By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
May 04, 2012
- The most common cause of kidney stones
- Why you shouldn’t sacrifice calcium even if you are prone to stones
- The secret weapon against kidney stones and gout
A new patient came to me after suffering with her first kidney stone, saying she was determined it would be her last. She shared that she had four children, yet the pain of passing the stone far surpassed any of those births!
She was right to come in. Usually, when there is one kidney stone, there are more to follow.
But it doesn’t have to be such a curse. There are a few steps you can take to minimize your risk of getting your first – or 50th – kidney stone.
Plus, there are some popular myths out there about what helps and hurts. And you can’t afford confusion and bad information with something so painful at stake. So today, we’ll clear those up too…
Let’s start with the confusion. Most people believe kidney stones are caused by calcium. So they avoid or minimize their calcium intake. Which can be detrimental to their health in other ways.
But kidney stones are a little more complicated than that.
About 80% of kidney stones are a result of two substances: calcium and oxalate. Calcium is an essential mineral that comes in 8 different forms. Oxalate is a bitter component of certain plants.
Calcium binds to oxalate and creates crystals that are ushered out of the body through the urine. This binding process happens for all of us. But it’s only a problem for some of us.
Under certain conditions, the crystals aren’t properly flushed through the kidneys, and they harden and build, forming what we know as kidney stones.
Which leads me to the biggest myth about kidney stones…
Too much calcium is not the problem. Which is why people who resort to a low-calcium diet still get kidney stones.
The oxalate is the bigger problem. When there is not enough calcium to bind to the oxalate, or there is not enough fluid to flush it out of the body, you have the conditions for forming kidney stones.
In fact, studies have found diets rich in calcium can actually prevent kidney stones. However, excessive calcium supplements can increase the likelihood of stones. A somewhat delicate balance between several contributing factors ultimately determines your risk:
Hydration: Dehydration is the most common cause of kidney stones. When you are not adequately hydrated, your system can’t flush out the crystals, leaving you vulnerable to kidney stones. Develop a habit of drinking water regularly throughout the day. If you wait until you feel thirsty, you’re already slightly dehydrated.
What you drink matters more than you think. Caffeine is a diuretic. In moderation, it’s fine. And possibly even helpful, as it causes more frequent urination.
But too much caffeine can cause dehydration. Also, tea and coffee contain oxalate, which you don’t need if you are already prone to stones.
Soda is another no-no. It leeches calcium out of your system. This means there isn’t enough calcium in your system to bind with the oxalate and flush it out. Plain water is best. Or water with a squeeze of lemon or lime.
Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is another likely contributor to the formation of kidney stones. Magnesium is necessary for getting calcium out of the body, just as calcium is what gets oxalate out of the body.
The ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium is 10:4. But because calcium gets all the press, many people are falling short of the magnesium side of the equation. Studies show that people with recurring kidney stones who took magnesium supplements had a 92.3 percent improvement in subsequent stone formation.
And there are many other chronic illnesses that can be traced back to not having enough magnesium, such as asthma, fibromyalgia, heart disease, and stroke. I recommend taking 300 mg a day, of either the glycinate, aspartate or orotate forms of magnesium.
Diet: Since oxalic acid is the main culprit, avoiding certain foods is a good idea. Almonds, spinach, tea, cocoa, chard and rhubarb all contain oxalic acid and hinder the body’s absorption of magnesium and calcium when consumed in large amounts.
Also, refined sugar consumption may lead to the formation of kidney stones. Antacids and high dairy consumption could also put you in a higher risk category.
And last but not least, my secret weapon…
I consider black cherry juice concentrate (two tablespoons a day, alone or mixed with water) a secret weapon against kidney stones. Also used to treat and prevent gout, this high-antioxidant concentrate reduces levels of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is another cause of kidney stones, and people with gout have a higher risk of getting kidney stones. Drinking pomegranate juice regularly is also a good idea. If you have a Costco in your neighborhood, they offer the largest POM pomegranate juice for under ten dollars. I drink it every night.
Unfortunately, kidney stones don’t give you notice that they are forming along the way. The first symptom is usually a sharp, cramping pain in the back and side near the kidney or in the lower abdomen. And it only gets worse from there, until the stone passes all the way through the urinary tract. Actually, my one (and thank goodness only) kidney stone felt like a red-hot sword being thrust from my mid-back through my guts, with vomiting… all the way to the ER. Not an experience you want to invite back for a second run.
If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, I suggest you follow these suggestions to the letter.
And if you haven’t, staying hydrated, and keeping a healthy balance of magnesium and calcium in your system will help keep calcium oxalate crystals from building up and becoming a problem.
Sorensen MD, et. al., Impact of calcium intake and intestinal calcium absorption on kidney stones in older women: the study of osteoporotic fractures., J Urol. 2012 Apr;187(4):1287-92. Epub 2012 Feb 15.
Massey L., Magnesium therapy for nephrolithiasis., Magnes Res. 2005 Jun;18(2):123-6.