Two facts about kidney stones are true: first, they cause way too much pain, are debilitating, and the number of people (including the very young) getting them is definitely on an increase. Another fact, albeit a positive one, is that kidney stones can be prevented.
Just last month, an ultrasound found kidney stones in my friend’s daughter, who is just 21 years old. She was suffering from unbearable pain around the lower abdomen, and a continuous feeling of nausea and vomiting. What perplexed us was that there was no genetic history (no one else in their family had suffered from stones), and of course her young age as well.
It soon became clear that it was her lifestyle – bad eating habits and very low intake of water – that could have caused the stones.
Unfortunately, this is a lifestyle that most young people, surviving on junk and sodas and too much coffee, seem to be living today.
Agreed, one’s genetic propensity matters, but today our faulty eating habits are contributing heavily too. Factors like obesity (being overweight can put stress on the kidneys), reduced water intake, reduced physical activity, high-processed foods, caffeine intake and higher proportion of animal protein in the diet are often the main reasons that increase the risk of stone formation. This factor is so important that researchers at National Institutes of Health (NIH) are turning to creative approaches to battle kidney stones.
Five Food Habits to Correct
Correct these five food habits to prevent kidney stones:
1. Not Drinking Enough Water
Dehydration leads to formation of highly concentrated urine (darker in colour), which leads to the precipitation of calcium salts and increases the possibility of formation of crystals which leads to kidney stones being formed. So be aware of that.
Drink at least 8 glasses of water every day during summer months.
This factor is so important that in the NIH-funded two-year clinical trial they monitored effects of increased fluid intake on risk of stones. The researchers are studying 1,642 people, in an attempt to determine whether a program of financial incentives, receiving advice from a health coach, and using a smart water bottle will result in reduced risk of kidney stone recurrence over a two-year period.
It is also important to avoid too much caffeine and alcohol as they are dehydrating.
Also Read: FitQuiz: How Well Do You Know Your Kidneys?
2. Eating Too Much Sodium
This is a big problem today as many of us eat way too much salt and also live on processed foods which tend to be high in salt (sodium). High salt intake leads to higher calcium excretion.
When there is increased amount of sodium passing into the urine it pulls calcium along with it, which increases the probability of stone formation. High salt intake also decreases citrate excretion in urine (citrate is an inhibitor of stone formation).
So, say no to those potato chips and stick to a low-sodium diet if you are stone prone.
3. Drinking Sodas
Similarly aerated drinks might lead to higher levels of oxalates in urine, thus upping the risk of stones. And the high level of caffeine in most energy drinks also increase urinary calcium excretion.
4. Popping Too Many Pills
Calcium supplements may cause a problem in people who pop them arbitrarily and already have high calcium in their body. Similarly, vitamin C supplements could increase the risk too, maybe because the body converts vitamin C into oxalate.
Even excessive use of over the counter medicines like some laxatives, and antacids can increase risk of stone formation. So, only have them under direction of physician.
Preferably, get your nutrients from food instead of taking supplements. Especially get enough of vitamin B-6 (found in bananas, mangos, soybeans, avocados), it is shown to have a protective effect.
5. Too Much Animal Protein
Eating too much red meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood can increase the level of uric acid in our body and this could lead to kidney stones. So, keep a check on this.
When Life Hands You Kidney Stones…
Kidney stones are painful and debilitating, and their treatment expensive. So, a better option is to make lifestyle changes that help prevent the formation of stones.
After the surgery, my friend’s daughter was asked to follow these dietary tips:
- Increase water intake to at least 3 litres per day
- Reduce intake of junk food
- Cut down on non-vegetarian food, chocolates and colas
- Reduce intake of oxalate-rich foods like spinach, beet, chocolate, nuts and tea
- Keep salt intake low
- Increase intake of citrus fruits and juices
She was also asked to drink a glass of milk everyday along with her meals (calcium from food sources helps). These preventive tips will work for everyone.
(Kavita Devgan is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of ‘Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico)‘. Her next book ‘Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa)‘ will be out in September.)
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