Kidney stones are no fun. And, in some situations, they can present some very real dangers to your health and well-being. Unfortunately, the National Kidney Foundation reports that roughly one in ten people will deal with the condition at some point in their lives. So what can you do to reduce your risk of developing stones?
First, What Are Kidney Stones?
To fully understand how to prevent them, it's important to have a basic knowledge of what those stones are and how they form. As you may know, kidneys filter your blood and produce urine, which is then stored in the bladder. This means that your kidneys are constantly being exposed to a wide variety of substances. Sometimes, many of these compounds, especially minerals, can clump together and form a sort of crystal, which is also known as a kidney stone.
Typically, stones don't cause any problems as long as they remain in the kidneys. But eventually, stones start to move through the ureters toward the bladder. This causes symptoms like severe and sudden pain felt in the belly, lower back, or groin. Depending on the size of the stone, people can experience vomiting and blood in their urine as well.
Dietary Changes to Decrease Your Risk
The first step to preventing kidney stones is drinking plenty of water. When your body becomes even slightly dehydrated, the volume of your urine decreases, increasing the concentration of all of those minerals that could form stones. Adequate water intake has the opposite effect, so the need for proper hydration becomes even more pronounced if you're in a hot environment or have been losing fluid through sweat.
The fact that mineral crystals form stones also underlies the important role that diet plays in prevention. Interestingly, the DASH diet — originally created as a way to control high blood pressure — has been shown to cause a significant decrease in the formation of stones because it is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber, and low in sodium. The flexible and easy-to-follow guidelines this program recommends are as follows:
- Grains: 6-8 servings per day
- Meat, poultry, and fish: 6 or fewer servings per day
- Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day
- Fruit: 4-5 servings per day
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy: 2-3 servings per day
- Fats: 2-3 servings per day
- Sodium: 2,300 mg per day
- Nuts and seeds: 4-5 servings per week
- Sweets: 5 or fewer servings per week
Along with being just plain delicious, a cool glass of lemonade could also help prevent kidney stones. Because lemons and most other citrus fruits are high in a compound called citrate, they actively work against the formation of stones.
Unfortunately, there are some genetic factors involved with the formation of stones. Still, changing up your diet can lower your risk even if you've struggled with the condition in the past. As a bonus, watching what you eat will no doubt improve other aspects of your health. It will be a win-win.