If you do develop kidney stones, there are ways to help the process move along, including watching what you drink and eat.
Kidney stones can be caused by not drinking enough water, exercising either too much or too little, eating food with too much salt or sugar, consuming high amounts of animal protein without many vegetables, and even obesity or weight loss surgery. If you do develop kidney stones, there are ways to help the process move along, including watching what you drink and eat.
1. What is Kidney stones?
Kidney stones (also called renal calculi, nephrolithiasis or urolithiasis) are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys.
Diet, excess body weight, some medical conditions, and certain supplements and medications are among the many causes of kidney stones. Kidney stones can affect any part of your urinary tract — from your kidneys to your bladder. Often, stones form when the urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together.
Passing kidney stones can be quite painful, but the stones usually cause no permanent damage if they’re recognized in a timely fashion. Depending on your situation, you may need nothing more than to take pain medication and drink lots of water to pass a kidney stone. In other instances — for example, if stones become lodged in the urinary tract, are associated with a urinary infection or cause complications — surgery may be needed.
Your doctor may recommend preventive treatment to reduce your risk of recurrent kidney stones if you’re at increased risk of developing them again.
A kidney stone usually will not cause symptoms until it moves around within the kidney or passes into one of the ureters. The ureters are the tubes that connect the kidneys and bladder.
If a kidney stone becomes lodged in the ureters, it may block the flow of urine and cause the kidney to swell and the ureter to spasm, which can be very painful. At that point, you may experience these symptoms:
- Severe, sharp pain in the side and back, below the ribs
- Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
- Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
Other signs and symptoms may include:
- Pink, red or brown urine
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- A persistent need to urinate, urinating more often than usual or urinating in small amounts
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills if an infection is present
Pain caused by a kidney stone may change — for instance, shifting to a different location or increasing in intensity — as the stone moves through your urinary tract.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs and symptoms that worry you. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:
- Pain so severe that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position
- Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
- Pain accompanied by fever and chills
- Blood in your urine
- Difficulty passing urine
Kidney stones often have no definite, single cause, although several factors may increase your risk.
Kidney stones form when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances — such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid — than the fluid in your urine can dilute. At the same time, your urine may lack substances that prevent crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.
2. The #1 best food to eat when you have kidney stones
According to Sydney Greene, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and member of our Medical Expert Board, the best foods to eat or avoid when experiencing kidney stones will depend on the type of kidney stone you are dealing with. The most common type of kidney stone experienced in adults is calcium oxalate stones; if we’re talking about these particular stones, the best food you can eat is a combination of calcium-rich and oxalate-rich foods.
“One of the best dietary changes to make if experiencing these types of kidney stones is to eat calcium-rich foods with oxalate-rich foods,” says Greene. “When consumed together, the calcium and oxalate are more likely to bind to one another before entering the kidneys.”
According to The National Kidney Foundation, oxalate is naturally found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains, and legumes. A common misunderstanding is that eliminating oxalate-rich foods in your diet will reduce the chances of forming calcium oxalate kidney stones. However, while not technically incorrect, this approach isn’t the healthiest way to go about things.
The Foundation further suggests that calcium may tend to get a bad rap because of the name of the type of kidney stones. However, a diet low in calcium may actually increase your risk of developing kidney stones, which is why it’s recommended to not reduce your calcium intake. Instead, focus on cutting back on the amount of sodium in your diet.
The combination of oxalate and calcium is more likely to bind to one another in the stomach and intestines before the kidneys begin processing. This makes them less likely to develop into kidney stones.
Greene continues to explain that there are ways to combine both calcium-rich foods and oxalate-rich foods in your everyday diet.
For example, green smoothies are a great way to include these types of food. Greens, especially spinach, tend to be high in oxalate. To get more calcium into your diet, blend greens with dairy milk, cow’s milk kefir, or a nut milk fortified with calcium to get the proper nutrients.