If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, you know just how painful they are. In fact, if you’ve ever known anyone who experiences kidney stones, then you probably have an idea of the discomfort associated with them. Generally speaking, kidney stones occur when deposits build up and clump together in the kidneys, usually because there are not enough liquid components in the urine to dilute the solids and break them down. This results in the formation of solid masses that will eventually become too large to pass through the digestive system, which usually results in pain along with other symptoms.
Prevalence of Kidney Stones
The occurrence of kidney stones has been increasing since 1970, based on the results of various medical surveys. As of right now, there are some hypotheses as to why; more than likely, there are both genetic and environmental factors in play that favor the development and growth of kidney stones. Dietary habits, for one example, have certainly changed since the 1970s towards a preference for foods high in calcium and sodium, which are contributing factors. Also, research indicates that we adapt to the food we eat (you are what you eat, after all), which could end up changing our DNA.
Despite the pain they cause, generally, kidney stones do not cause any lasting harm to the body once they have been removed, whether through surgery or being passed. Some kidney stones do not cause symptoms at all, or the symptoms present do not include the pain that is expected with kidney stones. There are some factors that determine the ease of passing a kidney stone: the size of the stone, as stones that are too large will not be passed; the location of the stone, which can affect various treatments, or require surgery; and the composition of the stone.
Types of Stones
Different stones are made of different materials and form under different circumstances. Generally, stones fall into calcium (oxalate/phosphate), struvite, uric acid, and cystine.
Calcium stones, as the name implies, are created by an abundance of calcium. Generally, dietary consumption of calcium can play a role, but there are other factors. Calcium stones are either calcium oxalate (the vast majority) or calcium phosphate, depending on the pH balance of the blood.
Struvite stones are caused by infections, typically of the urinary tract. As women are more prone to UTIs, they, unfortunately, suffer the bulk of struvite stone cases. Diet does not directly affect these stones, though eating food that limits infections may indirectly decrease the occurrence of these stones.
Uric acid stones are formed from uric acid crystals; generally, these stones occur in situations where there is an abundance of purines in the diet, as well as animal-based protein, particularly organ meats and shellfish.
Cystine stones are among the rarest kidney stone varieties; this is because they result from a specific genetic disorder. The disorder causes cystine, an amino acid, to leak from the kidneys, where it may clump together to form stones.
Causes of Kidney Stones
By and large, insufficient water intake is the main contributor to kidney stones of all varieties. This is because regardless of anything else, water lubricates the digestive system and dilutes deposits, and a lack of water makes urine more saturated with deposits. With that out of the way, other factors include diets oversaturated with various vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin D, purines (contributing to hyperuricemia), or dysfunction of certain glands or organs. Additionally, chemotherapy may create kidney stones as a side effect. Different kidney stones have different causes and contributing factors.
Symptoms of a Kidney Stone
As you likely know, the primary symptom of kidney stones is an immense constant pain in the sides, abdomen, and lower back. Aside from that, kidney stones sometimes move, which can lead to urinary infections that may cause painful urination. Oftentimes, this urination will be pink, red, or brown in color. Some lesser known symptoms include fever, chills, restlessness, and nausea, all of which are associated with numerous other conditions; these can make it difficult to diagnose kidney stones properly.
Treatment Options for Kidney Stones
If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor; Your doctor will be able to diagnose the kidney stone and talk about treatment options. For smaller stones, it’s not uncommon to simply encourage their passage by increasing water intake and waiting; typically, in these circumstances, the stones will pass in a matter of days. Otherwise, treatments may involve medication, various other procedures, or surgery. If you’re not keen on potentially expensive medication or medical procedures, there are some natural treatments that may be able to help.
Ultimately, when it comes to clearing up kidney stones, citric acid is key. Citric acid, or more specifically citrates, have been found to break down calcium oxalate, the vast majority of kidney stones. This means if you are looking to break down smaller stones, you should increase your intake of citrus fruits.Related: 9 Habits That Hurt Your Kidneys
When it comes to citrus fruits, lemons and limes often come to mind. There’s a good reason for this: among citrus fruits, they possess some of the most concentrated citrates. The medicine doctors use to treat kidney stones is known as potassium citrate; it breaks down stones so that they may dissolve, or at least pass easier. However, while potassium citrate is often prescribed to break down kidney stones, lemon juice is about as effective. Drinking lemon juice daily can help create an environment that is unsuitable for kidney stones while breaking down any stones that might already be forming.
While oranges are known mainly for their vitamin C content, they also possess citric acid, which makes them an effective contributor to the breakdown of kidney stones. In fact, there are some sources that argue oranges are just as effective, if not more effective than lemons in this task. Either way, if you want to treat kidney stones, lemonade and orange juice are both good choices. Although you will be better served by eating the fruits themselves, or at least being proactive in selecting fresh fruits and then juicing them yourself.
You might be surprised to find tomatoes on this list, but they are a fruit. More importantly, they do possess appreciable quantities of citric acid. In fact, recent research has been done to determine the potential of tomatoes compared to that of lemons, which are well known to be effective for numerous ailments. That research is in the early stages, but thus far it is quite promising, which means that tomatoes and tomato extracts may see more use as a treatment for kidney stones, as well as other medical conditions for which lemons are primarily used to resolve.
Keep in mind that with kidney stones, the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is quite true. The natural remedies listed above will contribute to stabilizing your body to avoid the creation of kidney stones, and they may also help your body break down smaller stones and those that are still forming. However, it is unreasonable to expect these methods to clear up larger stones all on their own, so it’s important to stay hydrated, avoid excessive calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin D intake (so ditch those supplements) and consume plenty of citrus fruits.Related: Maintaining Kidney Health