7 Dietary Mistakes that Increase Kidney Stone Risk

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Ever experienced some unexplained lower back ache? Perhaps you slept in a weird position.

But did the low back ache coincide with a fever and chills or even abdominal pain and vomiting? Maybe you’ve got a touch of the flu or food poisoning.

But if you’re also experiencing trouble urinating, you’ve just hit the telltale combination of symptoms that point to trouble in your kidneys, and quite possibly kidney stones.

If you’ve never experienced passing a kidney stone, count yourself lucky. Kidney stones are mineral deposits, often calcium and oxalate, that become lodged in the urinary tract. Compounds in the urine usually prevent the crystals from forming. But if the urine contains higher concentrations of crystal-forming substances like calcium and uric acid than can be diluted by the fluid, stones can result.

And if the stones are large enough to block the passage of fluids, well you could be in for an uncomfortable ride. Passing a stone can be excruciating!

Even if you don’t have a history of kidney problems, you could be susceptible to kidney stones. Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk, including your diet. Consider what you’re eating and drinking to assess your risk potential.

Here are seven diet-related risks that increase your chances of developing kidney stones.

1. You’re not getting enough calcium  
If calcium is one of the crystal-forming culprits, you would think that consuming too much calcium would be the problem. Well, that depends on the source. But people eating a diet low in calcium are more likely to form kidney stones than those eating plenty of calcium-rich foods. Inside the digestive tract calcium binds to oxalates from the diet, preventing the oxalates from finding their way to the urinary tract where they can form stones. This is true of calcium derived from foods, not necessarily from calcium supplements which can contribute to stone formation if taken in excess.

2. You have an unhealthy obsession with green juice
Sounds like an oxymoron, but sadly, it is true. Leafy greens are packed with disease-fighting nutrients, but some varieties are high in oxalates, too. Usually oxalates combine with calcium from the diet and get excreted with the urine. But overdoing the greens, like routinely downing green juices that are heavy on the leafy greens, especially spinach, can raise the concentration of oxalates enough to saturate the urine and form kidney stones. So go easy on the leafy green vegetables if you have a history of kidney stones, or at least try switching to greens with lower oxalate levels, like kale.

3. You’re drowning your thirst with tea
We’ve been told that tea is a good source of antioxidants and tends to be lower in caffeine than coffee. But overdoing the tea drinking can be harsh on the kidneys. This is especially true of iced tea, which tends to be consumed in larger volumes than hot tea. Tea is a source of oxalates, but black tea in particular is high in stone-forming oxalates.

You don’t have to avoid tea completely, even black varieties, just consume them moderately. You don’t want to be like the guy who ended up with kidney failure from drinking too much tea.

4. You’re not watching your salt intake
If you eat a lot of proceeded foods, you’re likely eating a lot of salt, too. Historically, excess salt has been linked to increased risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions. But excess sodium can also increase the amount of calcium your kidneys excrete. And more calcium in the urine increases the risk of kidney stones.

Processed foods are notorious contributors to high sodium consumption, so eat them in moderation or not at all.

5. You’ve cast aside citrus fruits  
We normally associate oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits with Vitamin C. But the nutrient for which this family of fruit is named for – citric acid – is beneficial for keeping the urinary tract stone-free. Citric acid in the urine helps to inhibit kidney stone formation and helps to break up small stones that have begun to form. Lemons and limes are your best options for citric acid content and a generous squeeze of juice goes nicely with a glass of water – the fluid of choice to keep the urinary tract functioning and flowing.

6. You’re a soda addict
For one thing, the amount of sugar consumed with habitual soda dinking can be disastrous on your blood sugar. But all that sugar can upset the body’s balance of minerals by interfering with calcium and magnesium absorption. Calcium that can’t be absorbed can wind up in the urine where it may start to form stones. In addition, the phosphoric acid in soft drinks makes the urine more acidic, which creates a favorable environment for kidney stone formation.

7. You’re carnivorous to a fault
If your consumption of animal protein is on the high side, the process of metabolizing all that protein could be bad news for your kidneys. When the body breaks down protein, a waste product called uric acid is produced. If the kidneys aren’t up to the challenge of excreting the influx of uric acid, the excess can form stones. And these types of stones don’t wreak havoc on the kidneys alone. High concentrations of uric acid in the blood can mean crystals forming in the joints and under the skin (a condition known as gout), causing pain and inflammation.

Diets high in protein can also lower levels of citrate, the salt form of citric acid. Remember, citric acid helps to prevent stones. So be mindful of your protein intake.

Your kidneys are in work mode 24/7. They cleanse the blood supply and put toxins and waste on route for elimination. Being cautious of how your diet affects kidney function is worth considering. 

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