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All about kidney stones, diet and exercise

All about Kidney stones, diet and exercise

Do you suffer from kidney issues, have or had kidney stones in the past, or just want to prevent the formation of them. Then this article can help.

Believe it or not around one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some point and many can get a kidney stone more than once. There are various reasons for people suffer from kidney stones, such as your diet, body weight, a kidney issue, various other health issues or even your genetics. It is also more common in people aged between 30 and 60, although anyone at any age can also suffer from them.

What do the kidneys do?

You have two kidneys (unless you have had one removed or donated one) and they are located at the back of your abdomen, one on each side if your spine. Your kidneys are responsible for maintaining electrolyte and fluid balance and cleanse the blood of waste. Waste is then urinated out of the body. When this process isn’t working efficiently you can suffer not just from kidney health issues, but other health problems, such as high blood pressure, excess urine protein, bone issues and heart issues.

What are kidney stones?

A Kidney stone is a hard formation of minerals and salt that can form in the kidney. This occurs where there is too much salt and mineral waste and not enough fluid. Crystals grow and minerals will attach creating a hard stone of varying sizes. These will then make its way through the urinary tract. Small kidney stones can often pass through without you even knowing. Larger stones can get stuck.

There are several types of formation of kidney stone. Different foods can cause these various stones to occur in different people. Types of kidney stone include, Calcium Oxalate stones (the most common type), Calcium Phosphate stones, Cystine stones, Uric Acid stones and Struvite stones.

Different foods can cause the formation of each of these types of stones, with the exception of struvite stones which are formed from a bacterial infection.

Some people will not realize they have a kidney stone, some will feel pain and discomfort. Most symptoms will include feeling unwell with a headache, nausea or even a fever, cloudy and/or smelly urine or even blood in the urine, a stomachache and/or pain in the lower back, pain in the urinary tract, difficulty urinating, pain/burning sensation while urinating, frequent need to urinate, dark urine.

The pain felt is often when you cannot pass urine because of the blockage, which can also cause a buildup of bacteria and lead to a urinary infection.

People who suffer from a kidney stone have a high chance of having a reoccurrence, so it is important to consider a plan of action to prevent this.

How to manage or prevent kidney stones

Kidney issues can be helped with following a diet with foods that can boost its health and reduce potential problems. Certain foods are hard on the kidneys to process and are best avoided if you are suffering from kidney health problems. Also being overweight can increase your risk of getting kidney stones, following a more healthy diet and exercise to reduce weight is also recommended.

Following is a list of foods and food types to avoid, as well as foods to consume that can help. Note that the list contains foods/minerals that are in many cases specific to a type of kidney stone. Also note that there is some overlap in the advice, as some foods again are useful at helping reducing some types of stone, but may help form others, so to be sure which foods to reduce, you ideally need to know what stone type of stone you have or are likely to suffer from.

Firstly and importantly, is to drink plenty of water. On average most people should aim for at least 2 litres a day. Some will recommend that women should get closer to 2.5 litres, while men should aim closer to 3.7 litres. In any case make sure you stay hydrated and get enough fluid, as this helps flush out waste from the kidneys. Conversely if you have damaged kidneys you may not want to over consume water as their ability to cope with the excess fluid is already diminished (seek medical advice on this). Also note that taking in more fluid should be in the form of water and you should replace your intake of coffee, tea and soft drinks with it.

Reduce salt in your diet. This can be replaced with something like Garlic salt if needed. Salt can pull calcium into your kidneys, where you don’t want it. Calcium will bind to oxalate and contribute to the formation of kidney stones in the kidneys. So eat less spicy, manmade, restaurant and takeaway foods. Canned foods also normally contain more added salt.

Consider reducing foods that have are a high oxalate content, such as legumes, rhubarb, spinach, beetroot, sweet potatoes, wheat bran, chocolate, nuts and seeds. Even foods high in Vitamin C can cause the body to convert it into oxalate. Note that these foods are also of health benefit in other ways, therefore consider your choices carefully and don’t try to eliminate them completely. Another idea is to eat foods with oxalate content with foods with calcium at the same time to allow them to bind together in the stomach and intestines. This will stop them binding in the kidneys, which can cause the formation of kidney stones. Note that calcium is an important nutrient needed for bone health and calcium isn’t the culprit for calcium stone formations. Some supplements can also increase oxalate in the urine, such as Fish Oil, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. So be careful and/or seek advice.

Reduce animal protein intake. Animal protein is high in purines which can lead to high levels of uric acid, forming uric acid stones. Produce to look out for include dairy produce, red meat, organ meats, some white meat such as turkey, some seafoods such as herring, trout, haddock, mussels, sardines, scallops, anchovies and shellfish or any meats high in purines. Also note that alcohol is high in purines. Of course you still need protein in your diet, so try replacing some animal protein with low oxalate plant based proteins. If you workout and need extra protein, try egg whites, it is a great protein source, but egg yolks are high in phosphorus……..

Reduce foods high in phosphorus as these can lead to bone issues and high calcium levels in the blood. These high levels of calcium in the blood can lead to the formation of calcium phosphate stones. Foods high in phosphorus include dairy produce, egg yolks, soy, dried beans, nuts, beans and lentils, whole grains, meat, seafood and many fizzy drinks contain phosphorus also.

Unless told otherwise, you should be able to eat small amounts of these foods, note I said reduce. For those not lactose intolerant, dairy still contains good amounts of calcium and protein, which are both good for the body.

Some medications can also contribute to kidney stone formation. These can include such medication as decongestants, diuretics, antibiotics and antacids to name a few. If in doubt read the leaflets that come with your medication and/or seek medical advice.

There are of course some foods that can help prevent kidney stone formation and those include lemons, grapefruit, oranges and other citrus foods. Citrate binds to the calcium in the kidneys, so preventing oxalates binding to calcium. Similarly increasing your intake of foods/drinks with antioxidants and anti inflammatory properties, such as herbal teas (green tea), cauliflower, berries, grapes/grape juice, may also help in the inhibition of the formation of calcium oxalate stones. If you suspect your diet is high in oxalate, then eating more omega 3, such as oily fish may also help in reducing oxalate forming stones.

Lastly, cranberry juice can help reduce the chances of a urinary tract infection by lowering the urine pH level and therefore may reduce the chances of suffering from struvite stones.

Note, while the above may help in treating or preventing some kidney stone formation, it may be necessary to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Especially if you are suffering severe pain, have a temperature or blood in your urine. Small to medium sized stones can be treated with medication to help them pass through the urinary tract. Large stones or in some cases where there are several stones formed may have to have surgical treatment to remove them.

Exercising and kidney stones

It is possible to workout if you have kidney stones. However ensure you are managing any pain. Do not force yourself to workout if you are in severe pain. Gentle to moderate exercise is recommended here, as too much straining can actually put too much stress on the kidneys and also irritate the urinary tract.

Following a regular gentle to moderate exercise plan, such as walking, yoga, easy cardio and having a sensible diet plan can help your body function more efficiently and be healthier overall. The increased blood flow helps the body’s organs function better and they are more likely to be healthier if both a sensible exercise plan and appropriate diet are followed on a regular basis. Exercise and a good diet will also help reduce weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, salt levels and maintain a better balance of minerals in the body, helping to reduce the formation of kidney stones. Exercise can also help use excess calcium for bone health. Being healthier can help reduce the development of kidney stones if you are susceptible to them and in some cases exercise may actually help to move the stones along.

It is also vitally important that you stay hydrated and take extra care in hot and humid conditions, so if you are working out and sweating, make sure you replace those lost fluids. If you are dehydrated you will not have enough fluid to keep the kidneys flushed and able to clear unwanted waste and kidney stone causing minerals. Personally I would also skip the sauna if you are susceptible to kidney stones.

If you are unsure, please ask your doctor if it is OK to exercise and read/follow any medication instructions.

Final word on kidney stones

As you can see creating a diet for kidney health is quite difficult, as getting the right nutrients needed by the body while trying to avoid others that may cause kidney health issues and kidney stones is almost a catch 22 situation. If in doubt and you are suffering kidney issues and need help, you should seriously consider, first contacting your doctor for advice/further advice and possibly a nutritionist once the type of stones that you suffer from or potentially could suffer from are identified. Seeking advice and knowing which type of stones you are/can suffer from is much better in helping manage the situation, as blindly eliminating healthy foods from your diet could lead to a shortfall in essential nutrients and possibly lead to other health issues.

If you are still having issues please seek medical advice. You may need to take medication or have your urine acidic content tested for its citrate and pH levels.