—a dietary one-two punch that helps keep citrate levels in urine high.
Check Your Meds
Your doctor can also evaluate whether medications you take for other health conditions are causing stones to form, and may be able to adjust your dosage or switch you to another drug. These include laxatives, some antibiotics, potassium-sparing diuretics (used for high blood pressure), potassium channel blockers (used to control heart rhythm and for multiple sclerosis), and sulfonylureas (used to treat type 2 diabetes).