Advice from Joseph Mercola, MD

Make sure you are drinking enough water

Lifestyle Modifications for Healthy Kidneys

Dr. Mercola believes kidney stones can usually be prevented.  A few lifestyle modifications will go a long way toward preventing a painful kidney stone attack:

  • Avoid:  Avoid sugar, soy, caffeine, excess salt, and processed foods
  • Drugs:  Avoid taking prescription drugs that may harm more than they heal
  • Exercise:  Get plenty of exercise to keep your body’s fluids moving
  • Hydration:  Drink plenty of water
  • Nutrition:  Eat a diet based on your body’s unique nutritional type
  • Supplements:  Make sure you’re getting adequate magnesium and vitamin B6 in your diet, which have both been suggested to help prevent kidney stone formation

Lifestyle changes always take some effort and might seem inconvenient at first. But compared to the painful process of passing a kidney stone, it’s better to make the lifestyle changes.

He states that:  The number one risk factor for kidney stones is not drinking enough water. “If you aren’t drinking enough, your urine will simply have higher concentrations of substances that can form stones.

How do you know if you’re drinking enough water?

You can tell by the smell and color of your urine.  You want your urine to be a light yellow. If your urine is darker, you’re not getting enough water.  While every person’s water requirement is different, simply keeping your urine light yellow will go a long way toward preventing kidney stones. Remember to increase your water intake whenever you increase your activity, and when you’re in a warmer climate.

However, if you happen to be taking any multivitamins or B supplements that contain vitamin B2 (riboflavin), the color of your urine will be a very bright nearly fluorescent yellow and this will not allow you to use the color of your urine as a guide to how well you are hydrated.

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water.  Establish a regular schedule.  Thirst usually signifies dehydration.

Healthy Lifestyle is KEY to Avoiding Kidney Stones

Another risk factor is being a “couch potato”.  What that means is you don’t get enough body movement.. You’re more prone to kidney stones if you’re bedridden or very sedentary for a long period of time, partly because limited activity can cause your bones to release more calcium.

High blood pressure doubles your risk for kidney stones.

Digestive problems also increase your risk, since changes in the digestive process affect your absorption of calcium and other minerals.

A diet high in sugar can set you up for stones, since sugar upsets the mineral relationships in your body by interfering with calcium and magnesium absorption. Not only does sugar and high fructose corn syrup lead to obesity and diabetes, but also the current over-the-top consumption of these unhealthy sugars by children is a large factor in why children as young as age 5 or 6 are now turning up with kidney stones.

Drinking soda increases your risk. Sodas are high in sugar and sugar substites.  A 1999 South African study found that drinking soda exacerbates conditions in the urine that lead to formation of calcium oxalate kidney stone problems.

Avoid salt.  Diets high in processed salt are also bad news. Salt increases the amount of calcium and oxalate in your urine. And processed foods are extremely high in salt.

Dr. Bruce L. Slaughenhoupt, co-director of pediatric urology at the University of Wisconsin, reports a huge increase in the salt load of children’s diets — from salty chips, French fries, sandwich meats, canned soups, and sports drinks like Gatorade, which are now sold in child-friendly juice boxes. He believes the overconsumption of processed foods by children today is the cause of increased kidney stones in children.

Not surprisingly, there also appears to be a connection between childhood obesity and kidney stones. Children are notorious for not drinking enough water, adding to the problem.

Eating soy increases the risk of developing kidney stones due to high levels of oxalate present in many varieties of soybeans. This is one more nail in the coffin for non-fermented soy!  If you are going to consume soy, it must be fermented.

Drinking caffeine has been linked to kidney stones. In one study, caffeine was given to people with a history of kidney stones, after which their urine was examined. The subjects showed elevated urine calcium, putting them at higher risk for kidney stones.   Now that food processors have promoted caffeine filled drinks for kids to “give them more energy” they are getting more kidney stones.

Calcium is not a problem.  In the past, kidney stone sufferers have been warned to avoid foods rich in calcium. However, there is now evidence that avoiding calcium may do more harm than good. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study of more than 45,000 men.  The men who had diets rich in calcium had a one-third lower risk of kidney stones than those with lower calcium diets.

Why would this be?  It seems counterintuitive. After all, calcium is the largest component in the stones.

The answer is that high dietary calcium actually blocks a chemical action that causes the formation of the stones. It binds with oxalates (from foods) in your intestine, which then prevents both from being absorbed into your blood and later transferred to your kidneys.

So, urinary oxalates may be more important to formation of calcium-oxalate kidney stone crystals than is urinary calcium.

It is important to note that it is the calcium from foods that is beneficial — not calcium supplements, which have actually been found to increase your risk of kidney stones by 20 percent[.

High protein diets are not a problem.  In the 1990s when the Atkins diet reached huge popularity, critics claimed that high protein intake leads to kidney stones. This turned out to be a complete myth, but the misinformation is still being circulated.

Although protein restricted diets are helpful for people who already have kidney disease, eating meat does not cause kidney problems. Furthermore, the fat-soluble vitamins and saturated fat found in animal foods are pivotal for the proper functioning of your kidneys.

What if you already have a stone?

Let it pass.  As with most things, the best approach is the safest and simplest--letting the stone pass on its own. This might take days, or weeks in some cases, but the key is to drink enough water, plain water -- NOT soda -- to decrease the concentration of solids in your urine to the point that the stone will be dissolved.  Avoid drinking tea when you are attempting to pass a stone because it is high in oxalates.

Medical treatment.  There are several medical procedures and surgical techniques that can be used to treat kidney stones, but the risks are high enough that physicians typically shy away from them, unless there's no other choice. This is actually a good thing, considering the multitude of problems American patients face due to medical errors.

Pain medications will usually be offered, if your pain level is intolerable.

Some medicinal herbs have been identified to be helpful for acute episodes, including:

  • nettle leaf
  • bearberry
  • cleavers
  • corn silk
  • crampbark
  • gravel root
  • kava kava
  • khella
  • hydrangea
  • stone root

You should always consult the advice of an expert herbalist, since herbs can be every bit as potent as pharmaceuticals and may cause harm if used improperly.

Of course, even better than letting a kidney stone pass naturally would be if you never had to deal with this very painful problem in the first place.

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