Understanding How Kidney Stones Form
Kidney stones usually cause:
- Excruciating pain radiating upward and outward from the flanks
- Bloating, nausea, and vomiting, and, when there is also a bladder infection,
- Chills, fever, and urgent urination with little urine produced.
The intense pain of kidney stones sends most sufferers looking for emergency treatment. Home remedies for kidney stones, however, can make attacks much less painful and much less frequent. Before getting into the specifics of home renal calculi treatment, however, let's take a look at the disease process.
Kidney stones are crystalline precipitates of minerals in urine. They usually have sharp and irregular edges, so they cut into tissue as the pass out of the kidney into the bladder, and then out of the bladder through the urethra to exit the body. Smaller stones may not be even noticed, but larger stones can get "stuck" and cause excruciating pain.
Most stones are composed of a combination of oxalic acid, a chemical that is especially abundant in spinach (and, although relatively few people eat them, extremely concentrated in a vegetable called lamb's quarters), and calcium. These two chemicals ordinarily stay dissolved in the urine. Problems come about when dehydration causes a low flow of urine. This allows oxalic acid and calcium to concentrate and mix to form stones.
Another factor in the formation of kidney stones is infection with a microorganism called Proteus. These bacteria have "sticky" walls that cause them to form little strings in the urine. Calcium oxalate sticks to the strings of bacteria and becomes a stone.
At first the strings of oxalate form small brown or black stones look like seeds or berries. If the urine is extremely alkaline, them more calcium precipitates, too. The additional calcium gives stones a limestone-like appearance. As more and more calcium accumulates in the stones, they turn white, and they develop jagged edges.
When the urine is extremely alkaline, it can also precipitate a chemical called magnesium ammonium phosphate. This chemical form light brown elliptical stones that usually have a "staghorn" on one end. Ironically, following an alkalizing diet to prevent other health conditions is a major causes of kidney stones.
Who Gets Kidney Stones
About one in six men and one in fifteen women suffers kidney stones. Women are more likely to develop kidney stones if they:
- Have a history of high blood pressure,
- Don't use calcium supplements, and their
- Diets are deficient in magnesium-rich foods such as nuts (especially peanuts), seeds, beans, broccoli, and dark leafy greens.
Women who have sisters who have kidney stones are at especially high risk for the condition.
Men are more likely to develop kidney stones if they have uncontrolled high blood pressure. Children usually do not develop kidney stones unless they consume very high-fat diets and fail to drink enough water.
Home Remedies for Kidney Stones
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do at home to prevent kidney stones and to lessen the severity of attacks. These home remedies for kidney stones are simple, inexpensive, and safe.
1. Drink eight glasses of water every day. Actually, the scientific evidence indicates that the benefits of drinking water kick in at about five glasses a day, but if you have kidney stones and you are not currently having an attack, it's always best to drink as much water as you can.
2. Drink coffee, tea, wine, and beer as desired. The Harvard School of Public health has found that drinking 1 cup (240 ml) of regular or decaf coffee every day reduces the risk of kidney stones by 10%. Drinking a beer a day (more precisely, drinking 240 ml of beer a day, which is less than the average can of beer) reduces the risk of kidney stones by 21%. And drinking a glass of wine a day reduces the risk of kidney stones by 39%. Drinking more coffee, beer, or wine, however, is of no additional benefit.
3. Don't drink juice (except lemon juice). In the same study, the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking a cup of apple juice every day increases the risk of kidney stones by 75%, and drinking a cup or orange juice or grapefruit juice every day increases the risk of stones by 85%. Cranberry extract also raises the risk of stones, although unsweetened juice reduces it. The negative effects of fruit juices are worse when juice is the only fluid consumed at a meal.
4. Drink milk. Most kidney stones contain calcium, so it would make logical sense that consuming less calcium would lower the risk of stones. Actually, the exact opposite happens. At least in men, a low-calcium diet nearly doubles the risk of stones. Taking calcium supplements, in women, lowers the risk of stones.
5. Don't avoid veggies. Most kidney stones contain oxalic acid, so it would seem logical to avoid fruits and vegetables that contain oxalic acid. One vegetable contains such an enormous amount of oxalic acid that kidney stone sufferers really do need to avoid it, and that vegetable is the seldom-eaten lamb's quarters. But almonds, beet greens, bran, chocolate, rhubarb, spinach, Swiss chard, strawberries, and tea, which contain less oxalic acid, have no effect on the risk of kidney stones, and in fact, they may even help prevent stones. The vitamin K in spinach and Swiss chard helps the bones absorb calcium, and keeps that calcium out of the urine.
6. Avoid eating too much meat. Only about one-third of people who get kidney stones suffer negative effects of a high-protein diet. For the kidney stone sufferers, however, a meat-free diet can be very helpful. The only way to find out if you are in that one-third is to give a vegetarian diet a try for three to four months.
7. Consider taking a potassium-magnesium citrate supplement. One three-year study found taking potassium-magnesium citrate reduces the frequency of kidney stone attacks by a whopping 80%. It is essential, however, to make sure you do not have other kinds of kidney damage before taking any potassium supplement, since impaired kidneys have difficult excreting excessive potassium. People who take ACE inhibitors or ACE receptor blockers for high blood pressure should also avoid this supplement.
8. If you get brown or black kidney stones, consider taking inositol nicotinate, which is derived from rice bran. Just be sure to take no more than the dosage recommended on the label. Taking too much inositol nicotinate can result in itching, flushing, dizziness, and palpitations.
9. Drink mineral water. Mineral water reduces concentrations of calcium and uric acid, making the urine less alkaline and less likely to form stones. And, finally, to mangle a well-known aphorism,
10. When life hands you kidney stones, drink lemonade. Most citrus juices contain compounds that accelerate the formation of stones. Lemon juice contains unusually high concentrates of citrate, which stops the formation of calcium stones. It also increases the volume of urination. Limeade is equally effective.