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Five Factors that Account for Half the Risk of Getting Kidney Stones

graphic showing kidneys location in the body indicating pain

Kidney stones are one of the most painful disorders, as well as one of the most common reasons for emergency room visits. According to research published in Nutrition Action Health Letter and the Journal of Urology, five factors account for half the risk of kidney stones, and they’re all related to lifestyle.

The medical term for the disorder is nephrolithiasis. Kidney stones are more common in men than women, and more common after age 30 than before. Kidney stones form when urine contains excess crystal-forming substances, such as oxalate, calcium, or uric acid. When urine is concentrated, these substances are more likely to form crystals that lead to stones. Moreover, your urine may lack substances that keep crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.

Kidney Stones Hurt!

Kidney stones are tiny -- usually between the size of a speck of sand and a grain of salt, but they can be as large as a pearl and intensely painful. When they move through the urinary tract, kidney stones can sometimes block the flow of urine, cause permanent damage to the kidneys or urinary tract, or lead to infection or blood in the urine. People with kidney stones may develop them again (recurrent kidney stones), especially if they don’t take steps to prevent future stones from forming.

Let’s look at the five factors that account for 50% of all kidney stones.

Low Calcium Intake

Calcium normally binds to oxalate in the intestine and keeps it from being absorbed back into your bloodstream. Without enough calcium to bind the oxalate in your intestines, too much oxalate enters your blood and then your urine. When you have oxalate in your urine, you’re more likely to form a kidney stone. Studies show that getting enough calcium from food sources can lower the risk of kidney stones by up to 27%. Calcium supplements, however, don’t lower the risk and may even increase it.

Drinking Sugary Drinks

A study of over 200,000 healthcare professionals found that those who increased their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by at least one serving per day over four years were at a 23 percent increased risk of developing kidney stones compared with those whose intake remained the same during that period. Those who decreased their consumption were at a 14 percent lower risk.

The findings held even after considering factors that could influence the results -- including changes in body weight over time and the subject’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. Skip the sweet beverages, especially soft drinks. A better option is to sip unsweetened lemon water. The citric acid in lemons changes the pH of urine in a way that lowers the risk of kidney stones.

Not Drinking Enough Water

Avoid sugary beverages but drink enough water. Another risk factor for kidney stones is inadequate water intake. Aim to drink at least a liter (about 4.5 cups) of fluid each day. In warmer weather, you may want to drink more. Coffee and tea count toward your daily intake but balance your intake with plenty of water. It’s a good idea to drink enough water so that your urine is clear or light yellow. If you’re not drinking enough, you’re at risk of forming new kidney stones. A study found that people who drank less than a liter of water daily were at a 75% higher risk of developing kidney stones.

Not Eating Enough Fruits & Vegetables

Studies show that eating a diet high in sodium and protein increases the risk of kidney stones, while adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet lowers the risk. One diet called the DASH diet is often prescribed for high blood pressure but it also lowers the risk of kidney stones. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy while de-emphasizing red meat, processed meat, soft drinks, and foods high in sodium. It’s a good diet for overall health, too.

Letting Your Weight Climb

People who are obese have up to an 80% higher risk of kidney stones, while those who are overweight have up to a 40% greater risk of developing kidney stones. So keeping your weight down is an important part of kidney stone prevention. Exercise and good nutrition can help, be sure to drink enough water after a workout. Sweating will concentrate your urine and create conditions that make it easier for stones to form.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, these tips will help you stay kidney stone free! You’re not powerless over kidney stones -- you can make smart lifestyle changes that may keep them at bay.


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