Kidney stones are collections of minerals that lodge in your kidneys and ureters and may cause excruciating pain. More than 10% of men in the United States have suffered at least one kidney stone. If you’ve had a kidney stone, you don’t want to have another, but — according to statistics — you most likely will.
Alex Lesani, MD, an expert urologist, diagnoses and treats kidney stones at our Las Vegas, Nevada office. Here’s what you need to know about how to prevent kidney stones from forming in the first place.
Why you get kidney stones
All of the foods you eat and most of the beverages you drink are filled with minerals. While your body needs plenty of minerals to function well, if too many minerals collect in your kidneys and aren't flushed out by your urine, they form clusters that resemble stones.
Calcium and oxalates, two different types of minerals that are behind most kidney stones, bind together in the digestive tract when they’re consumed at the same time during a meal. However, if you eat them separately, or don’t drink enough liquids, they bind together in the kidneys while you produce urine.
If you don't have enough liquid in your urine, the bound oxalates and calcium collect and form stones. The stones may lodge in your kidneys or pass into your ureters (the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your urethra) or into your urethra (the tube that carries urine through your penis and out your body).
No matter where kidney stones lodge, if they’re large enough, they can be excruciatingly painful. You may be able to dilute the stones by drinking extra water and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Or, Dr. Lesani, may break up larger stones with extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) so you can pass them comfortably. In rare cases, you may need surgery.
Why hydration is so important
Sufficient hydration prevents stones from forming in the first place because your urine is able to flush away the bound oxalates and calcium. That’s why you’re more at risk for kidney stones if you have diabetes, for instance; diabetes causes excess urination, which may dehydrate you and allow minerals to collect in your kidneys.
Mild dehydration makes you feel tired and may slow down your organs’ functions. Severe dehydration or chronic dehydration can damage your kidneys.
To avoid dehydration, try to drink at least the recommended 8-10 eight-ounce glasses of water or other healthy beverages per day. But drink more if you sweat a lot due to hard workouts, saunas, or time in the spa.
If you already have kidney stones, drinking more water and other healthy liquids can help dissolve them. Dr. Lesani recommends three liters of water per day until your kidney stones have passed, and over-the-counter painkillers to minimize discomfort.
Hydration choices are key
Just loading up on liquids may do more harm than good, if you don’t make healthy choices. To keep your kidneys clear and healthy and improve your overall health, avoid:
- Sugary drinks
- Fruit juice
- Beverages with corn syrup
Water alone is a good choice. So are fresh fruit- and vegetable-infused waters, such as cucumber or strawberry water. Even coffee and tea can aid in hydration.
However, one of the best ways to dissolve kidney stones or prevent new ones from forming is to drink liquids that are high in acid, such as water with a squeeze of lemon juice (but hold off on sugary lemonade). The citrate in lemon juice’s citric acid actually makes your urine more basic and less acidic, which can prevent certain types of stones.
Don’t forget about food
Just as what you drink helps keep you hydrated, so do the foods you eat. In fact, many foods have a high water content that keeps your kidneys healthy. Most meat is composed of about 60% water. Some hydration-friendly foods include:
- Chicken breast
However, animal-based proteins are high in uric acid, which can also form stones. Minimize red meats and follow a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet.
If you’ve had a kidney stone, or want to prevent one, talk to Dr. Lesani about your best diet and beverage choices. The types of minerals in your stone influence how much citric acid or citrate you actually need.
Don’t resign yourself to a life filled with painful kidney stones. If you want to know more about kidney stone prevention, or if you need relief from current kidney stones, phone our friendly team at 702-470-2579, or book your appointment online today.