If you’ve ever had kidney stones—or know someone who has—you know that little can compare to the pain they cause. The number of Americans getting kidney stones is increasing, perhaps because of the increasing prevalence of obesity, say Harvard University experts. And once you get kidney stones, the chances of a recurrence are high, so it’s even better if you can avoid them in the first place with the following tips from the Harvard Health Letter.
1. Keep your fluid intake up. Kidney stones form when certain minerals concentrate in the urine and form into crystals, which can cause severe pain as they pass through the ureters, the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder. Drink plenty of fluids (water is the safest bet) and you’ll increase the amount of water in the urine, so those mineral concentrations don’t get too high.
2. Eat calcium-rich foods. Calcium is a major component of most kidney stones, so it seems like you should avoid calcium in the diet, not seek it out. But most calcium stones are composed of calcium combined with a substance called oxalate. If there’s plenty of calcium in your diet, the calcium binds to oxalate in the intestine before the oxalate has a chance to get into your urine. Good choices for calcium-rich foods include nonfat dairy products, leafy green vegetables and some varieties of fish (salmon, for example).
3. Reconsider calcium supplements. Results from the Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study showed that postmenopausal women who took calcium supplements were 20 percent more likely to develop kidney stones than women who didn’t. Findings published earlier this year from the Women’s Health Initiative, a large randomized trial, echoed those results. One explanation for calcium in food and calcium pills having different effects is that when calcium is consumed in food, it’s more likely to be present in the intestine at the same time as oxalate, so it can interfere with its absorption.
4. Go easy on the sodium. Low-sodium diets decrease excretion of calcium and oxalate.
5. Avoid high-protein diets. Protein can increase calcium and oxalate excretion. High-protein diets may reduce levels of stone-inhibiting substances in the urine.
6. Limit high-oxalate foods. Calcium intake and other dietary factors seem to be more important than oxalate intake in forming kidney stones, but high oxalate intake can occasionally be a factor. Oxalate-rich foods include beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb and most nuts.