8 Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones

A glass of water
  • Kidney stones are solid crystals that form in the kidneys. Most kidney stones are small enough to be passed through urine.

  • Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful, depending on the size of the stones. Fortunately, there are preventive measures you can take to try to avoid them.

  • Drinking water, avoiding certain foods, and monitoring what medications you take are all ways to help prevent kidney stones.

Kidney stones – also known as renal calculi – are solid crystals that form in the kidneys. They occur when certain substances in the urine – such as calcium, oxalate, or uric acid – become highly concentrated and solidify over time.

Kidney stones can vary in size and shape, ranging from as tiny as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. There are four main types of kidney stones:

  • Calcium stones (most common and often comprised of calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate)

  • Uric acid stones (resulting from high levels of uric acid in the urine)

  • Struvite stones (typically caused by urinary tract infections)

  • Cystine stones (rare genetic disorder)

Passing kidney stones can be an excruciatingly painful experience. When a stone attempts to move out of the kidney through the ureter (the narrow tube connecting the kidney to the bladder), it may cause severe discomfort – known as renal colic.

This pain is often described as sharp, intense, and located in the lower back or side of the abdomen. Accompanying symptoms may include blood in the urine, frequent urination, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, and a persistent urge to urinate.

The process of passing kidney stones can vary significantly depending on the size and location of the stone. Smaller stones may pass on their own with minimal discomfort, typically making their way through the urinary system without any intervention.

However, larger stones can get stuck in the ureter, leading to more severe pain and potential complications, requiring medical assistance for removal.

In some cases, healthcare professionals may recommend conservative treatments such as drinking plenty of fluids and taking pain medications to help with passing the stone naturally. Other methods, such as extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy, involve using sound waves to break down the stone into smaller pieces. Additionally, surgical options like ureteroscopy or percutaneous nephrolithotomy may be necessary for larger stones that cannot be passed through non-invasive means.

While passing kidney stones can be a painful process, we’ve outlined some tips to help you prevent kidney stones.

Drink, Drink, Drink!

Drinking more water is the easiest thing you can do to prevent kidney stones. Drinking plenty of water ensures high urine output. A low urine output means your urine is more concentrated and unable to sufficiently dissolve urine salts that are responsible for the formation of stones.

Aim for eight glasses of water, and if you exercise or sweat a lot drink even more water depending on how intensive your workouts are.

If you’re struggling to drink that much water, replace one or two glasses a day with lemonade or orange juice – both are great options that contain citrate, a natural compound that helps prevent stones from forming.

If your pee is clear or pale yellow, you’re on the right track. If it’s any darker, grab another glass of water!

Avoid Salt

High-sodium diets increase the risk of calcium kidney stones. Excessive salt in urine prevents calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine to the blood. This can result in high levels of calcium in urine and lead to stones.

Check the labels on the foods you buy to ensure you’re not consuming too much sodium. In general it’s best to avoid the following foods:

  • Processed foods, like chips and crackers

  • Canned soups

  • Canned vegetables

  • Lunch meat

You may think going salt-free is going to make all your food boring and bland, but there are ways to make tasty food without overindulging in salt. Try experimenting with different spices, fresh herbs, and salt-free premade seasoning blends.

Try Going Vegetarian

Beef, poultry, fish, and pork are high in animal protein, which makes them acidic. This means that they may increase urine acid, which causes both uric acid stones and calcium oxalate stones.

If you don’t feel like you can completely cut out meat from your diet, start out by eating vegetarian a few times a week.

Avoid Oxalates

You may be wondering what oxalate is: it’s what some types of kidney stones are made of and it’s in a lot of the foods and drinks you may enjoy regularly.

Some foods that are high in oxalates include:

  • Spinach

  • Chocolate

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Coffee

  • Beets

  • Peanuts

  • Rhubarb

  • Soy products

  • Wheat bran

The good news is that there are ways to still enjoy some of these delicious and otherwise nutritious foods.

If you’re planning on eating high-oxalate foods, be sure to also include a calcium-rich food. Oxalate and calcium bind together in the digestive tract before arriving in the kidneys. This binding helps prevent kidney stones from forming.

Choose Your Supplements Wisely

Supplementation with vitamins and minerals can be an effective way to get all the nutrients you need. But there are some supplements you should avoid – and others you should stick to – to prevent kidney stones.

Steer clear of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplements. Vitamin C supplementation may cause kidney stones, especially in men. Health experts don't believe vitamin C from foods carries the same risk, so you don’t need to avoid citrus fruits and other vitamin C-rich foods.

A common misconception is that you should avoid calcium if you want to avoid kidney stones. There are

Break the Stones with Herbal Supplements!

Herbal supplements – Chanca Piedra – are known as stone breakers. Chanca Piedra is especially known for its “stone-breaking” properties. The herb is said to prevent calcium oxalate stone from forming, as well as reducing the size of existing stones.

Other supplements known to help in the prevention of kidney stones include:

  • Burdock

  • Goldenrod

  • Horsetail

  • Rosemary

  • Stinging nettle

  • Uva ursi – or bearberry

  • Vitamin K

Consider Your Medications

Certain medications – both prescription and over-the-counter – can potentially contribute to the formation of kidney stones. These medications include:

  • Decongestants

  • Diuretics

  • Protease inhibitors

  • Anticonvulsants

  • Steroids

  • Chemotherapy drugs

  • Uricosuric drugs

Prolonged use or regular intake of these medications can heighten the risk of developing kidney stones. If you’re taking any of these types of medications, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about potential side effects and how it may be affecting your kidney health.

It’s important to note that stopping prescribed medications without medical guidance is not recommended and should only be done with your doctor's approval.

Try New Medications

If you are prone to certain types of kidney stones, there are specific medications available that can help in managing the levels of substances present in your urine that contribute to stone formation. The medication prescribed will vary depending on the type of stones you typically experience.

For instance:

  • If you tend to develop calcium stones, your healthcare provider may recommend a thiazide diuretic or phosphate to regulate the amount of calcium.

  • If uric acid stones are a common occurrence, allopurinol (Zyloprim) may be prescribed to decrease uric acid levels in your blood or urine.

  • In the case of struvite stones, long-term antibiotic treatment might be necessary to reduce the presence of bacteria in your urine.

  • For those with cystine stones, capoten (Captopril) is a medication that can be used to lower the levels of cystine in the urine.

It’s essential to consult with your healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate medication based on your specific condition and stone type. They will be able to provide personalized guidance and prescribe the necessary medications to help manage and prevent kidney stone formation.

Where Can I Learn More About Kidney Stone Prevention?

Kidney stones are a widespread issue, and while these preventive methods may work for some, they aren’t surefire solutions to avoiding kidney stone formation.

If you have a medical condition that increases your susceptibility to kidney stones – such as inflammatory bowel disease, recurrent urinary tract infections, or obesity – it’s recommended to have a discussion with your healthcare provider.

LifeMD can connect you with a licensed medical professional who can assist in managing the underlying condition to reduce the risk of kidney stone formation.

Make an appointment today to get started.

Dina Whiteaker, APRN

Dina earned her MSN from the University of Nebraska Medical Center before becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. She has 10ᐩ years of telemedicine experience. Dina is board certified and is a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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