Ever passed a kidney stone? If you have, then you know the extreme pain that goes with passing a stone. Symptoms can begin with nausea, vomiting, and can also include fever and chills. Pain on your side and back below your ribs can be intense. The pain can fluctuate and spread throughout the entire abdomen as the stone makes its way through the ureter (tube from the kidney to the bladder). Urination becomes difficult as smaller amounts are passed and the need for frequent urination increases. Urine can become foul smelling, cloudy, and bloody, and be painful to pass. The pain of passing a stone is often described as being worse than childbirth by people who have experienced both. Want to avoid this?
Unfortunately, some people are more likely to form stones, so if you've already experienced the passing of a stone, or if an ultrasound has revealed that you have stones in your kidneys then you might want to take some preventative measures.
1. Supplement with magnesium:
Kidney stones can be a sign that you are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is needed to remove oxalic acid from the body, but when there isn't enough magnesium to perform this function, then calcium gets used instead. When calcium gets used then the result can be calcium oxalate stones (the most common type of stone). Making sure your kidneys have the magnesium they need to do their job without complications is a simple preventative measure. To get magnesium in your diet make sure to eat dark leafy greens daily. A large salad at lunch will do, or maybe you prefer to add greens to a stir-fry. You can also add magnesium citrate as a supplement, especially initially when you are trying to bring levels up in your body.
2. Restore the gut microbiome:
One small study showed that the gut microbiome of kidney stone formers was different to that of people without kidney stones. Research has also identified that the absence of Oxalobacter formigenes, a bacteria that lives in the gut, is correlated with kidney stone formation. This species helps to break down oxalates, so when it is absent then oxalates can't get broken down and can contribute to calcium oxalate stones. These studies tell us that gut health is compromised in individuals with kidney stones, so working to restore gut health is the next step. Eating fermented foods that contain probiotics is an important step. Increase you intake of unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi, add yogurts that contain live cultures, or add kombucha to your day. Increasing your vegetable intake will add prebiotics to help feed the probiotics you are eating, so fill your plate with raw, roasted, steamed, pureed or sautéed vegetables.
3. Reduce oxalates in your diet:
A low oxalate diet is sometimes recommended to help prevent kidney stones. The problem with this type of diet is that it can be very low in fibre and requires the removal of some nutrient dense foods. A good compromise is to avoid some of the worst offenders such as spinach, beans (all types), rhubarb and cocoa while you work on restoring gut health. Go easy on nuts and seeds too. If you are increasing leafy greens to get your magnesium levels higher, just make sure that spinach isn't one of the greens. Instead try lettuce, dino kale, mustard greens or bok choy.
4. Drink a lot of water:
This is a bit of a no-brainer. Keeping the kidneys flushed will help prevent stones from forming. Make sure to stay well hydrated throughout the day by drinking filtered water or herbal teas. Start your day with a large glass of water as soon as you get up. If you forget to hydrate throughout the day, try setting your phone alarm to go off mid-morning and mid-afternoon to remind you to drink up what is in your water bottle or tea pot, and then make sure to refill those containers.
Add magnesium citrate, low-oxalate greens and some fermented foods to your shopping list.
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Happy, Healthy Eating and Hydrating!