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Kidney stones – What are they & how to avoid them

Approximately 5 to 10 percent of the New Zealanders develop stones. Kidney stones are more common in men, up to three or four times more common than women. You have a 50% chance of recurrence within 8 years of the first episode. They occur more commonly in persons aged above 30 years.

How do kidney stones form?

Normal urine contains substances that can inhibit crystal formation. Oversaturated (concentrated) urine has a high level of calcium, oxalate and uric acid. These encourage crystals to form and grow. This results from:

  • Increased amounts of fluid excreted by your kidneys.
  • Low urine volume due to drinking too little fluid!  Especially in hot weather.
  • Too much coffee consumption, keep your intake to one or two cups per day. I recommend for every cup of coffee, to have two glasses of water! Try it, you will feel a lot better about this approach.
  • Calcium oxalate is the most common constituent of kidney stones.  Recent research shows that 40% – 50% of urinary oxalate comes from the diet of healthy individuals; the other half is produced inside the body as part of normal metabolism.  However, there is a subpopulation of oxalate “hyper-absorbers” which is found in stone-forming patients. It is likely that all stone formers will benefit from a reduction of dietary oxalate, but especially stone formers. I generally like to restrict high oxalic acid containing foods in people with kidney problems or lots of lower back pain unresponsive to musculoskeletal therapies. Now you are asking me for the foods high in oxalic acid? Glad you asked, they are particularly high in a grain called amaranth, spinach and silverbeet, rhubarb, puha and beetroot.
  • I have seen many men over the years presenting with an excruciatingly painful arthritic condition called gout. Almost 10% of kidney stones are formed of uric acid. Uric acid-containing foods are coffee, tea and alcohol, chocolate, rich desserts, high-fat biscuits, cream, beef, lamb, pork and all fried meats, chips, gravy, yeasts, broths, meat pies and stock made from meats. This sounds like a Kiwi man’s diet, no wonder so many NZ men keep on getting gout!

Coffee and kidney stones and osteoporosis

I can still remember my grandfather in Holland, when I was 11years of age, showing me a bottle of what seemed like stones in weird shapes. He said that when he was in his 40s, he underwent surgery to remove countless kidney stones from both his kidneys. Granddad also suffered badly from gout, and like many Dutch people of his generation would routinely drink anywhere between 10 to 15 cups of filtered coffee each day. It is now known that excessive caffeine consumption causes kidney stones due to caffeine increasing urinary calcium excretion. And that is also why those who drink too much coffee can potentially end up with osteoporosis, like my mother and grandmother. Both Dutch and both huge coffee drinkers! Coffee also contains uric acid, which is responsible for many cases of kidney stones and gout. I’ve not met many coffee drinkers who drink 6 – 8 glasses of water, and dehydration occurs due to the diuretic nature of caffeine. This is yet another reason why high coffee drinkers can be potentially stone formers.

What symptoms do kidney stones cause?

  • Pain begins in the loins and extends to the groin. Initially, the pain comes on in waves (colic) but may become constant. Sometimes the pain is abdominal or felt in the lower back. Pain is due to the stone obstructing urine flow through the ureter which joins the kidney to the bladder.
  • Blood in urine. This must always be investigated by your Doctor at once.
  • Repeated urinary tract infections

If you get an attack of kidney pain

Drink plenty of water! It helps to flush the stone through. If pain becomes worse call your Doctor at once. Admission to hospital may well be necessary. Stones 5 mm or less in diameter usually often pass on their own. Nearly all those who form one stone will produce another unless preventative measures are taken. The cause of stone formation should be investigated.

  • Take any stone you pass to your Doctor for analysis
  • Blood and urine tests may be arranged by your Doctor

What happens when you have kidney stones?

Kidney stones can be diagnosed by way of an x-ray or ultrasound.

  • X-Ray: The abdominal region is X rayed, similar to chest x-ray, or an Intravenous urogram is performed. Dye is injected into an elbow vein is taken up and excreted by the kidneys.
  • Ultrasound is useful for showing the kidneys and stones within them; or whether they are blocked.

Medical solution: surgical removal or lithotripsy

  • Surgical removal: Directly from the kidney or ureter, or through the bladder.
  • Lithotripsy: This involves passing an instrument through, either removing the stone if small or shattering it with ultrasonic waves generated by a probe applied to the stone. Externally generated sound waves are focused on the stone. The shattered fragments are passed in the urine. Currently, there is a lithotripter in Hamilton and a mobile unit which visits most hospitals. Remember, not all stones require removal.

Can kidney stones be prevented?

Your chance of developing another stone is greatly reduced if you:

  • Drink plenty of water – at least two litres daily.
  • Reduce coffee and tea, especially black tea & coffee.
  • Vitamin C may actually prevent the formation of kidney stones. Although there are some claims that excessive Vitamin C consumption may actually CAUSE kidney stones, stones do not normally develop as a result of consuming Vitamin C supplements.  Human studies have shown that 10 grams per day of supplemental Vitamin C for long periods did not initiate or cause any problems.
  • Take care not to eat too much calcium if you are a known stone-former.
  • The consumption of refined sugar and carbohydrates can cause kidney stones as well because the sugar stimulates your pancreas to release insulin, which in turn causes extra calcium to be excreted in the urine.
  • Watch your oxalate intake. Eat small amounts of these foods, avoid them if you have back pain or have known kidney problems.
  • Avoid excessive (iodised) salt intake as it increases urine calcium excretion. Celtic Sea Salt is ok in moderation.
  • Watch the uric acid containing foods mentioned earlier.
  • Eat plenty of cherries and any kind of berries, especially blueberries and blueberry juice. All fruits and fruit juices are generally good in people with kidney stones, but cherries & berries are best.
  • Eat meat sparingly. Meat is the most important cause of increased calcium and uric acid excretion. Excessive intake (very common amongst men) should be avoided.
  • Dietary assessment and modification can be effectively done by your Naturopath, who should encourage you to make a lifelong commitment to correct dietary practices.
  • Herbs and specialised nutritional supplements can be highly effective for the prevention of kidney stones (rather than drugs) and may be advised by your Naturopath or Herbalist.

A 3-week kidney detox for stone treatment & kidney infection

I like using herbs, and particularly herbal teas with kidney ailments. It stands to reason why. You drink lots of tea, and then you pee! And by urinating a lot, you have ensured that the herbal residues reach their target goal: the kidney tubules. Don’t be surprised after this if you shed a lot of fluid or your blood pressure starts to reduce marginally, I’ve seen this happen after a good kidney detox. Try this approach once per year.

1. Take a herbal kidney tea (supplied by your Herbalist) made with filtered water. Drink lots of filtered water. Add fresh lemon juice from a freshly cut lemon. Use filtered water for all drinking and cooking. The whole idea during this 21 day period is to drink to the point where your urine is constantly clear, not yellow!

2. Avoid all saturated fats, fried foods, meats, sugar, soft drinks, cooked spinach, rhubarb, puha, alcohol, coffee, black tea, chocolate and similar processed foods. No oxalate or uric acid containing foods please for three weeks.

3. Have a cup of tea made with a tblspof dried and crushed corn silk three times daily during the kidney detox. You could also simmer a large bunch of parsley (with roots) for ½ hr, strain, and sip small amounts.

4. Try to cleanse the kidney with a good detox diet (no meats, only vegetables and fruits) for a few days drinking plenty of fresh dilute raw vegetable juices. Celery and parsley are great additions here.

5. Magnesium, about 400mg (combined with 50 – 75mg Vitamin B6 per day, taken along with a B-complex) may cause the partial elimination of kidney stones in many patients and some studies claim as high as a total elimination of smaller stones in quite a high percentage of patients!

6. Take one to two Potassium-Magnesium Citrate capsules per day for three weeks. You will pee better.

Recurrent urinary tract infection? Try a herbal medicine containing a high percentage of berberine. Berberine-containing plants have used medicinally in virtually all traditional medical systems dating back at least 3,000 years for urinary tract infections.

Are you a smoker? I would recommend a hair analysis to determine your cadmium level. Cadmium is a heavy metal which is quite toxic to the kidney. Over the years I have seen several smokers with lower back pain with high levels of cadmium in their bodies. See your Naturopath.

By Eric Bakker

Health Specialist

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