Words are inadequate to describe the pain of a kidney stone. Women who have gone through childbirth often say that passing a kidney stone is far worse than giving birth. You get the picture. And once you have had your first kidney stone, your chances of getting another one go up significantly. Why some people are so susceptible to kidney stones and others are not is one of the many mysteries to which we have no answer. Here’s another puzzle: Why is the southeastern part of the United States the Kidney Stone Belt? The farther north you travel, the less likely you will be to develop a stone. Is it the temperature? (Some folks say global warming will dramatically increase the number of kidney stones in the United States.) Others blame kidney stones on diet—possibly the large amounts of iced tea so popular in the Southeast. Whatever the cause, the goal is to prevent them. Roughly three-fourths of all kidney stones are composed of calcium and oxalate. Stones of calcium phosphate are less common. It may be possible, if you have passed a kidney stone, to discover which type you make. Most experts recommend increasing water intake to keep calcium from concentrating in the urine and forming crystals.
Whenever I read about calcium, only women’s needs are addressed. Little comment is made about whether men should be concerned about lack of calcium as they age. My husband thinks if he takes calcium supplements, he might get kidney stones. Is this true?
Although men are less susceptible to osteoporosis than women are, they are not immune. Adequate calcium intake is also important for men. Your husband is correct that calcium pills may increase the risk of kidney stones, but calcium from food seems to protect against this painful condition. If your husband refuses to drink milk, perhaps you could add yogurt, sardines, canned salmon, and other calcium-rich foods to the menu.
LEMONADE AND ORANGE JUICE
I have had a couple of kidney stones, and my urologist recommended lemonade to prevent them. I was skeptical until I did some checking on the Web and Medline. I learned that lemon juice is a natural source of citrate. This compound helps prevent the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones. Some lemonade mixes do not list sodium citrate, but canned concentrate appears to have a lot of real lemon juice, and sodium citrate is listed.
Doctors prescribe potassium citrate to prevent the recurrence of stones made of calcium oxalate. One study shows that adding lemonade as well seems to provide some added benefit. A trial testing cranberry juice found that it too could help reduce the risk factors1 for kidney stone formation.2 This popular beverage reduced oxalate and increased citrate levels in urine.
Are any foods or supplements especially bad for people who get kidney stones? I would like to know what to avoid and what would be helpful. I never want to experience the pain of passing a kidney stone again.
The most important recommendation for avoiding kidney stones is to drink plenty of fluids. But the beverage you choose does make a difference. Data from more than 80,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study indicate that coffee, tea, and even wine are associated with a reduced risk of kidney stones, but grapefruit juice seems to increase the risk.3 This is a puzzle, because when healthy people in one study drank grapefruit juice, their urine seemed no more susceptible to stones than when they were drinking water.4 Orange juice and lemonade reduce the chances of developing a stone. They increase citrate in the urine, and that reduces crystallization of calcium oxalate into kidney stones. Urologists who have studied “lemonade therapy” have concluded that it represents a viable alternative for patients who have a hard time tolerating standard treatment.5 Such an approach calls for one to two quarts of unsweetened or low-sugar lemonade per day.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic